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Derbyshire Email Scandal

November 19, 2021 6:29 PM
By Peter Dobbs
Cllr Ed Fordham

Cllr Ed Fordham

It has emerged and been confirmed that for some time - possibly a period of years - Derbyshire County Council has been accessing, reading and in some cases responding to the private emails of councillors.

Cllr Ed Fordham, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the County said "This is a scandal. There have been concerns for some time that emails of councillors have been interfered with, but it has been largely dismissed. It wasn't until I myself realised that staff were accessing my email directly that I demanded clarification and honesty.

"I was stunned that confirmation came back that four staff indeed did have access and they did read my email. At no point whatsoever have I been asked for consent, I have never agreed to this and I did not know. Much of my correspondence is of a very personal nature regarding issues facing my residents. Often I am raising serious concerns with managers about the effectiveness of departments and the quality of work done. Now I find that these - often highly personal and highly confidential - were being read all along by staff who did not have my consent.

"I believe - and the advice I have been given confirms this - that this is highly illegal and in flagrant breach of Data Protection Law and GDPR. Further, I believe that this practise was knowingly enabled by senior staff.

"I formally raised this with the Head of Paid Service and the Director of Legal and Democratic Services on Thursday 4th November. By Friday 5th November I had forced the Council to cease unauthorised access to the emails of Liberal Democrat councillors and I have now tabled a motion to the next meeting of Full Council.

"It is perhaps even more astonishing that the information officers were accessing was financial information provided to me by local residents and groups.

"The Council has now referred itself to its internal investigator - but I am calling for an automatic referral by the County Council to the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) for a genuinely independent investigation. If the Council does not refer itself then I shall.

"My predecessor as Liberal Democrat Leader, Cllr Beth Atkin, often raised concerns about her emails and access and they were dismissed - it is now evident that her fears had substance.

"What Derbyshire County Council has been doing is out of order, ethically wrong and without the very basic principle of consent. GDPR law was only brought in in 2018 and yet this practise clearly was going on long before this. I fear that we have IT policies that have been ignored, sidelined and this is a Council that has become complacent and arrogant and I believe, acting outside Data Protection and GDPR law.

"It is also clear that the practise of accessing emails of councillors has not been confined to myself and the Liberal Democrats, but to every single councillor, and at no point did the Council get individual written consent.

"This practise has to stop and I am demanding that it is stopped immediately - residents and councillors deserve better. Bad practise such as this should be exposed so that everyone can learn - learn that this is unacceptable. This is why I have now tabled my motion to Full Council for 1st December.

This scandal comes in the context of the news that the County Council is also banning staff from having direct contact with the media - this is not healthy, nor natural and sets a poor example to residents whom the Council is supposed to serve.