Open mic remarks reveal true role of ‘Independent Person’

October 15, 2020 10:00 PM
By Peter Dobbs

Open MicAt the end of the Derbyshire Dales District Council Full Council Meeting of 8th October all of the councillors had 'left' the virtual meeting on Zoom. However a small number of officers of the Council were still talking between themselves.

What they did not know was that the live stream was still being broadcast on the Council's YouTube channel.

Their conversation, reported in this week's Ashbourne News Telegraph (14th October 2020) and also on their website https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/local-news/backlash-over-ashbourne-black-head-4603323 reveals just how 'independent' the enquiry really was.

Lee Gardner, the authority's legal services manager and deputy monitoring officer said: "I am absolutely fuming at Cllr (David) Hughes [Lib Dem Ward Member for Matlock St Giles and Mayor of Matlock], because I feel that was a direct attack that my team did a biased report. I am livid to say the least."

Tim Braund, director of regulatory services, responded: "It's just the latest in a long line, Lee, you're not on your own."

Mr Gardner said: "I am absolutely fuming, they worked bloody hard on that, excuse my language, and I know they were watching tonight, God knows how they feel."

So it seems that all the 'window dressing of having Steve Dunning, the 'Independent Person', present the report and answer questions, was clearly exposed.

It was the Council's own legal team who had carried out the investigation, with Mr Dunning's role not one of directing the entire process but rather reviewing what the report said.

This was the report that used only TWO eye witness accounts to establish the role of two District Cllrs - Stuart Lees and Tom Donnelly - on the night of 8th June 2020. These accounts were the statements by the same two Cllrs who were essentially the subject of the enquiry. No other corroborating statements were sought, despite alternative witnesses being suggested by Cllr Rob Archer (Lib Dem Ashbourne South).

To summarise the enquiry;

  • Two Tory Cllrs are suspected of acting in an improper manner.

  • Asked if they thought they did anything wrong they replied 'no'. (To quote a character from a much earlier Tory scandal 'They would say that, wouldn't they').

  • No other witnesses present at the incident provide statements to the enquiry.

  • Tory majority votes to accept the report and complains about the questioning of the 'Independent Person'. The two Cllrs that are the subject of the report are allowed to vote to accept the report that exonerates them.

We hope that the District Council will rapidly establish another enquiry that will have greater credibility, if it is genuine in wishing to prevent a repeat of the debacle that occurred in Ashbourne on the evening of 8th June 2020.