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Bonkers Blog January 2016

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4 January - Maximising personal gain?

The blog below is one of around 40 relating to Bexley Councillor Maxine Fothergill and Bexley Council’s Code of Conduct Committee. It took that many blogs to at first factually report what the Code of Conduct Committee had decided and then unravel the truth.

More than a dozen Freedom of Information requests eventually led to the conclusion that Councillor Fothergill had been the victim of a plot by senior Bexley Councillors to discredit her and the fact that she spotted a business opportunity while canvassing for the Tories was just a convenient hook on which to hang her out to dry.

It took two months of enquiries for Councillor Fothergill’s innocence (link) to become virtually certain and for the suspicions based on Bexley Council’s assertions to evaporate. Eventually innocence was proved (link) beyond reasonable doubt.

This note aims to make it clear that the events reported between December 2015 and the Summer of 2016 whilst accurate reflections of various events, disciplinary hearings and sanctions brought against Councillor Fothergill they are individually insufficient to explain the whole story.

The most convincing explanation for the vendetta against Councillor Fothergill is that the Tory High Command in Bexley had taken their revenge because Councillor Fothergill embarrassed them by reporting one of their associates to the police for theft and as a result his candidacy at a local election had to be withdrawn.

It was imperative that Councillor Fothergill was taught a lesson.

For reasons that are hard to fathom, in December 2017 Councillor Fothergill decided that the defence of her position which unfolded on this blog over several months was criminal harassment in spite of the fact that without it everyone who read the report on Bexley Council’s website would continue to believe she had been genuinely guilty of breaching their Code of Conduct.

Councillor Fothergill reported the blogs to the police and Sergeant 11901 Robbie Cooke at Swanley Police Station failed to conduct any investigation whatsoever and ludicrously decided that there was a case to be answered in the Magistrates’ Court. Fortunately the Crown Prosecution Service had more sense.

FothergillI don’t know much about Councillor Maxine Fothergill. I’ve seen her chair meetings in a reasonably proficient fashion but she has never been reported as saying anything significant or especially silly at council meetings.

The first time she came to notice as somebody with something to hide was when she removed her address from the Register of Members’ Interests after the clueless Eric Pickles provide the get out clause. Any councillor who said their life was in danger could claim anonymity under Section 32 of his Localism Act. Bexley’s flexible Monitoring Officer, Akin Alabi, was happy to oblige the paranoia.

Maxine Fothergill’s most frequent contribution to a meeting has been to say how brilliant everyone else is and sometimes be repetitive as if she has not been paying attention.

She was once the subject of a blog devoted just to her. During the 2014 election campaign someone queried how a resident of Gravesend could be a Bexley councillor at all. She still claims to live at 51 Mayplace Avenue but it is widely thought to be little more than a P.O. Box.

Maybe a dubious residency qualification is not very popular among her colleagues and certainly heaping praise on them doesn’t appear to have won many friends, how else would one explain so many leaks of information over the past couple of weeks?
Committee

L-R. Head of Members’ Services, Dave Easton. Kenneth Atmore (†). Head of Committee Services, Kevin Fox. Councillor Stefano Borella (hidden behind Mick Barnbrook standing). Chairman Cheryl Bacon. Councillor Nigel Betts. Head of Legal Services, Akin Alabi. Lynn Tyler, Legal Team Manager. So called Independent Person, Rebecca Sandhu.

† Mr. Atmore is a former Independent Person called in to advise the newcomer although Council minutes (PDF) reveal that Ms. Sandhu’s 2013 appointment was due to end in May 2015. See below.


It is probable that the nine people in the image caption were later joined by Maxine Fothergill’s legal representative and none were supposed to breathe a word outside the meeting, however one must assume that plenty of hints were dropped to friends with varying degrees of detail. It may account for the variation between the many whispers but at the heart of them is that Maxine Fothergill’s attempt to “confer an advantage for herself” involved a vulnerable old lady moving out of her house after what may have been a flawed valuation.

By all accounts - or should I say most accounts - the old lady was selling up to finance a move to sheltered accommodation and she had no close or local relatives. Maxine Fothergill in her role as Estate Agent was presumably involved in it being obtained at an unnaturally low price, although only one informant actually says so. However if that was not the case I cannot see how the “conferred advantage” was obtained.

A council employee was somehow persuaded to buy, some say for cash, although where the money came from no one is saying, however almost everyone says that Councillor Fothergill was able to get her hands on his house cheaply and rent it for a high price.

Whilst the detail remains a little vague at present there can be little doubt that the property transaction must have gone somewhat beyond an Estate Agent making an honest living. How else would Bexley Council justify the Misconduct tag? According to most people the sale actually went through, no one says it didn’t.

The rest of the story is largely incidental. It is said that the allegedly nefarious transaction took place more than a year ago and a distant relative of the elderly lady complained to Teresa O’Neill. Whether Bexley Council sat on it for a year or the relative was slow to discover what had happened I do not know.

Maxine Fothergill’s legal representative was said to be Councillor June Slaughter, a semi-retired solicitor. (Since confirmed by the draft minutes.)

I’m not sure why anyone’s first thoughts would be to go to Council Leader Teresa O’Neill in such circumstances, my first ports of call would be a solicitor and then the police. Unfortunately if reports of where the complainant lives are true there is little chance of them stumbling across this blog and providing first hand information.

The Chairman of the Code of Conduct Committee is Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Cray Meadows), no stranger to dishonesty herself but not, as far as we know, well versed in the art of fraud. Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) is no angel either with a history of covering things up. He backed the move to publish the addresses of FOI requesters on the Council’s web site and more recently wanted to ban the taking of photographs at meetings, contrary to law.

The third member of the Committee was Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End). Whilst the range of sanctions on rogue councillors is restricted (see below) I would hope he’d think a minor wrist slapping inappropriate for Misconduct. Why choose to remove Maxine Fothergill from the Appeals Committee with its record of meeting only once a year, why not the loss of her £3,000 a year Vice-Chairmanship of the Resources Scrutiny Committee?

Perhaps there is a link between the Appeals Committee and its responsibility for the Members’ Appeals Panel. One can hardly have Fothergill hearing her own appeal. Even in a borough as corrupt as Bexley that might be a step too far. Exclude that and what sanction has there been? None.

There is no news on what has happened to Fothergill’s accomplice . the council officer.


GoogleIn the couple of weeks in which I’ve been researching Maxine Fothergill this little message has become apparent. Bexley’s secrecy machine has gone into overdrive. Of course, if a Labour or UKIP councillor had been in the frame, there would have been a Press Release to local news organisations.

As well as “conferring an advantage” on herself Maxine Fothergill has been found guilty of bringing Bexley Council into disrepute. It is probable that the Code of Conduct Committee’s meeting would have slipped by unnoticed if it was not for a handful of old men who keep an eye on the calendar of meetings and Bexley Council has tried very hard to suppress every bit of information. An unlinked URL like http://democracy.bexley.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=1841&MId=28075&Ver=4 is not going to be a popular destination. Thanks to the Conservative councillor who drew my attention to it.

As the clear intention is that no one should know about Fothergill’s exploits, it could be argued that it is not Councillor Fothergill who was likely to heap disrepute on Bexley Council but Bexley Council itself will for engineering another of its infamous cover ups.

Seven sanctions were available to the Committee…
Sanctions
Only (a) and (d) has been applied and in the latter case only to the minimum possible extent.

There may well be sufficient councillors who take such a dim view of what Maxine Fothergill gets up to to generate the whispers but she must also have sufficient friends in high places to protect her from exposure in the press (g). People who live in glass houses etc…
Expiry date

 

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