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Bonkers Blog January 2016

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There is no criticism of Councillor Maxine Fothergill in this blog.

8 January (Part 2) - When is a crime not a crime? When a councillor’s guilty

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reporting one of their associates to the police for theft and as a result his candidacy at a local election had to be withdrawn.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.

Despite the widespread interest there are not an awful lot of certainties about Councillor Maxine Fothergill’s house buying activities. A major problem is that any honesty there may be on the Code of Conduct Sub-Committee is concentrated in one man and if the truth gets out the other two members will blame him. He will understandably be tight lipped.

A long struggle for the truth lies ahead.
Committee

The Committee. Councillors Borella (Labour), Bacon and Betts (Conservative).

Bexley Council has admitted that Councillor Maxine Fothergill is guilty of “actions [which] could be perceived by an ordinary member of the public, as conferring an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for herself”. Perceived? They claim to know how you would react to a degree of bad behaviour about which you know nothing. Judge and Jury.

It was intended that the public would remain in blissful ignorance of yet another scandal in Watling Street and most of it has. BiB has a way to go before its readers form a majority of the population. How can privileged politicians really know what the man in the street thinks in any situation let alone a subject about which he knows nothing?

Does the Independent Person speak for all 280,000 residents? If she did how do we know? It’s not recorded in the minutes and do we even know she is a legitimate Independent Person? The most recent documentation on Bexley’s website says the post was advertised in 2013 and the appointment made in May of that year was to last two years only.

There is a set of procedures to be observed by the Sub-Committee but we cannot be sure it was followed, in fact we know it wasn’t. After the preliminaries, the Independent Person, the Monitoring Officer, the Investigating Officer, the complainant, the defendant and her representative are supposed to be introduced to the members of the Committee.
Procedures
Only then should the debate on whether it is appropriate to exclude members of the public take place. I’ve seen and heard such a debate take place at other meetings and the Code of Conduct Agenda correctly listed the standard sequence, but Bexley’s need for secrecy was much greater this time.

The public was not allowed to be present whilst the meeting gathered nor was it able to hear any debate about their exclusion. Exclusion had been recommended by the Committee Officer and the Chairman must have decided beforehand to accept it without debate. No one expected the public to show up and spoil things.

Deciding in advance which way to jump is not in the spirit of the procedures and not even bothering to go through the motions must drive a coach and horses through them but Bexley Council didn't want the name of the offender or her offence to become known.

The Chairman is allowed to vary the sequence (Paragraph 3.2) if it would “secure effective and fair consideration of any matter”. Contriving total secrecy is not fairness and a complaint about chairman Cheryl Bacon’s conduct is inevitable. Last time that happened she lied herself all the way to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The public should have been made aware of the complaint. The details are not Personal under Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act; some parts may be but not all of it. Just because there appears to have been fraud involved instead of the more usual petty disagreement with a resident it is not an excuse for varying the rules.

At the time of writing I am aware of nine Freedom of Information requests seeking to clarify what happened. If Bexley Council refuses them we will all know that clarification is the last thing they desire.

Note: The UKIP report about the scale of the deception has been discounted in some quarters. A very large sum but maybe the use of the plural was exaggeration.

 

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