THE Sheriff of Chester accused the Tory-led council of intimidation after a watchdog backed his right to speak out over the controversial sale of County Hall.
Labour’s Cllr Reggie Jones is now free to speak out after the Standards for England watchdog cleared him of defaming the council’s chief lawyer Simon Goacher in a letter to the Press and a motion.
Mr Goacher made an official complaint after Cllr Jones of Blacon alleged ‘a catalogue of financial and legal bad practice’ in the authority’s handling of the sale of County Hall and purchase of HQ following an auditor’s report.
Cllr Jones has since found a stray print-out of an email dated March 17 in which deputy council leader Les Ford told his Tory group he had ensured ‘our officers put pressure’ on the Labour group to withdraw the motion.
My comment: More shenanigans between ruling councillors and officers in an attempt to derail democracy. I hope Les Ford is going to resign over his role in these false allegations.
The motion they used officers to put pressure on the labour group to withdraw was "Labour’s Cllr Reggie Jones brought a motion before Cheshire West and Chester Council criticising the Tory-led authority following a district auditor’s report which examined the handling of the sale of County Hall and purchase of HQ."
More information about the dodgy dealings during the sale of County Hall.
Read the full story from the source Chester Chronicle
UPDATE 26th July 2011: Text of the Standard for England decision notice now publicly available on the What Do They Know Freedom of Information website.
Under section 58(2) of the Local Government Act 2000, as amended, SfE has decided that no action needs to be taken in respect of the allegation.
Reasons for decision
Standards for England accepts the Standards Initial Assessment Sub-Committee’s reason for referring this to Standards for England, that the status of the complainants would make it difficult for the complaint to be considered by the local standards committee,
While that the auditor’s report is by no means as critical as Councillor Jones suggests, at the same time it is not as supportive of the two councils as the complainants suggest. Although the auditor says that she was satisfied, in general, by the decision-making process adopted by the councils and that the sale did represent value for money for council tax payers, she also made a number of adverse comments. For instance she was concerned that interim advice given to members was provided verbally and not documented, that Cheshire West did not make their Counsel aware of a second valuation of the building and that both councils could have done more to involve local people in the decision to sell the building.
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives protection to the right of freedom of expression, a right which the courts have strongly upheld in cases involving the expression of political opinion. Councillor Jones’ comments to the press and his motion to the Council are protected by Article10. In any event, the targets of his criticisms include not only officers of the Council but also its political leadership. I do not think that it is possible to construe his letter or the motion as being personally disrespectful to officers even if, by implication, it challenges some aspects of their performance, as indeed, does the auditor’s report.