Councillors' letters were opened without permission, Town Hall admits

Letter to Havering councillor Bob Perry

A constituent's letter to Emerson Park councillor Bob Perry was opened and scanned by Havering Council, without permission. - Credit: Bob Perry

Councillors have spoken out after their private letters were opened by Havering Council officers without permission.

The authority has admitted it opened the mail, but says it did so in case the correspondence contained anything urgent.

The Recorder spoke to three councillors who said their mail was opened.

Cllr Bob Perry (Emerson Park, Independent) called it “a completely unacceptable breach of privacy”.

He said he was “shocked to notice that a private letter from a resident, addressed to me personally, had not only been opened by council officers but marked as scanned”.

“Correspondence between an elected member and a constituent is sacrosanct,” he said. “The public have a right to expect that their privacy is respected, as do councillors.”

After complaining, he said other councillors came forward.

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Cllr Perry said he was concerned the council may have broken data rules.

Under the Postal Services Act 2000, it is an offence to open somebody else’s mail “intending to act to a person’s detriment and without reasonable excuse”.

But the council has insisted it was only trying to be helpful.

Cllr Gillian Ford (Cranham, Upminster and Cranham Residents Group) said her mail was also opened.

“There was no consultation,” she said, adding that some residents include personal details in their letters or contact councillors in confidence to complain about council staff or services.

South Hornchurch independent Cllr Graham Williamson said he too received opened letters.

“They never sought consent,” he said.

Havering councillors Bob Perry, Gillian Ford and Graham Williamson

Opposition councillors Bob Perry, Gillian Ford and Graham Williamson each reported that their letters had been opened by Havering Council without consent. - Credit: Bob Perry / Arnaud Stephenson / Graham Williamson

A council spokesperson said: “During the pandemic, post was opened, checked for urgency and forwarded, including by email, to councillors.

“This was done to help them quickly receive any correspondence, especially when the lockdown was in full effect. It was not done for any other reason.

“However, we have been told by some councillors that they are not happy with this arrangement. We will therefore go back to simply forwarding mail at regular intervals.”

However, Cllr Ford said that explanation “doesn’t make sense” because “we are still having a weekly post delivery, like we did before Covid".

“We are not getting it any quicker or slower,” agreed Cllr Williamson.