Monday, 23 May 2016

Thanet's "Criminal" Council Faces Health and Safety Prosecution

How unlucky can you get? Within a week of  being feted  by the Local Government Association for improving the way its  run, Thanet Council is now on the way to becoming a common criminal!  According to an announcement on its website TDC is now facing  a criminal prosecution for breaking the Health & Safety at Work Act by causing 20 or so of its  staff to contract Vibration White Finger.  The  police have also been handed a report which  alleges  that some former senior TDC officers may have defrauded  the EU of  £165,000 (see my previous post)  and, my sources tell me, a further payment  of several £100,000 is being made to the live animal exporters  in compensation for TDC’s illegal  banning of  their trade, bringing the total compensation bill toover £6million.   Where else in the world of local government is there  a council so incompetently managed and as criminally reckless as TDC?  Forget the previous descriptions of TDC as toxic and dysfunctional -  that was being polite! -  TDC now surely deserves its  new epithet  of Thanet’s “Criminal” Council.

But returning to the news of the Health and Safety White Finger prosecution,   I have  previously posted  several articles on this blog about the background to this - here
and here

To recap. Incidents of Vibration White Finger,  a debilitatingly  painful and potentially career ending, industrial injury began to surface amongst TDCs  grounds maintenance workforce in 2014.  White Finger is a condition which develops following prolonged over-exposure/ use of vibrating equipment such as road breaking drills,  hedge trimmers, lawn mowers, brush cutters, chain saws etc. So dangerous is this condition that the Government introduced the Control of Vibration  at Work
Regulations 2005 which place a legal duty on employers to carry out risk assessments to identify and take all practical steps to minimise any vibration related  risks to staff. The regulations also set vibration exposure levels for staff  which employers are required to monitor. These legal requirements are not one off actions, but an ongoing responsibility of the employer, especially in organisations where the use of vibrating equipment is common, such as TDCs ground maintenance and the cemeteries. If these regulations are followed then no member of staff should ever contract White Finger and face the ruin of their health and the ending of their working life.

So what happened? Well it would appear that TDC may not have properly complied with the 2005 Regulations  and the Health and Safety at Work  Act including the possibilities that it failed to carry out vibration  risk assessments; failed to  monitor staff exposure to vibration; failed to  train staff on the dangers of working with vibrating equipment and how reduce risk; failed to properly maintain, repair or replace vibrating equipment and provide suitable safety equipment. Decisions made by TDC’s Governance and Audit Committee in early 2015 including the upward revision of the Corporate Risk Register’s (CRR) Health and Safety risk factor from low to high  and the decision to remove the control of the CRR from service Directors and hand this responsibility over  to the East Kent Audit Partnership also suggest the possibility that health safety records relating to vibration at work  (and possibly other issues too) might have been falsified by Council officers.

But, speculation aside, its clear that something, possibly many things, have gone badly wrong because why else should somewhere in the region of 20  members of staff contract a serious work related condition which , if  the proper precautions were being  followed, should have been totally avoidable. Well we should get the answers soon enough. The Health and Safety Executive has conducted an 18 month long investigation into this matter and TDC also commissioned an external Health and Safety expert to investigate as well. The findings of these investigations should be  revealed during the forthcoming prosecution of TDC. One interesting point in this respect  is TDCs website  statement about the prosecution which says that  The council is alleged to have contravened the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 between 2005 and 2014”. This is an astonishing statement which suggests that TDC may have been flouting Health and Safety laws and regulations for 9 years!  Why wasn’t this spotted sooner ? What checks and audits were being carried out on those well paid managers (many of whom have now left the employ of TDC)  who were supposed to be implementing the safety checks and protecting the health of their staff.  9 years of  harming the health of your staff paints a picture of an organisation which is corporately negligent  at the highest levels – councillor  and officer.

Which brings me to next point. Health and Safety law allows not  only for the prosecution  of the employer e.g TDC, but any individual managers  who through their acts or omissions have caused death, injury or ill-health of their staff. I sincerely hope that if the HSE finds any individual culpability those responsible are hauled before the court and forced to account for and be punished for, any illegal actions they may have committed.

Last but not least, when setting its budget for 2016-17 Thanet Council was mindful that its serial criminal actions with regard to live animal exports and white finger were likely to cost it dearly. Knowing that these costs would be uninsurable it was decided to re-allocate £1.6 million of its reserves to cover any payments relating to legal action. Not that I’m an expert but I simply don’t believe that  £1.6 million is anywhere near enough to cover the legal fees, fines and compensation related to the white finger scandal, let alone any outstanding live exports compensation. It also worth noting that under new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, which came into this force this year, TDC can, depending  on the severity of the case, face an unlimited fine. By anyone’s standards failing to protect the health of up to 20 staff over  a 9 year period, is pretty serious – so   I doubt that the fine will be of the 50 quid order.

But lets not forget  – Thanet “Criminal” Council’s corporate  incompetence and  mismanagement and the actions of some its officers may be utterly astounding –  but these actions have caused very serious pain and misery for 20 or so members of staff who have been  badly let down. I hope that the prosecution gets  them justice and exposes those who have badly fucked up their health when they should have actually been looking after it.  

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Thanet Council: £2 Million Grant Fraud & Mismanagement

Earlier this week the Government’s Internal Audit Agency (GIAA), which was set up to combat fraud and corruption in the public sector, produced a report of an investigation into Thanet Council. The investigation looked into allegations, made by a whistle-blower, that an EU grant of £165,000 for specialist dredging works at Ramsgate Port had been misused.

According to the GIAA investigation report, a number of senior council officers appear to have conspired together to dishonestly mislead the EU about how this large grant was spent, and rather than telling  the EU that the grant  had  not been used for the purposes it was intended  and offering  to return the money, these senior council officers instead decided to keep the cash in the hope that its  misappropriation would not be discovered by EU Auditors.

The GIAA, as you would expect, were less than impressed by the actions of these senior officers. They said that their investigations had unearthed “sufficient evidence of intent to defraud”  and they recommended that their findings should be reported to the Police “as a potential fraud case”. I totally agree and hope that those who were involved are dealt by the courts as quickly and as sternly as possible.

But this is not just a matter for the police. Thanet District Council also has a responsibility to ensure that its staff and councillors behave in an honest and lawful manner and don’t become involved in fraud and corruption. And on paper, at least, this appears to the case. First, there is TDC’s Officer Code of Conduct which, amongst other things, requires that

·      Employees must ensure that they use public funds entrusted to them in a responsible
and lawful manner.

·      Employees must report to the appropriate manager any impropriety or breach of

 Then there are the Council’s financial procedure rules which say that

·        All Members and officers have a general responsibility for taking reasonable action to
provide for the security of the assets under their control, and for ensuring that the use
of these resources is legal.

TDC also has an anti-fraud and corruption policy which says that

Thanet District Council takes its responsibilities for protecting public money very seriously. It recognises that the public has the right to expect that the Council’s Members, Senior Management and employees shall:

·        At all times fully comply with all the legislation to which they are subject;
·        Conduct business in a totally honest and ethical manner;
·        Take all appropriate actions where fraud and corruption is suspected.

Finally there is a whistle-blower policy which says-
Thanet District Council is committed to the highest possible standards of propriety and accountability in the conduct of its activities for the community. This Code is intended to help employees who have serious concerns over any potential wrong‑doing within the Council involving matters such as where: 
·              a criminal offence (for example, fraud, corruption or theft) has been/is likely to be committed
·              a miscarriage of justice has occurred or is likely to occur
·              public funds are being used in an unauthorised manner

In addition to Thanet Council’s robust anti-fraud policies it’s interesting to note that at least one of the officers involved in the alleged fraud was a senior finance manager. This is the person who according to the GIAA investigation wrote a report about the EU grant  entitled “Request for carry forward of ERDF funding dated 24 April 2008”. According to the GIAA  this report “instead of recommending repayment of the funds weighed up the likelihood of the project being audited and the Council being found out” . The author of the report was (and probably still is)  a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). CIPFA’s Standards of Professional Practice which apply to all its members say that
Should members receive, or uncover, evidence of the possibility of fraud or corruption, they should promptly report the matter to the appropriate person identified in their organisations’ established reporting procedures.

So despite working for an organisation which had in place a broad range of robust anti-fraud policies and procedures,  and despite one of the alleged fraud perpetrators being a member of  a professional accountancy organisation which encouraged its members to report fraud and corruption, this was not enough to prevent £165,000 being dishonestly used for purposes it was never  intended for. Why?
Well one of the things which surprises me about this case  is that those involved were at the top of the TDC “food chain”. They had years of managerial experience and were fully aware of TDCs policies and procedures and professional ethical codes relating to financial management. To deliberately flout these rules was a very risky thing to do which could have had disastrous, career ending, consequences for all of them. 

I can only assume that to take such risks those involved must have been extremely confident that they could get away with it. Getting away with it means that they had calculated, as the GIAA report confirms, that there was little chance of their dishonestly being detected via external audit. More worryingly, it also means, in my view, that the conspirators may have had, or thought they had, the support of their bosses and possibly also TDCs political leaderships (at that time Tory) in acting dishonestly. Finally, taking ethical risks and behaving dishonestly has also been attributed in many studies of corruption and fraud, to be the result of pressure and bullying from above. Is it possible that in Thanet there was, at this time, a culture of aggressive, bullying management by senior officers and politicians? Some people working for the Council at the time have told me that there was. So its clear that a variety of influences were at work  which, either singly or combination, persuaded otherwise responsible senior council officers, to allegedly defraud the EU. 
But this is not an isolated example. The  £165,000 misappropriation of this EU grant is not the only case of dodgy grant management  at TDC. In 2011 £603,000  worth of EU grants had to be paid back to Brussels for mismanagement/ misuse. In 2014 £70,000 worth of EU grant had to paid back to Brussels for the same reason. It’s  likely that  a further £700,000 may have to be paid back to the EU for failures of the  Kent innovation Centres Project and of course more recently TDC misused its Dreamland  Heritage Lottery Grant to the tune of £567,000!
Clearly there is an ongoing saga of massive incompetence mismanagement and fraudulent abuse of external grants worth at least at least  £2 million  at TDC which despite, promise after promise of doing things better, never seems to happen. I think there is clear case for a major enquiry here.  

Thursday, 19 May 2016

"Criminal" Council Steals £165K & Gets Caught

Several years ago Thanet Council was awarded a large  EU grant to fund  specialist dredging works at Ramsgate Port. The dredging was to be  carried out between 2005-08 in order to  increase water depth to  allow  access for  larger ferries.  Interestingly  “the key objective of the investment was to retain the TransEuropa Ferry Service” at Ramsgate  which, as we now know,  went bust in 2013 owing TDC £4.3 million as a result of the Labour/Tory  approved top-secret fee-deferral deal with the ferry company.

A whistle-blower made contact with the EU  advising  them that the specialist dredging work  had not been carried out  and that Thanet Council had  knowingly misused the EU  money for other, non-approved,  purposes in breach of grant conditions. The whistle-blower provided the EU with various documents which supported his/her claim of misuse of grant monies including internal documents and extensive correspondence.

After several years of passing the buck  between EU and UK authorities the file eventually ended up on the desk of  the Government’s  Internal Audit Agency (GIAA)  which  began an investigation into these extremely serious allegations in the autumn of  2015.  Evidence  that the grant had been misused was so overwhelming that TDC had no choice but to fess-up and admit to the GIAA  that no “dredging campaign had been carried out to deliver the project objectives  i.e enlarging the turning circle and dredging of berth 2 and 3”.

What amazes me  is that very senior TDC officers knew about this all along. In a 2008 top-secret internal report entitled “Request for Carry Forward of ERDF Funding”, written by a  TDC finance boss,  it was stated that the Council was  “unconvinced that we could prove that the expected  outputs of the project had been delivered. There was therefore a very real possibility that were the project to be audited we would be required to  repay some or all of the funding awarded”.  

But, rather than  proposing that TDC act openly and honestly;  admit to the EU it had failed to deliver  the project and offer to repay the grant, the report instead “weighed up the  likelihood of the project being audited and the Council being found out” , reckoned that the chances of being discovered were low and suggested that  the Council should keep hold of the dosh. This is an action which most reasonable people would describe as dishonest, corrupt, fraudulent or stealing.

So who were those officers who appear to have conspired to misappropriate £165,000 of EU funding?  Well sadly the GIAA report has redacted their names, probably because it is recommending that the police investigate, what is likely to be, a case of fraud or misconduct in public office. Also most of those  involved have now left the employment of TDC. However I am sure that there many people out there, myself included  who know who these  officers were. I’m saying nothing as my recent experience with Thanet Council and the High Court (about which I will be writing shortly) as taught me a bitter lesson. But if there is any justice we should  all know their names when they are dragged kicking and screaming before a judge to account for their dishonest actions.

In the meantime I understand a cheque for £165,000 is on it’s to Brussels.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Ramsgate Live Animal Exports: £11 Million Reasons Why I'm Backing Brexit

Former Green Party councillor and 2015 South Thanet Parliamentary candidate, Ian Driver,  has  announced that he will defy his party’s policy of remaining in the EU and campaign instead for Brexit.  
Driver’s announcement  follows news that  Thanet District Council (TDC) has paid out almost £6million in compensation and legal fees following its 2012  decision to suspend the export of live farm animals from the Port of Ramsgate.
According to figures released on Thursday (5th May)  £4,692,630 in compensation payments have been made  to  companies involved in the export of live farm animals from the port of Ramsgate.  A further £454,220 has been spent by TDC on its own legal fees, bringing the total to £5,146,500.

It is understood that TDC has yet to settle a number of outstanding compensation claims related to the suspension of live animal exports from Ramsgate port which could take the final  compensation costs  to over £6million.

It is estimated that further  £5 million, at least,  of taxpayers  money has been spent on the costs of: 

  • deploying DEFRA  Animal and Plant Health Agency  (APHA) officers to supervise each the of 115 shipments which have taken from Ramsgate and Dover since 2010 involving  over 350,000 animals facing long journeys of several days,  in cramped conditions with limited access to food and water
  • the costs of policing the 100 plus lawful protests at the ports of Ramsgate and Dover which take place at every shipment; the costs to TDC of  employing additional security staff whenever there is a shipment;
  • the costs of preparing and holding at least 20 largely unsuccessful,  court cases related to  live animal exports which have taken place since 2011.
  • the costs of  police surveillance  against anti  live animal export campaigners. At least one of whom, Ian Driver, is now, because his of activities  included on the  Polices’ so-called  Domestic Extremist Database (1).

This takes the total costs to UK taxpayers of supporting a trade’ which most people oppose on the grounds of animal cruelty, but which is supported by the EU, to at least £11milion over the past 5 years.

The suspension of live animal exports from Ramsgate Port, which led to the astronomic compensation payments  was imposed,  by then then Labour controlled,  TDC in September 2012 after 47 sheep, judged to be unfit to travel, had to be destroyed at the  port.

 At a High Court Hearing in December 2013 Mr Justice Birrs declared that the suspension “was an unjustifiable  breach of Article 35 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union” which “breached a fundamental element of the rules governing free trade in the EU”. The judge concluded  that “in my judgment the council is liable to damages to the claimants”.

Driver, one  of the founders of the campaign against live animal exports from Ramsgate said   “I’m astounded by the latest revelations. It seems likely that that the final bill for TDCs suspension of  live exports from Ramsgate could easily  top £6million!  That’s  £45 for every man woman and child in living in Thanet”. This appalling and unfair situation is a direct result of our loss of  law making powers to the EU.”

“But what makes me most angry is that some of those  who have  benefited from the  £4.6 million compensation payments are  likely to be the same people  who were convicted at Dover Magistrates Court in 2014 of animal cruelty offences related to the events which led to  the suspension of live exports from  Ramsgate in 2012”.

“In all conscience I cannot vote to remain in the EU when it actively endorses industrial scale animal cruelty by permitting this medieval trade and then rewarding the perpetrators of  that trade with compensation payments akin to blood money when its interrupted because animals died in transit. Furthermore,  EU rules have forced British state to deploy, at massive public expense, thousands of police officers to enable a trade,  most people don’t approve of, to take place,  and some of those people who have campaigned against it now find themselves with criminal records  and  classified as domestic extremists. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

UKIP & Labour: Thanet's WyeVale W**kers

Where It Happened. But are UKIP & Labour Just Wyevale Wankers?
Well done Thanet  Gazette! It’s revelations about garden centre shenanigans and a  nine-times-postponed court case, have finally forced  UKIP and Labour councillors  to get off their lazy arses and demand the long overdue resignations of  Konnor Collins and Helen Smith.

Not that I’m detracting from the seriousness of alleged theft and assault, but it beggars belief that up until just last week UKIP and Labour councillors were united  in turning a   blind eye to  other extremely serious issues  related to the two councillors with hardly a murmur of criticism, let alone forcing their removal from office when the door was wide open to do so  at the Council meeting on 31 March.

The question must be asked  why UKIP and Labour councillors worked together  to allow former Kippers Collins and Smith an extended leave absence after they had both failed to attend a single council meeting in six months.  Surely, depriving Northwood Ward’s 4,800 voters of their democratic rights to have a functioning voice on Thanet Council is just as important a matter  as allegations of theft and assault at Ramsgate’s  Wyevale Garden Centre? Yet UKIP and Labour chose to do fuck all to tackle this outrage. In fact by forming this unholy alliance to protect Collins and Smith from expulsion from the council UKIP and Labour have condemned the residents of Northwood to endure 9 months of being denied their  right to have  3 elected councillors. So much for their hypocritical protestation about supporting democracy , or the Corbyinstas meaningless  mantra of doing  new politics. The fact is that a democratic deficit is wrong and those people, left or right, who support and extend such a deficit are worthless, unprincipled fuckers.

Next,  despite Thanet Council having signed the Armed Forces Covenant which pledges   support to those brave women and men  who have put themselves in harm’s way for their county, why did UKIP and Labour councillors fail to take  the opportunity  at the Council meeting on 31 March to remove   Collins from the Council for allegedly making false claims about his military service and his  military and  civil decorations and possibly bringing dishonour on the Covenant? I would have expected, at the very least,  that the Labour Councillors responsible for securing TDCs approval of the Armed Forces Covenant in 2012 – Iris Johnston, Jenny Matteface, Michelle Fenner and Peter Campbell to have had the courage of their convictions to have spoken out at the Council meeting on this important matter. In fact the qualified privilege attached to Council meetings would allowed them the legal protection to have been very frank in what they said about alleged falsification of military records and honours  without fear of libel actions. But did they? Course fucking not. Their  normally articulate  gobs remained tightly closed for once.

The truth is  that  both UKIP and Labour chose  to keep Collins and Smith on the Council so as to avoid a by-election in Northwood Ward which would have been likely to  have taken place on the same day as the EU  referendum on 23 June. Why? Because UKIP didn’t want to risk losing more seats  and possibly its Council majority. Because pro-EU Labour didn’t want to  risk  contesting an election on a day when anti-EU feeling in Northwood was likely to be running high

With these cynical self-interested  calculations in mind UKIP and Labour councillors were more than happy to prevent the people of  Northwood from having their full entitlement of functioning councillors for  at least 9 months. And the possible of dishonouring of the Armed Forces Covenant  by  an alleged Walter Mitty-esque councillor has been allowed by UKIP and Labour to continue.

Thanet Gazette Collins and Smith Allegedly stolen goods from Wyevale?
 It was only when further damaging allegations about Collins and Smith emerged in last weeks’ Gazette, coupled with the growing public anger against Thanet’s  political establishment for covering their arses, that these self-serving scum-bags decided call for  resignations. Which reminds a lot of Prime Minister David Cameron’s evasive and misleading efforts of last week to defend his indefensible Panamanian Payola until he realised just how angry the public were with him.

But sending out press releases demanding resignations achieve nothing apart from  deflecting criticism and covering your arse. If UKIP and Labour have even a Higgs-Bosun particle  of honesty left, then they should follow up their calls for Collins and Smith’s resignation with an Emergency Council meeting at which the leave of absence granted two  weeks ago  is rescinded.  Or will they , as I suspect  will be the case, sit  on the garden centre fence like the bunch of WyeVale Wankers they are

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Westgate College: Cruel Abusive F**ckers

I’m  sure  many good and compassionate people worked at the Westgate College for Deaf People. But some very bad fuckers  worked there too who, according to the Care Quality Commission, assaulted, abused, ridiculed and humiliated some of the most vulnerable people you are ever likely to meet. And this abuse was allowed to continue over a prolonged period of time  because the management of the Westgate College was woefully inadequate and appears to have  turned a blind eye to  what was happening.

As a parent of two learning disabled/ autistic teenagers I can’t find the words to express how angry I am with the staff who carried out this horrendous abuse and how angry I am with those well paid managers who allowed this to happen. The John Townsend Trust and Westgate College are organisations beyond contempt. They are heartless, cruel fuckers who tolerated a culture of  abuse of society’s most vulnerable when they were getting in £millions of taxpayers money to supposedly educate and protect them. And all of this happened 4 years after the horrendous Winterbourne View scandal was exposed by the BBC and despite Government promises that learning disabled/ autistic people
would be  better protected from abuse.
I would encourage anyone with humanity to read the Care Quality Commission report about  Westgate College. Its short. Its to the point. It’s upsetting and heart-breaking  too. Here’s  is the link to the report.

There’s no doubt in my mind  the Care Quality Commission did the right thing in closing down Westgate College. It had no other choice but to take this action to end the awful regime that prevailed at what was in effect a loveless fucking dumping ground for severely disabled young people where abuse was rife. For the John Townsend Trust  to have audacity to have appealed  against the CQC  findings is the final insult to those young disabled people it hurt and abused. You fuckers should be utterly ashamed of yourself and now that the CQC report has been published and your objections dismissed perhaps a full and frank apology to all those people you have damaged and hurt should be made.
But I suspect not. Because I get the feeling that what has happened here might well be the tip of an iceberg. I suspect that more abuse allegations will emerge  and perhaps not just about  Westgate College but maybe even the  Royal School for the Deaf too.  

The scandals at Winterbourne View, Westgate College and perhaps even  the Royal School for the Deaf, should send out a clear and unambiguous message that vulnerable learning disabled/ autistic people  should have much  more protection. Just as the tragic Victoria Climbe case led to the
setting up a Children’s Commissioner,  the unfolding tragedy of John Townsend Trust and  Westgate College should lead, as many people are now arguing, to the establishment of Learning Disabilities Commissioner.
See this link to an  important  report about the Learning Disabilities Commissioner

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Labour & UKIPs Animal Welfare Betrayal

Although they  made a huge and  costly mistake by unlawfully  banning live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate (see my previous post Thanet Labour Councillors cost your £5million?), that shouldn’t make it OK for  Thanet Labour Councillors  to abandon the struggle for animal welfare at the Port  of Ramsgate. Nor should Thanet’s ruling  UKIP councillors  use the High Court case, which has so far forced Thanet Council to pay out almost £5million in damages  to the animal exporters, as a convenient  excuse  for sitting back and doing nothing about the cruel and barbaric trade taking place from the council owned port.

But to their shame  that’s what they’ve done.  When faced with a public petition at the last meeting of Thanet Council on 25 February asking for TDC to support the following extremely modest proposals  

·       Reaffirm their opposition to the live export of animals for slaughter.

·       Lobby Parliament and Thanet MP’s to introduce an amendment to the 1847 Piers and Harbour Clauses Act so that Ports can legally refuse live export trade.

·       Designate a TDC Cabinet Member to be a permanent point of contact between the Council and Thanet Against Live Animal Exports.”

Labour and UKIP said no! Despite Labour’s General Election Manifesto boast that  “No other major political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animal welfare” and UKIPs General Election Manifesto promise to “ban the export of live animals for slaughter”, both parties shamefully sat on their hands rather than supporting the petition. Why?

Because the massive damages payments which have recently  been made to the exporters have led Labour and UKIP to see this issue as being unpopular with some people. And instead of admitting that Labour councillors made some serious mistakes and instead of  trying to explain the truth about this awful trade and what the council could do to combat this blight on Ramsgate, Thanet’s political class took the easy way out and cynically disregard their election manifesto promises on animal welfare. Proving yet again that most politicians and political parties are lying fuckers who quite happily  cheat  deceive and mislead to get elected.

 To cover up their hypocritical ways, Labour and UKIP have tried to hide  behind the fictitious quack-legal pretence that to campaign or lobby  against EU and UK laws which permit the medievally cruel live exports  trade from Ramsgate would leave TDC open to  more legal action or greater compensation claims from the criminally convicted cruel exporters.   What utter bollox these pathetic excuses for politicians offer for their shameless lack of action and their deceitful jettisoning of their principles and promises.

As the 2013 High Court  judgment against Thanet Council clearly demonstrates, to be found of guilty of breaching EU  free trade laws and to be liable to pay damages  you must actually break the laws and stop the trade – as the fools  from the Labour Party did in 2012 when they choose to  ignore legal and Government advice and proceeded  to ban live  exports (see my previous post Thanet Labour Councillors cost your £5million?).  Simply saying you are opposed to a cruel trade or actively lobbying the UK of EU Parliament to change the laws to end the trade does not breach the law and does not leave TDC open to  legal action. This is precisely what Dover District Council did more than a year ago and I’m unaware of any impending legal  action being taken against the council  for its  admirable stance against live exports from Dover Port.

However, to cover up your cowardly retreat from your election promises and covering your arse by using unfounded  so-called legal advice, or by failing  to challenge such advice when its presented to you,  is the act of spineless wankers who have contempt for the public and who  are not fit to hold public office. And sadly  that’s my assessment of Labour and UKIP in Thanet who together have totally betrayed animal welfare at the port of Ramsgate.

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the Tories. Simple because this is party which has no concept of animal welfare and which shortly after winning the 2015 General Election tried to re-introduce hunting with hounds. Clearly they have no concerns about cruelty to animals. But there again it looks as though Thanet Labour and UKIP don’t either.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Exclusive! Have Labour Councillors Cost You £5 Million??

Senior  Labour councillors are alleged to have  ignored the advice of  a specialist EU Law Barrister and an Under of Secretary of State and to have then  apparently subjected  a manager to “very considerable” political pressure resulting in  cash strapped Thanet Council (TDC)  breaking  EU laws and  having to  pay out, to date,  £4.6 million damages.

The massive damages bill, which has not been finally settled, results  from TDCs   decision to ban the export of live farm animals from the council owned Port of Ramsgate following the death of 47 sheep at the facility in September 2012.

The livestock exporters appealed TDCs decision to ban their trade from Ramsgate and in December 2013 the High Court ruled, in a 34 page long Judgment,  that the council had “committed an unjustifiable breach of Article 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (TEFU) and “breached a fundamental element of the rules governing free trade in the EU”   which, in the opinion of High Court judge  Mr Justice Birrs, made TDC “liable to pay damages to the claimant (1)”.

Following the judgment, TDC employed Barrister Philip Woolfe of Monkton Chambers, a specialist in EU law, to negotiate a damages settlement with the livestock exporters. As of March 2016 damages paid to date stood at an astronomic £4.6 million, but it is likely that the final bill will be much higher (2).

The 2013 High Court Judgment, recently obtained by former Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, reveals that at the time the ban on live exports was imposed, TDC   already knew that this action was very likely to be unlawful and could result in damages being claimed.
According to Mr Justice Birrs “TDC obtained an opinion from counsel” (3) about the banning of live exports from Ramsgate more than one year before the decision was made. The opinion, dated 23 June 2011, stated that “If TDC refused to permit exporters from exporting livestock from the port on either of these grounds it would be at risk of judicial review and possibly at risk of a claim for damages for failure to comply with its statutory duties under the 1847 Act and under Articles 34-36 TFEU” (4).
Mr Justice Birrs also points out that in August 2011 TDC was provided with a copy of letter to former South Thanet MP, Laura Sandys from Mike Penning MP, the then Under Secretary of State for Transport,  which  “made clear that the Department of Transport’s view was that no local authority had  any specific power to prevent lives animal exports (5). The judge concludes that “It is quite clear that by the summer of 2011 TDC knew that …it had no right to ban the livestock trade” (6).
Said Driver “This is totally unbelievable! Despite having had clear advice from a  Barrister specialising  in EU law  and a Government Under Secretary of State that TDC  had no legal right to ban live exports,  senior council officers and Labour Cabinet memebers, nevertheless decided to stop the trade  knowing that it was highly likely that  TDC would face a claim for damages.  I’m sure that many people will share my view that this action was massively  reckless and placed the council and its taxpayers at great financial risk”.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Birrs, goes on to make a remarkable and extremely worrying inference  that the decision to ignore the advice received by TDC may have been because “very considerable pressure was placed on” Mark Seed the senior manager then responsible for Ramsgate Port and that this  pressure may have been  exerted by the then Labour Leader of TDC, Clive Hart  and the Labour Deputy Leader, Allan Poole ( 7 ) .

Mr Justice Birrs also notes that no records were kept by TDC about the decision making process which resulted in the closures of the port  to live animal exports and that “TDC did not take any legal advice specifically focused on this ban (8)”  which, considering that all previous legal advice received by TDC  indicated it did not have the power to ban the trade, would have been essential in the circumstances.

Despite Mr Justice Birrs’ extremely serious allegations about legal and Government  advice being ignored; political pressure being brought to bear on an officer by senior Labour Party politicians; the failure to secure legal advice in the immediate run up to banning of live exports, those Labour politicians involved seek to deny any culpability for the loss to Thanet  council taxpayers of £4.6 million resulting from a decision which they were responsible for taking.

Statements issued between 2012-15 (see graphic) by Allan Poole, Clive Hart and serving Labour Party councillors Michelle Fenner and Iris Johnston appear to suggest they and the council followed  EU law and sought legal advice at all times in relation to the banning of live exports. Mr Justice Birrs,  on the other hand, presents convincing evidence which suggests that they did not. More recently, in letters to the Isle of Thanet Gazette and in an article published on the  Kent Online website, Clive Hart, Allan Poole and Iris Johnston identify Mr Seed as being solely responsible for closing the port to live exports, making no mention of  Mr Justice Birrs' extremely serious  allegation  that Clive Hart and Allan Poole may have placed “considerable pressure” on  Mr Seed during the decision making process.
Said Driver “misrepresenting the facts, misleading the public and blaming others so as to avoid accountability for your actions is the way of a coward and  is morally and politically corrupt. It is my opinion that the Thanet Council Labour Group should now fess-up and publically admit that its decision to ban live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate  was badly managed  and that an unreserved apology should be made to the residents  of Thanet for making a bad decision which has cost  every man, woman and child living the District £33 each.

I also call on Labour Councillor  Michelle Fenner who was directly involved in taking the decision to ban live  exports from the Port of Ramsgate and who acted as the Labour Party spokesperson on this issue to do the honourable thing and resign as a councillor for failing to present a full and truthful  explanation  to local people about how these events were managed.

  1. See Para 192 of Judgement
  2. See Isle of Thanet Gazette The phrase “to date” suggests that a final settlement has not yet been reached and that negotiations continue.
  3. See Para 93 of Judgment
  4. See Para 93 of Judgment
  5. See Para 95 of the Judgment
  6. See Para 97 of the Judgment
  7. See Paras 149 and 150 of the Judgment
  8. See paras 152 and 156 of the Judgement