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Havering Council denies conflicts of interest over links to ‘impartial’ investigator

PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 August 2020

Opposition politicians have renewed their objections to Havering Council's choice of investigator over gerrymandering claims, as further links were discovered between the investigator and the authority.

Opposition politicians have renewed their objections to Havering Council's choice of investigator over gerrymandering claims, as further links were discovered between the investigator and the authority.

Archant

Fresh concerns have been raised over an investigation into claims that Havering’s boundary change proposals were corrupted.

On the recording Cllr White claimed council chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert had allowed him to On the recording Cllr White claimed council chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert had allowed him to "influence" the council's boundary change submission, to make it "politically advantageous" for the Conservatives. Picture: Archant.

Council monitoring officer John Jones said he had “appointed an officer from another local authority to undertake the investigation”.

Rainham Labour MP Jon Cruddas said it was vital the investigator had “no ties to Havering or the Tories”.

But it later emerged that the investigator was in fact Mr Jones’s boss, Daniel Fenwick.

Both men are employed by oneSource, a shared services provider run by Havering, Newham and Bexley councils.

Council leader Damian White, due to be investigated by Daniel Fenwick, was one of a handful of councillors who selected Mr Fenwick for his current job. Picture: Havering CouncilCouncil leader Damian White, due to be investigated by Daniel Fenwick, was one of a handful of councillors who selected Mr Fenwick for his current job. Picture: Havering Council

Mr Fenwick is oneSource’s director of legal & governance and Mr Jones is his deputy. Both men also have roles as council monitoring officers – Mr Fenwick at Newham and Mr Jones at Havering.

But the Recorder has now confirmed through public records that Mr Fenwick formerly worked as Havering Council’s monitoring officer.

Opposition members have complained that his past role and ongoing position at oneSource mean he has worked closely with Havering chief executive Andrew Blake-Herbert – one of the subjects of the gerrymandering investigation.

Concerns have also been raised after records revealed Mr Fenwick was recommended for his oneSource job in June 2015 by five councillors, one of whom was council leader Damian White – another subject of the investigation.

Rainham Labour MP Jon Cruddas said Mr Fenwick's appointment was 'unbelievable' and accused Havering Council of 'circling the wagons'. Picture: Parliament.Rainham Labour MP Jon Cruddas said Mr Fenwick's appointment was 'unbelievable' and accused Havering Council of 'circling the wagons'. Picture: Parliament.

Last month, the Recorder reported on a secret recording of Cllr White claiming Mr Blake-Herbert had allowed him to “influence” the council’s proposed changes to electoral ward boundaries, to make them “politically advantageous”.

He alleged Mr Blake-Herbert had agreed that a Tory-controlled committee could “filter” proposals by civil servants, “pick which one we like”, change it and then send it to Full Council for a vote.

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The boundaries commission was “highly unlikely to put in the effort” to check what had happened, he added, because: “Apparently they only look at what was discussed and debated at a Full Council meeting. So there will only be one option from the council.”

Bob Perry, who secretly recorded a group meeting before quitting the Conservatives, said he believed the council was trying to gag him. Picture: Havering Council.Bob Perry, who secretly recorded a group meeting before quitting the Conservatives, said he believed the council was trying to gag him. Picture: Havering Council.

Council press officers “utterly refuted” Cllr White’s recorded comments.

Mr Cruddas has formally objected to Mr Fenwick’s appointment, accusing the council of “circling the wagons”. The Havering Residents Associations, who said he was “too close” to the council.

But the council insisted Mr Fenwick would be impartial as he had “no dealings whatsoever” with the council’s boundaries review.

ROW OVER ‘GAGGING’ EMAIL

Havering Council has refused to say whether an email warning councillors against criticising the authority online was linked to recent gerrymandering allegations.

On July 29, monitoring officer John Jones emailed members to “remind” them of IT rules drawn up in July 2018.

His email drew particular attention to rule eight, which warns of sanctions for “any use of the internet... that could damage the reputation of the council”.

Former Tory councillor Bob Perry, who leaked a secret recording which has led to a formal investigation into alleged gerrymandering, said he believed the email was intended as a “threat” and a “gagging order”.

The council denied this, saying: “The email is not in any way a gagging order, nor was it sent at the request of the leader.”

But when asked what had prompted this reminder of the two-year-old rules, the council declined to comment.


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