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Sadiq Khan

Bonkers Blog January 2016

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4 January - Maximising personal gain is her business. Maximising embarrassment is BiB’s

This blog is one of several relating to Bexley Councillor Maxine Fothergill and linked from the relevant Index page. Together they cover five different subjects all related in some way to Ms. Fothergill.

• Some cover her Code of Conduct Committee hearing which resulted in sanctions against Councillor Fothergill. It was alleged that she used her position as Councillor to obtain a financial advantage. viz. that she bought a bungalow from a vulnerable Bexley resident at an advantageous price.
No evidence that Ms. Fothergill paid less than the market price ever came to light and the alleged victim did not make the written complaint necessary to cause a Code of Conduct hearing. When Bexley Council was pressed to provide evidence it could only point to a document written by a Member of its own Code of Conduct Committee, Judge and Jury.
The probability is that the Leader of Bexley Council was unwilling to forgive the fact that Maxine Fothergill had brought down the Leader’s preferred election candidate by reporting him to the police for more than one theft. The sanctions appeared to be nothing but retribution. The Leader of Bexley Council is renowned for her ruthless retribution.
The police issued a caution.
• Others show how she was alleged to have conducted her business affairs in a way that some of her associates considered ethically dubious and have almost no link to Bexley Council.
• Councillor Maxine Fothergill fought Sevenoaks Council over an unauthorised house extension and lost. There is again no Bexley Council link apart from it becoming clear that her main residence is not in the borough
• When a resident requested a Judicial Review of Bexley Council’s refusal to state that it would always comply with the law they managed to convince a barrister that he was taking issue with them over the entirely unconnected issue of the verdict given by the Code of Conduct Committee Committee in the Maxine Fothergill case.
Nothing could be further from the truth and there is documentary evidence to that effect that Bexley Council lied to their barrister.
Nevertheless the barrister persuaded a judge to refuse to hear the Judical Review and Bexley Council, dishonest to the last, billed the resident the cost of hiring their tame barrister.
• Councillor Fothergill was sued for libel and lost.

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 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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