Kingston Council Investigation

Statement from UKIP Kingston & Surbiton Constituency Candidate for General Election June 2017, Graham Matthews

James Berry MP Ignores Scandal of Delayed Investigation into Convicted Child Pornographer Derek Osbourne, ex-Leader of Kingston Council

One of the most serious investigations of a Council leader ever to take place in the UK has been severely delayed and appears to be so under-resourced that it will be impossible to complete, but is not receiving any attention from local Conservative MP James Berry.  Mr Berry is well placed to comment on legal investigations such as this, as in addition to being the MP for Kingston & Surbiton he is also a practising barrister and understands the legal process and costs extremely well.  We demand that he take this matter up with the Council and issue a statement to update his constituents on the progress of the report, which has already been delayed by two and a half years.  Without explanation, the credibility of this investigation is in tatters.  As the Libdems do not want to talk about the convicted child  pornographer who was their kingmaker for more than a decade, it falls to UKIP to raise these matters and demand answers.

Background

Derek Osbourne, the twice ex-leader of Kingston Council for over 10 years, was convicted of in 2013 of offences relating to the downloading and distribution of pornographic material involving children, animals and violence to women, offences going back over a period of more than 10 years.  The Royal Borough of Kingston Council decided to launch an investigation into his activities on 3 July 2014.  As noted in the minutes of the Policy and Finance Committee and the Report by the Head of Corporate Governance to that Committee, concerns existed around Osbourne’s influence over the childrens’ safeguarding services  provided by the Council’s Childrens’ Services department that had been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2012, and his possible influence over the youth activities of the Rose Theatre and the International Youth Arts Festival, which brought many potentially vulnerable unaccompanied youngsters to Kingston.  More serious allegations for a Council Leader in authority for so long are hard to imagine.  And yet the Tory-controlled Council’s investigation was given a budget set at such an obviously impossible level that it brings into question the commitment of the Council to get to the bottom of the issues it has raised.

The original deadline for the report was 4 December 2014, two and a half years ago.  The budget for the cost of the exercise was originally set at £10,000.  The investigation was to be led by an ‘Independent Person’, the identity of which is still undisclosed but presumably an external firm of lawyers.

The current Council Leader, Kevin Davis, refuses to give any explanation for the delay, simply stating that he cannot interfere with the work of the Independent Person.  However, this has now become an incredible position in the most literal sense – how can a complex investigation run for three years on a £10,000 budget?  Without explanation, the credibility of the investigation is in tatters.

Questions needing an answer

Serious questions now arise over why this report is so delayed, and about the adequacy of the arrangements for the investigation and the competency of the councillors who instigated it, in particular Kevin Davis.  Many questions arise around the budget of £10,000 and whether this was sufficient for an investigation of this scale:

  • £10,000 was never going to be sufficient for an investigation this complex. £10,000 would not even pay the minimum wage for one person for one year, let alone employ a lawyer and experts highly skilled in child protection matters for three years.  Who came up with this estimate and why was it accepted by Kevin Davis, Council Leader?
  • It is not even clear whether or not this £10,000 includes all costs, such as direct costs of the ‘independent person’ and the costs of the Council officials working on the case. Obviously the total cost including the time cost of all the people working on the case would be much higher.  What were the assumptions behind this cost estimate?  Were the Council planning for a real investigation, or something on the cheap? 
  • A mid-level lawyer might charge £250 per hour. In this case, and assuming £10,000 is the external cost only and includes VAT, then this would be a mere 33 hours of time.  And yet the investigation has been going on for over three years!  What is the current cost and estimate to completion?
  • It is impossible for any lawyer acting as an Independent Person to have performed a meaningful independent investigation with such constraints. Has the fee been renegotiated, and if not, how is the lawyer still working on such a small fee budget?  How much does the Council owe them?
  • This would put the lawyer into a potential breach of the Code of Conduct issued by the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority, a principle of which is that solicitors ‘must not allow [their] independence to be compromised’ and to ‘have the resources….to carry out your client’s instructions’. Clearly in this case, £10,000 was never sufficient to carry out such an investigation.  The subject of costs will have been raised by the lawyer and the Council must be in possession of relevant correspondence.  We demand to know how the Independent Person is maintaining their independence under these circumstances.
  • The Localism Act 2011, section 28 requires that all such Independent Person appointments are advertised. It is vital that the independence of such investigators is transparent.  However, a check of the archive of RBK Council procurement does not reveal any such advertisement being made.   A Freedom of Information request has been made to request evidence of this advertisement.  In other similar cases (e.g. Sandwell Council’s Wragge Report) delays have been caused by the relevant Council failing to follow Localism Act legislation. We demand to know whether or not such an advertisement was made, and in the interests of transparency we demand to know who the Independent Person is.
  • The original cost estimate of £10,000 happens to also be the amount defined by the Council in its procurement policy as a ‘minor work’. But any competent procurement officer or legal services team should have made a more realistic budget.  Although there are no exceptions from the requirements of the Localism Act 2011 s28, and the Independent Person role should have been advertised, it could be that the Council was attempting to apply its minor works procurement rules?  We demand answer as to why this was not procured as a major procurement when any competent procurement officer with knowledge of legal services procurement would know the cost would exceed £100,000, and challenge the £10,000 budget.

The investigation itself is such a serious matter that we need to ensure that it is (a) properly funded and independent, and (b) progresses smoothly to a conclusion so that residents can feel safe that all children safeguarding concerns arising from the Osbourne affair have been dealt with.

Other similar cases (such as Sandwell below) have had far greater disclosure during their progress.  To ensure transparency and credibility of the process, it is vital that the public know who is the Independent Person that has been appointed, what is the exact state of progress, and when the report will be issued.

For local MP James Berry to pay no attention to this matter and not make any statement on it, or investigate its progress, it a complete abdication of his responsibilities.  Whilst we can understand why the Libdems may not wish to pursue this matter, there is no reason a Conservative should not.  Perhaps it is the incompetence displayed by the Tories in the setting up of this investigation that is preventing him commenting?  Or is it because the report will eventually be reviewed by a fellow barrister, and it would never do to have one barrister commenting on the opinion of another?  James Berry needs to make his position clear, or what is the point of an MP?

 

Appendix – Case Study – Sandwell Council’s Wragge/Gowling Report and QC Opinion on It

A similar case that serves as a benchmark is Sandwell Council’s Independent Person investigation into allegations against deputy Council Leader Mahboob Hussain.  The Independent Person investigation commenced in March 2015, a separate QC report on this report was issued in May 2016, and the reports made public despite High Court challenges from the deputy Council Leader involved.  Far more efficient than Kingston!

The Localism Act of 2011 requires Councils to set up a code of conduct and investigate breaches of it, and to appoint Independent Persons whose views are to be sought before the Council makes any decision.  In the case of Sandwell, a law firm called Wragge, who later became Gowling, were appointed.

The accusations in the Sandwell case were more specific and easier to investigate than Osbourne, as they related to land sales which have documentary evidence trails.  Paedophile infiltration is much more difficult to prove and requires skilled investigators, such as those of the NSPCC.  Hence the cost of the Osbourne investigation should be far higher.

The process is complex.  During the investigation, the team has to do interviews, review documents, engage in multi-agency coordination (for example, in the Osbourne case the team will have to speak to the Kingston Safeguarding Children Board, Childrens’ Services, the Police, the Rose Theatre, IYAF organisers, etc).  They then produce a draft report that has to be ‘Maxwellised’ – meaning provided to Derek Osbourne for his comment and review before being finalised.    The Gowling report, which was published on Sandwell Council’s website, is 72 pages long.   Before being finalised, the deputy Council leader launched High Court action against Sandwell Council.

After Maxwellisation, which in the Sandwell case was a process fiercely contested by the accused lawyers, finalisation of the report can occur.  Partly due to questions over the independence of the Gowling report (it appears their appointment was not put out to tender by the Council) the Council then requested a QC barrister review the Gowling report for them.  The QC produced a further 79 page report before giving an opinion, also publicly available on the Sandwell Council website.

To imagine that such a process can be done for £10,000 is beyond incompetent, particularly as the Sandwell case was contemporaneous.

 

ENDS

Tolworth Greenway: Another White Elephant?

Tolworth Greenway – to those who haven’t seen it the name conjures up such a nice vision:
What is it they ask? An oasis of verdant vegetation to brighten up the lives of local residents?
Guess again.
Kingston Council’s idea of a ‘greenway’ is 500+ metres of nonsensical green stripy tarmac, replacing the central reservation/pavement and removing the safety barriers.

Apparently this was to calm traffic and improve cyclist and pedestrian safety, but what happens when you remove the barriers and replace it with nice smooth tarmac? Well the cars use it of course to do U-turns, etc. making life more dangerous for pedestrians.

On February the 14th a local woman crossing the road and her son were involved in a collision with a vehicle.
Woman Injured Crossing Greenway (www.yourlocalguardian.co.uk)

Local residents have long pointed out the lack of safety, though the Council has failed to act:
Disabled Campaigner points out problems at Greenway (from Surrey Comet)

Local Residents have their say (from Surrey Comet)

Greenway Not Justified (from Kingston Courier)

Is Tolworth Greenway Being Planned Properly? (from Your Local Guardian)

As soon as it was opened it was apparent that drivers were using it:
Drivers Using Greenway as a Shortcut (from Surrey Comet)

Of the £3,000,000 cost, £1m has come from the pockets of those very Council Tax payers whose safety is now compromised should they wish to cross this monstrosity on foot.

Given the use of this central reservation area by both pedestrians and vehicles what is the LibDem controlled Council’s policy to stop this? Add bollards maybe to protect pedestrians? No, that would ruin their aesthetic sensibilities. Instead they plan to introduce CCTV camera, no doubt to fine drivers in order to swell their coffers whilst leaving the pedestrians and cyclists to fend for themselves and dodge the traffic!
Council considers Greenway cameras (from Your Local Guardian)

How long until there’s a fatality on this flawed scheme?
How long until some remedial safety works are carried out?
Much more will these works cost the hard pressed tax-payers?

It’s time to put some common sense into the Council chambers; it’s time to vote UKIP!

Kingston Council – Inadequate Services at the Highest Cost

Did you know the following about our Lib-Dem controlled Council?
HIGHEST COUNCIL TAX in London, 4th highest out of 326 councils in England, but with
FAILED SERVICES – TWO damning OFSTED reports in 2012 and 2013 judging Children’s Services “INADEQUATE”.

RBK COUNCIL DEBT has increased 55% in just two years from £322million to £492million – £7,600 for every household! FACT

PENSIONS CRISIS – RBK Council owes £254million to the pension fund, although its net annual income is only £123million!!! FACT

HOW DID IT EVER COME TO THIS? AND HOW COME YOU DIDN’T KNOW?

ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS – under the 10-year leadership of disgraced Lib-Dem Council Leader Derek Osborne, the committee overseeing the Council’s Child Services failed to recognise the long- standing problems that OFSTED quickly found TWICE!

TOOTHLESS COUNCILLORS – for 10 years arrogant Lib-Dems and weak Tories have allowed the RBK Council Administration to control them, the elected councillors. The tail is wagging the dog THE SOLUTION IS TO HAVE A THIRD PARTY BREAK THE STALEMATE TO CHALLENGE AND SCRUTINISE THE RBK ADMINISTRATION.

ONLY YOU CAN PUT AN END TO THIS FARCE BY VOTING UKIP IN MAY’S ELECTIONS – GET A STRONG INDEPENDENT VOICE IN THE COUNCIL.

Do you want change? Do you want a more transparent and accountable council administration?
VOTE UKIP

Do you look at the leaders of Lib/Lab/Con and find you have nothing in common with them? That they are remote and don’t understand what you are going through? Do you feel like they never tell you the truth? That they spout political correctness whilst avoiding honest, direct answers? That they belittle your opinions and make you afraid to speak out? Do you want common sense people representing you?

Rose Theatre

According to Wikipedia:

The construction was undertaken with £5m (of the £11m construction cost) support from the local council, involvement from Kingston University, Peter Hall, and the Friends of Kingston Theatre. The shell of the building was provided to the Trust for free by St George plc as one of the concessions for the construction of Charter Quay, a development on the bank of the Thames.

Why did the Council not consult the Community about their 100 year financial commitment to the Rose Theatre that should be seeking funding from the Lottery, London Arts Council or the Performing Arts Fund? We had a perfectly good theatre once it was called The Assembly Rooms, the Council sold it, as per usual. (125 year lease at a yearly rent of £150,000)

The argument the Council puts forward for the Rose was that local schools benefit from day time workshops the theatre offers. Well done the Rose Management for thinking up that one, utilising an empty theatre during the day and charging the Council to use it.

All other theatres in the Area: the Playhouse Epsom, Wimbledon & Richmond Theatres are self sufficient or funded by Lottery, London Arts Council or the Performing Arts Fund. Not by their respective Local Authority.

That money could be better spent on more worthwhile community projects like Riding for the Disabled, Day Care Centre for the Elderly, a new Nursery School, or a Youth Centre.

No, the RBK Council, Lib Dems & Tories just love to squander our hard earned cash on pet projects.

If elected we would seek to scrap their promissory funding of for the next 100 years or reduce that funding by at least 80%.

We are not against having a Theatre in the Town but it should be funded by private enterprise NOT by the hard pressed Council Tax payers.

Background Reading / Sources:
Rose Theatre, Wikipedia
Theatre opens 2008, costing tax-payers £5m
December 2008, Council approve £600,000 annual subsidy over three years (£1.8m)
Disgraced Lib Dem Derek Osbourne, replying about funding, Feb 2010
Surrey Comet, Rose asks for more cash, Dec 2010
This Is Local London, cuts to libraries, etc. but Rose asking for cash, Jan 2011
Chief Exec Resigns, Nov 2011
Rose Subsidy reduced to £500,000 per annum.
Ticket Sales drop. 7th Feb 2012
Theatre still loss making.
Derek Osboure admits making and distributing child porn. 1st October, 2013

Primary School and Needle Exchange

Recently it’s come to light that Surbiton Health Centre on Ewell road runs treatment for those with drug and alcohol dependency and this includes a needle exchange program. The site is shared with Lime Tree primary school, a new and very much needed school for the local area.

Details have emerged that the head teacher was not made aware of these services by either the NHS or the Kingston council.

A recent study for the council, at a cost of £11,880 including VAT found that the largest risks were political involvement in the issue (that would be us) and a risk to the users of the service from the parents! The report did not investigate alternative sites for this service, the council estimates that another report would be needed and could cost an additional £40,000 to £80,000.

This is an ongoing shambles and should never have happened in the first place, though we agree with the need for needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV as well as drug and alcohol counselling, who in their right minds would situate this next door to a primary school. Previously these services were offered at Kaleidoscope – opposite a secondary school, Tiffin boys school.

Please help us fix this LibDem controlled council, vote for COMMON SENSE, vote for UKIP!

Kingston Guardian article.

Surrey Comet article

The report itself

Council Watch

We’re continually dismayed by the amount of tax payer money that seems to be frittered away by the Royal Borough of Kingston council, here’s some links to various news items that have recently come to light…

£8,000 for a set of yellow lines, for a week.

£2,000,000 to convert the Guildhall court rooms to offices, with £300,000 on a feasibility study!

£275,000 to revamp their website. – by comparison we had lots of change out of the £50 of our not YOUR money it cost to setup this site.

£128,000 ‘golden goodbye’ given to head of ‘failing’ child protection department

No doubt there’ll be more to come on this story in future…