Black’s Head Report – a Whitewash?

October 9, 2020 9:00 PM
By Peter Dobbs

Report labelled 'independent' turns out to have only sought eye-witness statements from those under scrutiny in the report. Blacks Head (BBC)

At a long and heated meeting of Derbyshire Dales District Council, questions over the many apparent omissions and inconsistencies in the report were given the same response from the 'Independent Person' (Steve Dunning) - that it was not within the terms of reference of the enquiry.

It is of note that the terms of reference for the enquiry were never discussed at council - they were merely notified to Councillors and any suggestions - for example that an independent solicitor be present - were not accepted by the then Monitoring Officer, Sandra Lamb. We think that it is also fair to say that anyone listening to the response of DDDC CEO Paul Wilson at the Emergency Council Meeting of 11th June (On YouTube from 2hr 1min)) would have expected a review with far wider terms of reference than those which were actually employed.

The problem with such narrowing of the terms of reference is that it immediately suggests that there is something to hide.

A reminder of the Black's Head incident;
After a petition to remove the 'head' from an inn sign receives considerable online support, another petition to 'save' it is launched, with increasingly strong comments on social media. The District Council who, to the surprise of many, actually own the head, decide to arrange for it to be taken down to prevent it becoming a focus of unrest (lock-down had only just been eased and people were not supposed to be gathering in large groups).

Summoned by social media, a large group congregates around the Black's Head sign and during the course of the evening of 8th June, the road is blocked, ladders erected and the head taken down by hand. There is little evidence of good H&S practice. Several Conservative Town and District Councillors are present, some appearing to take a significant role in directing the proceedings. The head is driven away in a van and, according to press comments, 'is being hidden so that the people of Ashbourne can decide what to do with it'.

Almost 3 days later the head is handed over for storage but Matlock Town Hall was apparently not acceptable. Instead it is to be stored at the County Council Record Office. '

Amazingly the only witness statements involving those present when the head was taken down are those of Conservative District Councillors Stuart Lees (Ashbourne North) and Tom Donnelly (Ashbourne South). Statements from other Conservative Town and District Councillors were sought but were not able to be used because they either did not respond or did not confirm their statement, according to the report. Why this might be we can only speculate.

We believe that the report is significantly flawed. If it was designed to draw a line under what was for many a most unfortunate incident, it has spectacularly failed.

It has failed to answer many questions that were again not answered by Steve Dunning at the Council Meeting on 8th October.

Why was the opinion of perhaps as few as 3 or 4 people taken as being representative of the view of all Ashbourne residents in deciding what action to take (Cllr Rob Archer).

Why did neither Cllr Purdy or Cllr Lees call the police if they believed the situation was 'volatile' and there was risk of the 'head being damaged'? (Cllr David Hughes).

Why is action that amongst other things resulted in the obstruction of the highway (A515 northbound) described as admirable? (Cllr Clare Gamble).

Why were the obvious breaches of Health and Safety guidance that placed both themselves and members of the public at risk not considered by the report? (Cllr Sue Burfoot)

Why did the Council Leadership Team, having taken a decision to remove the head 'with immediate effect' on the morning of 8th June, not immediately request that Council employees carry out that operation to avoid any public confrontation, rather than wait for the following day? (Cllr Steve Flitter)

Cllr Flitter added that he would be taking the matter further to establish answers to the questions that had failed to be answered by the report.

As Cllr Clare Gamble said at the meeting, 'Councillors were promised by CEO Paul Wilson an independent review with a remit decided by the Council. When are we going to have that?'

One of the most powerful contributions made at the meeting was the following statement by Cllr Jacqui Allison.

'It is disappointing that this report comes to the Council at the start of Black History Month - which the Council has chosen to ignore. I would have thought acknowledging Black History Month would have been an ideal way to try to repair some of the damage that has been done to community cohesion by the events of 8th June.

I do not believe the accounts of the events in the report. I think that the report has been written to ensure those involved in the events of June 8th were never held accountable for their actions'.

The report was passed with all but one of the Conservatives present voting to accept the report (Cllr Sue Bull abstained). No other party voted in favour.

The two District Councillors under scrutiny in the report (Cllrs Lees and Donnelly) were allowed to vote for the report that exonerated them.

You may view the Full Council meeting on YouTube. The report is discussed from 3hr 25mins