ANDY SUTTON BLOWS THE WHISTLE
Flintshire County Council, County Hall, Mold, Flintshire CH7 6NB 01352 752121 Click here to contact them
Called to account at last?
A long list of serious and corroborated allegations of malpractice within Flintshire Social Services and more widely in the County Council was provided by FtC whistleblower Chris Clode and others to a meeting with Maria Michaels, Social Services Inspectorate for Wales and other members of Welsh Inspectorate’s Policy Unit on 24th May, 2000. Very little came of that meeting.
Then in September last year, Chris wrote a strong letter to Michaels reminding her that she had promised to respond in “a couple of weeks”. Months had passed by with no action, despite serious allegations of “sexual and physical abuse of children by County Council staff”. “These allegations appear to have been barred from proper Child Protection Proceedings - including by intervention from the highest level within the Council”, says the September letter.
Chris added: “the evidence of serious concerns appears to be receiving no better response from those empowered to deal with such matters, than the allegations raised by Alison Taylor in the 1980s did, before the Waterhouse Report.” [For full coverage of the Report into child abuse in council care settings in North Wales see The Whistle No. 16 and elsewhere on this site]. Chris copied the letter to the Welsh Assembly, which is now beginning to take notice.
In October Michaels replied with an admission that only “some” of the allegations had been investigated. Now more documentary evidence passed to Chris by an ex-Flintshire employee was handed to Wrexham police in December 2000.
Meanwhile, Chris Clode and his supporters in FtC remain concerned about the question of how the Waterhouse recommendations are to be implemented. The Welsh Assembly’s Health & Social Services Committee review of the implementation is contained in their guidance: “Working Together to Safeguard Children”. The Committee says that the guidance,
“stresses that clear procedures and support systems should be in place for dealing with expressions of concern by staff and carers about other staff or carers. Organisations should have a code of conduct instructing staff on their duty to their employer and their professional obligation to raise legitimate concerns about the conduct of colleagues or managers. There should be a guarantee that procedures can be invoked in ways that do not prejudice the whistle-blower’s own position and prospects. New model codes of conduct for local government members and employees are being drafted under the Local Government Act 2000. A consultation exercise on the general principles is underway. The codes will be drafted and discussed by the ethics sub-group by early December. The code of conduct for employees will become part of their terms and conditions of employment. The Assembly has established that a few local authorities already include failure to report abuse as a disciplinary offence. Others are considering amendments to their procedures.”
Chris Clode and FtC do not feel reassured by this. Chris wrote to the Welsh Assembly just after Christmas in these terms:
“While welcoming the paragraphs on whistleblowing in your Progress Report on implementing the ‘Lost in Care’ recommendations, we would like to make observations on the implications for the safe management of social care services within the wider context of Welsh local government. As you know, most of the evidence we have placed before Members over the last 18 months has related to Flintshire, but we have also received evidence that other local authorities in Wales have also actively suppressed concerns raised either by service users or by those advocating on their behalf; the response of Swansea to Bunny Pinnington [see this site INDEX] is an example of this elsewhere. As your Report on the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families says, 'The Assembly believes that local authorities corporately have responsibility to address the needs of … disadvantaged children…'. I believe:
But, of course, our evidence to Waterhouse and, subsequently to you, has consistently shown that improperly dealt with abuse investigations are the product of a dangerous organisational culture, wider than just a Social Services Department. In my Waterhouse Statement, I included a document written to my manager in the first month of the new Flintshire Unitary Authority’s life; I noted similarities between Flintshire and Lady Porter’s Westminster Council, then under its own District Audit investigation: 'Democracy needs checks and balances.' They do not seem to exist in Flintshire or, at best, are thin and feeble, and the way decisions are taken down at our own DMT [Departmental Management Team] level reflect the arrogant dismissive attitude to due process (and its checks and balances) that comes from the top of the County.”
Since this letter a damning Public Interest Report on Flintshire has shown evidence of illegal payments and other malpractices as well as the suppression of evidence required by internal and district auditors. Although some opposition politicians in the Welsh Assembly are calling for an inquiry and resignations the W.A. Ministers have remained silent.
AUDITOR BLOWS WHISTLE
Andy Sutton, internal audit manager for Flintshire County Council, sent letters to all councillors in May 2000 expressing concern about overpayment of early retirement cash to a social services worker and the purchase of a farm in Cheshire by the authority.
He now says that for having blown the whistle he and a supporting colleague have now received veiled threats about their posts with the Council. Sickness levels in the internal department have been very high, and Mr Sutton has himself been off sick for weeks.
The Daily Post (25-10-00) reports Mr Sutton as saying, there have been “significant delays on the part of senior management at Flintshire in resolving serious matters of concern that first arose in the summer of 1999, and an absence of effective reporting channels..” The Welsh Assembly is now involved, following the District Auditor’s severe criticism of the Council.
Flintshire Employment Tribunal
throws shadow over Waterhouse Report
THE ANDY SUTTON TRIBUNAL- Week 1.
The Shrewsbury Employment Tribunal, which, has scheduled an unprecedented three weeks to hear evidence in the case of Andrew Sutton former Audit Manager at Flintshire County Council, North Wales, has completed its first week and the disclosures have been as astonishing as had been expected! Sutton is alleging that he was unfairly dismissed from his post as Head of the County’s Internal Audit Section because he tried to investigate a number of serious allegations of corruption. Additionally, he is bringing 38 protected disclosures under the "Whistleblowing" Act (Public Interest Disclosure Act). These allegations included the making of an illegal golden handshake to a manager who had retired, which involved fabricated documentation; suspicious land and property deals and massive salary and overtime payments to an administrative worker servicing the Waterhouse Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Many of the cases have probable criminal implications- which The North Wales Police have also been informed of. Sutton claims that essential documents and information were deliberately withheld from him making it impossible for him to do his job.
Those at the Tribunal have heard of papers that might embarrass senior officers and councillors being removed from files, disciplinary hearings on those investigated by Sutton for malpractice, being held when he was away on holiday, so his evidence could be ignored. When he tried to circumvent senior officers by writing directly to elected members to alert them to the difficulties he was experiencing, he met with hostility, threats and abuse by Chief Officers and leading Councillors. Also, Andy has been physically threatened outside work by total strangers. He will be calling witnesses to this.
Flintshire have introduced incomplete documents late, in an attempt to clear doubts about work done in the home of Council Leader Aldridge’s house by Council workmen- this was despite an earlier promise by Flintshire’s legal representatives that all documents had been provided before the Hearing commenced.
Central to all the allegations has been the role of County Solicitor and Monitoring Officer, Andrew Loveridge. In seeking a barrister’s opinion on one case involving grave, possibly criminal fabrication of documentation by two Flintshire Directors, he cited that “the reporting of [the Directors] in such circumstances to be a considerable embarrassment compounded by the the fact that unfortunately Local Government elections are to take place in May .” Loveridge then conducted what Sutton called a “disgraceful” re-writing of the opinion for councillors’ consumption, leading him to ask, “Were councillors being duped?” One of the Directors was subsequently promoted without the appointing Panel of councillors being made aware that she had been one of the suspended twosome!
Perhaps most extraordinary in this first week has been the questions thrown up over the role of the North Wales Police, in particular their Fraud Squad. No charges followed the barrister’s finding that documents had been fabricated, indeed D.I. Roberts decided not to interview any of the people named in this case, as the Internal Audit Report on it “was so good.” When the Police wrote back to Flintshire about the matter, Sutton was denied access to the letter. It was also D.I. Roberts who warned Andy Sutton to “beware of the brotherhood”, when discussing with him a property scandal involving Chief Officers.
Late on Friday, Sutton’s cross examination was due to commence on the case of the £100,000 paid to the Administrator to the Waterhouse Tribunal on child abuse in North Wales. It is understood that Flintshire is trying to block the evidence of a key witness who will give insight into why these extraordinary payments were made- an insight that raises questions about the validity of the evidence placed before Waterhouse. Loveridge may be worried.
Andy Sutton’s case continues on Monday 10th March.
THE ANDY SUTTON TRIBUNAL- Week 2.
The Shrewsbury Employment Tribunal, now about to start its unprecedented third week to hear evidence in the case of Andrew Sutton former Audit Manager at Flintshire County Council, North Wales, has been as astonishing as had been expected! Sutton is alleging that he was unfairly dismissed from his post as Head of the County’s Internal Audit Section because he tried to investigate a number of serious allegations of corruption. Additionally, he is bringing 38 protected disclosures under the "Whistleblowing" Act (Public Interest Disclosure Act).
Sutton ended his 25 hours on the stand with the Flintshire barrister having failed to smear Andy’s motives for insisting that he be given documentation on allegations of malpractice and corruption implicating officers and councillors at the very top of Flintshire. Sutton described how he came under pressure from Chief Executive McGreevy to drop investigations into fraud and falsification of documents. Sutton said, “We can’t forget about the past, especially when there is the possibility there has been criminality or cover up.” McGreevy later retreated under cross-examination to claiming that documents not produced for Sutton had been “lost”. The Tribunal Panel itself intervened to cross-examine McGreevy on this. Councillors opposed to Flintshire’s large Labour majority gave evidence that they had warned Sutton to “watch his back”. Andy’s wife, Helen, broke down in tears as she spoke of her shock at a Police warning to “beware of the brotherhood”, meaning the Freemasons.
Another witness described how a property officer had been forced from his job after trying to recover debts from a commercial tenant, who seemed to be favoured and protected by senior Flintshire officers. He said, “There was a climate in the council that whistle blowers would be dealt with.”
Most extraordinary was the issue of the overpayments to the administrator to the Waterhouse Tribunal into child abuse in North Wales. Flintshire tried its utmost to prevent Chris Roberts, former Flintshire UNISON Secretary, giving her evidence. While the Tribunal restricted some details from her statement, she was allowed to appear. Roberts described a conversation between UNISON and the administrator who “said if she didn’t get the severance package she wanted then she would start making allegations about what she and [County Legal Head] Andrew Loveridge had done with regards to the Waterhouse Inquiry.” Roberts said she had been “paralysed by the enormity” of what she had been told about this and that she now believed that there had been corruption by Flintshire that affected the outcome of the £13 million Inquiry. Given the administrator’s role in providing files to the Police and Waterhouse from the North Wales councils, questions are being asked if evidence was held back, potentially altering the Waterhouse conclusions- and that this maybe what was in the part of Robert’s statement that was held back by the Shrewsbury Tribunal. Loveridge will face questions on this when his cross-examination starts on Monday.