There has been much excitement in the local press about Gloucestershire police reopening the investigation into the “unlawful” pension payments to PCC’s chief executive and A N Other.
This has distracted attention from what I think is the rather more interesting story regarding Mik Smith the former PCC youth worker recently jailed for six years for child sex abuse.
At last week’s meeting of full council, the Leader answered questions from Cllr Paul Miller and myself on this subject.
You will recall that back in 2005 there was an investigation into Smith’s inappropriate behaviour with children following which he was given a verbal warning and allowed to carry on as before.
Sometime between 2005 and when he was sacked in 2012, Smith applied to become a foster parent and was given a reference by the head of the county council’s youth service which failed to mention the previous verbal warning.
This was rather surprising because the same person who administered the warning wrote the reference.
The council has now admitted that there were “significant failings” in the disciplinary process in 2005.
However, as the Leader said in answer to one of Cllr Miller’s questions: “In terms of the professional staff of this authority that were involved with this case at that time, none of them are now working for the authority.”
Retirement in the public services reminds of the Westerns I watched as a boy in which the baddies would escape over the state border just as the sheriff and his posse were about to round them up.
However, the premise on which Cllr Adams’ argument is based is not quite accurate because there is one person still in post who had some connection with the 2005 process – the chief executive.
You will recall that one of the whistleblowers, Sue Thomas, emailed the chief executive and others (all now retired) on 9 November 2005.
Her email began:
“I would like to put it on record that I am totally dissatisfied with the way in which the above matter has been handled within the youth service/education department by the above named members of staff and others”.
In his reply dated 16 November Mr Parry-Jones told Ms Thomas:
“Your perceived problem seems however to relate to your personal circumstances and your relationships with others”.
It is undoubtedly true that Sue Thomas had a complaint about the council’s insistence that she return to work with Smith as her line manager, but whether that was all she was concerned about is another matter.
Cllr Adams’ task was to distance Mr Parry Jones from any responsibility for the flawed disciplinary process in 2005.
He told the meeting:
“The chief executive – and this is to show that it works – was not aware that Sue Thomas had invoked the whistleblowing policy until two or three weeks ago. So, a period of nine years has ensued and the identity of Ms Thomas has not been revealed through the whistleblowing process. And that has given me confidence about that process because it’s quite right that the identity should not be known.”
And later on said:
“The chief executive was wholly unaware that Ms Thomas was the whistleblower. I can categorically state that, having questioned the chief executive about it.”
It is easy to spot the flaw in this argument because this is an opinion masquerading as fact.
Nobody can make categorical statements about someone else’s state of knowledge.
Cllr Adams has no idea when the chief executive first became aware that Sue Thomas was a whistleblower.
Had the Leader said: “Having questioned the chief executive about this matter I have come to the conclusion that he was probably unaware that Ms Thomas was the whistleblower until two or three weeks ago” that would have been fine, but it would have seriously weakened his case.
Having given the whistleblowing process the all-clear, the Leader’s next objective was to prove that the correspondence between Ms Thomas and the chief executive was restricted to the question of her relationship with her line manager (Smith).
“And further misunderstanding has occurred here with that correspondence, because that correspondence – and as I’ve said, I’ve read it, I’ve even got it here – between the chief executive and Ms Thomas does not, does not refer to Mr Smith. It refers to problems she was having with her line manager, who was in fact Mr Smith.
Right, it was not about his behaviour and the chief executive replied in terms of advising her of the course of action which he felt, and the letter intimated, was the result of a breakdown of a personal relationship between an employee and her line manager.”
Cllr Adams concluded:
“So that is the context and that is the information in which correspondence was exchanged between the chief executive and Ms Thomas and it was not directly linked in any way – and it is not contained in the documents that I have- it was not contained in any concern she had raised with the chief executive with the behaviour with children of Mr Smith. And that is absolutely categoric in the information I have here.”
Now, I also have copies of the correspondence between Sue Thomas and the chief executive and either Cllr Adams, or myself, are facing a resit of the comprehension exam.
It is true, as the Leader says, that Sue Thomas’ email of 2 November 2005 “does not refer to Mr Smith”.
However it does refer to M. S. on four separate occasions.
As for the claim that it refers exclusively to Ms Thomas’ relationship with her line manager I would point to the following passage that she included in her correspondence:
“It has been intimated that there is some sort of vendetta being pursued against the above person. [M.S. who is referred to in the previous sentence] If this were true, why are there at least eight professional youth workers, that I am aware of, with serious concerns regarding the work practices of this person. These concerns span over many years – well before I came into youth work.”
And there is a second email to the head of youth services dated 3 December 2005 which was copied to the chief executive.
In this she complains about comments that Smith had made to others during a training course he was attending in Carmarthen.
Within that email she alleges that Smith told other youth workers on the course that: “it was Sue Thomas who put complaints in about me,” and that: “His comments make me question the credibility of PCC’s whistle blowing procedures and ethics”.
So, if the chief executive had read that email carefully, he would have seen that Ms Thomas was complaining that, by revealing that she had made the complaint against him, Smith was undermining the credibility of the authority’s whistleblowing process.
It hardly required a huge leap of the imagination to work out that Sue Thomas was, herself, the whistleblower.
The email also says: “You do not have the remotest clue how difficult this process has been and continues to be for me and the other team members involved; you are not taking our concerns seriously and you are not prepared to hear them being aired; you are well aware that inappropriate behaviour is continuing [my emphasis] and yet you still continue to defend the person in question [Smith].”
In case there is any doubt that Ms Thomas was complaining about a good deal more than her personal relations with her line manager I would refer you to the following passage in her email of December 3:
“I question if a person continues to practice youth work along this line after being formally warned by management whether:
a) The initial disciplinary action taken was severe enough to act as a deterrent;
b) The department conveyed to the person being investigated an impression that the behaviour was not in their opinion serious, either directly or indirectly;
c) The person is suitable to be working in any role with children.”
Cllr Adams quoted, with approval, the words of Children’s Commissioner Keith Towler who told BBC’s Week In – Week Out that, in the Smith case, nobody in PCC had joined up the dots.
Wouldn’t it have been better if, instead of embarking on this extended piece of sophistry, the Leader had just admitted that, on this occasion, the chief executive was one of the of those whose dot-joining activities had failed to reach the required standard.
Cllr Adams should realise that torturing language and logic in an attempt to shore up the council’s credibility has exactly the opposite effect.
PS. During his oration, The Leader referred several times to the correspondence between Sue Thomas and the chief executive, which, he indicated, he had on the desk in front of him.
Cllr Michael Williams (Plaid) thought it would be helpful if he could see this correspondence for himself, but when he asked the council for copies he was refused.
It seems to lead to an inequality of arms if one side has the information and not the other.
How are the opposition supposed to hold the executive to account if we have to accept as gospel their interpretation of what these documents say?
And, as this correspondence was almost certainly provided by an officer, what price the political neutrality of council employees?