Extraordinary allegations of a cover-up of still unknown proportions by Mayor John Biggs’ Labour administration at Tower Hamlets Council have emerged at the East London Employment Tribunal hearing today.
Mayor Biggs was elected Mayor of the borough after the dismissal of Lutfur Rahman for corruption on the promise that he would clean-up the borough and make it a ‘beacon council’ of open and transparent local government.
Mark Edmunds is a forensic investigator who was employed by Tower Hamlets Council to investigate corruption in the Youth Service and is now bringing a claim for harassment and discrimination on the grounds of race and sex and unfair dismissal against the Council.
Mr Edmunds is being represented by Francis Hoar of Field Court Chambers who successfully prosecuted Lutfur Rahman during the election petition.
There are two claims, the first issued before his redundancy (which he claims is unlawful) in 2017 and the second in 2018.
While the case continues this afternoon, details of Mr Edmunds witness statement include numerous allegations against senior Council officers serving under Mayor Biggs have emerged.
The severity, extent and variety of the allegations are so great that it is not possible to even list them here, so for the moment here are some highlights.
In his evidence Mr Edmunds states that:
“Clean-up was a cover-up”
“I was very surprised when on 17 March 2017 Will Tuckley wrote to all Council workers informing them that all powers would be returned to the Local Authority on 1 April 2017 and that this decision was a ‘resounding vote of confidence…in the way the Council is run’.”
In contrast, I believed it should have been described as cover up to avoid political embarrassment to the Labour Party whose members were involved in both the initial corruption and later the control of the investigations, which were closed down by Debbie Jones, Ronke Martins Taylor and Claire Belgard who were directed and supported by Labour Party officials.”
Mr Edmunds alleges that an investigation by the Internal Audit service of Tower Hamlets Council into the misuse of credit cards by Youth Service members was ‘obscured and contained’.
No-one was ever prosecuted nor any of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of council funds ever recovered.
A variety of organisations and companies, some of which did not exist, were suspected of unusual financial activity but were never properly investigated. Some of these organisations are still being commissioned by the Council to deliver services for the Youth Service.
Collusion by senior Council officials
Other allegations are that Senior Council officers conspired and colluded with those individuals who were under investigation and were involved in the misuse of of public funds.
Mr Edmunds believes that senior officers such as Andy Bamber, Service Head for Safer Communities, should have also been investigated. Mr Bamber left the Council and was never subject to investigation.
Safe-guarding children failures
Other allegations are that:
Despite many Youth Service officers being investigated in relation to large sums of money being syphoned from the public purse investigations and outcomes were contained and controlled with none being prosecuted and few being referred to the Disclosure Barring Service (DBS) allowing these individuals to continue to work in safe-guarding children roles.
Senior managers such as Ronke Martins-Taylor, Claire Belgrade and Menish Jani deliberately obstructed and failed to refer members of the Youth Service involved in corruption to Mr Edmunds.
That an attempt was made by senior Council officers to integrate his role into the line management of the service he was investigating.
Issues of corruption and malfeasance were so pervasive at the Council that it was impossible to believe that the problems were isolated and low level ‘involving a few rotten apples’ as it was referred to by Andy Bamber or ‘process and procedure issues’ commonly cited Internal Audit officers.
Mr Edmunds believes that the reason numerous attempts were made to sideline him and deter him from carrying out his role as an investigator was because many of the Council officers he was investigating were closely allied to Council Members [London Borough of Tower Hamlets Councillors].
Additionally Mr Edmunds alleges in his witness statement that Claire Belgard colluded with then Deputy Mayor and Councillor Rachael Saunders to disclose information about the nature and types of investigations taking place in the Youth Service.
Cllr. Saunders read an email drafted by Claire Belgard in open Council without any risk assessment being undertaken and so putting Mr Edmunds at risk of physical harm.
Large volume of files and information went missing before and during the investigations and this was not reported to the Information Commissioner by managers despite requests.
These files included some that went missing from Andy Bamber’s office.
FoI responses untruthful
Despite senior officers knowing about missing files LBTH Freedom of Information responses were both misleading and incorrect.
Claire Belgard was instrumental in including false and misleading information in response to Freedom of Information requests concerning Youth Service investigations – including at least one submitted by Love Wapping.
Fictitious organisations funded by Youth Service
In April 2015 a LBTH property, 9B Burslem Street, came under attention of investigators working on the Youth Service corruption case.
The property was controlled by Cllr Shaled Ali but the address was also used by a number of fictitious organisations such as Young Routes and CTUK which had received funds from the Youth Service. Further work by trading standards officers also identified other companies operating from the premises, including Stolen Land Limited. [Honest. We have not made this up.]
How clean was the Clean Up Team?
Mr Edmunds became very disillusioned and disappointed with the much-vaunted ’Clean Up Team’ as officers under investigation had left the Council after entering into settlement agreements with the Council and it was apparent that these settlement agreements had been signed off by members of the Clean Up Board in their Council capacities.
As a result he decided to disengage with the Clean Up Team.
The case continues tomorrow.
Another dark day for our borough
For the last few years Moley has been burrowing away firmly convinced that even after Lutfur Rahman the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was still rotten to the core.
So he was not at all surprised to listen to the testimony of Mr Edmunds this morning and have all his suspicions confirmed.
This news story has only a select few of the allegations. There is much more detail to come but myself and other journalist colleagues attending the East London Employment Tribunal today are frankly overwhelmed by the allegations made. There is just too much to process.
What is clear is that this activity must reach to the very top of Tower Hamlets Council.
And the motive for this cover-up at the Council? According to Mr Edmunds many of the officers he was investigating were “closely aligned to Council Members”.
Labour members of the council.The main question now is how long it will be before the Commissioners return to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets?
Our money is on tomorrow.