NYCC Out Of Control?
- a report by Tim THORNE on the second-best kept secret of North Yorkshire County Council; its special relationship with auditors Veritau Ltd (whose Board of Directors includes NYCC Chief Executive Officer Richard FLINTON and Executive County Councillor Carl LES) in respect of allegations of racially-motivated malicious misconduct on the part of Executive Officers against a North Yorkshire business enterprise.
The minutes from North Yorkshire County Council Executive meetings are normally mundane, but the minutes from 29th November 2011 and 3rd July 2012 reveal some startling allegations against Officers of North Yorkshire Trading Standards (NYTS) and North Yorkshire County Council.
It is alleged that Officers of NYTS:
- Engaged in an expensive two year malicious harassment campaign;
- Racially targeted the business on very minor allegations;
- Facilitated an unlawful arrest, which NYTS now apparently admit;
- Have been facilitating unlawful arrests for a long time;
- Accessed third party bank accounts illegally;
It is further alleged that Senior Officers of NYCC:
- Are being investigated by an outside Police force with regard to their conduct;
- Wasted a large sum of money on a prosecution that was doomed to failure;
- Harassed the complainant by reporting him to the Police for the same;
- Have little regard for proper conduct;
Due to the allegations above, the company wishes to relocate its business from North Yorkshire, which will cost the company £5million. The company will be looking to claim those costs from NYCC. It should be noted that NYCC has already lost one court case and had to pay costs, so should further legal action ensue and the company win, then that £5million plus further court costs will have to come from a budget that is already facing savage cuts.
Upon hearing the serious allegations against Officers of North Yorkshire Trading Standards and the County Council, the Executive Committee decided to implement an independent investigation of the allegations. The Executive committee turned to Veritau, a company wholly owned by North Yorkshire County Council and the City of York Council.
It is a year since the Executive meeting took place, so I thought I’d try an FOI request to get my hands on a copy of the Veritau report. It turns out that Veritau haven’t finished the report yet, so the conclusion to this story may take some time yet.
The Executive Meeting Minutes are reproduced below in full.
403. QUESTIONS AND STATEMENTS FROM MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC
Mr Tariq Mahmood had given notice to speak and a copy of his statement had been circulated to Members of the Executive. Mr Mahmood made the following statement:-
“This matter is of considerable importance and of very high public interest. We are a used vehicle sales business based in Crosshills, North Yorkshire, we have two further sites in Keighley, West Yorkshire. We turn over £20m annually, sell over 2,600 vehicles a year, hold over £4m in stock and employ predominantly local people, in the main from more disadvantaged areas. Our Company attracts business from outside the County and the Country, bringing other business to companies in the area. Unfortunately, due to the persistent unjustifiable victimisation by NYCC, which we believe is racially motivated, we are planning to move our business out of North Yorkshire, which will cost us in the region of £5m; we will be looking to claim for associated costs from NYCC.
North Yorkshire Trading Standards (NYTS) engaged in a very expensive two year malicious and false investigation into our business on very minor allegations. During the course of the investigation, NYTS had facilitated an unlawful arrest, which is now accepted by them, and it is my belief that NYTS have been arresting people illegally until now; In fact NYTS have never had an arrest procedure before. We also claim NYTS have been accessing third party bank accounts illegally and failing to obtain the mandatory court order. The Police, Serious Fraud Office, Revenue and Customs and all other more serious agencies have to obtain a court order to access third party bank accounts.
During the course of the investigation and before any charges were concluded against our company, I continuously raised my serious concerns with the now Chief Executive and the Assistant Chief Executive, who were both now fully involved in elements of this investigation. The malicious and false allegations resulted in a prosecution and NYTS had opted for a two week Crown Court trial as an alternative to a Magistrates trial. This prosecution failed at the trial and we were awarded full costs. The precise failures I raised with NYCC Senior Management, from the very start, had prevailed at the trail.
There are many serious concerns behind this failed and malicious prosecution and which are of great public interest. The serious allegations are supported by evidence. NYCC are continuing with this same culture of malicious and false allegations; including a recent complaint to the Police of harassment. This alleged harassment relates to one direct email and two copies emails which I sent. The Police have considered it not a Police matter.
I acknowledge the Assistant Chief Executive, with input from the Chief Executive, have authorised a full investigation. However, the investigation is being conducted by a company partly owned by NYCC; we would have much preferred a truly independent investigation. I believe this matter could be resolved by the Executive taking oversight of this investigation.”
County Councillor Carl Les, from the Chair, said that Executive Members had noted Mr Mahmood’s comments and would await the completion of the on-going investigation.
469. QUESTIONS AND STATEMENTS FROM MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC
Mr Tariq Mahmood made the following statement:
“Chairman and Councillors; North Yorkshire County Council has engaged in a malicious, failed and hugely expensive prosecution against us. The Assistant Director of Trading Standards has publicly stated that this expensive prosecution should not have happened and also acknowledged evidence of discrimination by your authority. This discrimination was stated by us to be present from the instigation of this complaint, but rather than acting with the propriety, even more public funds have been wasted backing this wrongful prosecution. There is a total disregard by NYCC for proper conduct and more emphasis on egos; they operate a culture of an “old boys club”, unable to provide objective thinking. Your Council is charged with good husbandry of public funds and in this failed prosecution there has been an abject failure. In this context, it should be noted, that had the Council seen fit to apologise for their acts at the outset and put in place proper procedures, this waste of time, money and escalation would have been avoided.
Recently, I have been seriously troubled by the Council sponsored malicious complaint made to the Police in an attempt to intimidate me from pursuing my complaint against the Council. The Assistant Chief Executive categorically claims the malicious complaint was absolutely nothing to do with the Council; however, the evidence clearly shows involvement of a number of senior officers. The Police consider your complaint not a Police matter, but I have grave concerns the Council, once again, are fully engaged in covering this up. I believe this matter requires further discussion and in the public interest, it should be explored in this Executive Meeting today.
An inquiry has been commissioned by the Council that Veritau investigates the malicious failed prosecution and our complaint. Such an investigation conducted by Veritau must be flawed for the reasons that Veritau is partly owned by North Yorkshire County Council and the Assistant Chief Executive and the Chief Executive, the persons commissioning Veritau are also subject to the same investigation. This cannot be seen to be fair and independent and must leave questions of doubts on any findings. Veritau also has two Directors in common with the Council, therefore cannot be perceived to be impartial.
Even worst, Veritau have an on-going business relationship with the Council and are directly employed by the Council; this may be predicted to provide exactly the answers that their employers desire.
As to how the investigation should be conducted, we need to look no further than the action taken by the North Yorkshire Police Authority who has passed their investigation of serious criminal allegations against North Yorkshire County Council to an independent Police Authority, so that justice may not merely be done, but will be seen to be done. I put it to you Chairman and Councillors that you should behave in a similar open, transparent and honest way.
As Veritau has already been commissioned, it may be problematic to instruct a new truly independent investigator. It is proposed that the findings of Veritau are to be considered by the Assistant Chief Executive, despite her being subject to investigation in this very matter; this is clearly unacceptable. To retain any degree of transparency and probity, it is essential that a truly independent body consider the findings of Veritau. Please direct that the complainant, the independent Police authority and the chosen independent Council body are given the full report from Veritau. It would clearly be wrong for any findings of Veritau to contain conclusions or recommendations of a subjective nature.
In brief, I am asking that you Councillors take control of this matter, instruct an independent body to oversee the Veritau investigation and return fairness, honesty and justice to the actions of North Yorkshire County Council.
Were an apology to be forthcoming for this proven maladministration by the Council and efforts to secure a better way of working, with which I am happy to assist, this matter can come to an end now. Councillors, I ask that you consider on the conclusion of the Veritau Investigation and subsequent independent review of its findings that we work together to ensure this does not happen again. At that time, I will support reconciliation with the Council rather than seeking a legal remedy.
Thank you Chairman, I am happy to answer any questions which you may have”.
Following Mr Mahmood’s statement County Councillor John Weighell asked whether the Veritau report could come back to the Executive and Carole Dunn, Assistant Chief Executive (Legal and Democratic Services) confirmed that a decision could be taken on that in due course. Mr Mahmood reiterated that he was very keen that an independent body over see the Veritau investigation.
County Councillor John Weighell referred to a previous telephone conversation he had had with Mr Mahmood on this subject and suggested that he found Veritau to be very independent in their practice. County Councillor Carl Les commented that he felt Veritau would act in an appropriate way and added that he was happy for a report to come back to the Executive as was County Councillor John Weighell. Mr Mahmood asked if it were possible for a Committee to oversee the Veritau investigation and County Councillor John Weighell replied that he felt this could actually constrain the independence of the investigation. He went on to assure Mr Mahmood that no Executive Member would want involvement in the investigatory process and would await completion of the report. Mr Mahmood commented that the Chief Executive had previously given assurances of no malicious action, adding that the Head of Trading Standards had stated that the prosecution should not have been undertaken. Mr Mahmood wished the Chief Executive had listened to the concerns he had raised at the outset and reiterated his doubts about the process of investigation being undertaken by Veritau. He felt that those commissioning the report from Veritau were potentially implicated in the complaint and therefore there was a conflict of interest.
County Councillor John Watson OBE spoke of the distinction between internal and external audit functions. He also pointed out that he was a Director of Veritau a role which came along with his broader portfolio holder responsibilities. In light of this role he was able to confirm that Veritau reports would go to the Audit Committee as a matter of course and so there would be no problem with the Executive being given access to appropriate Veritau reports.
County Councillor John Weighell thanked Mr Mahmood for attending and confirmed that all Executive Members present were aware of the allegations. He again noted his previous discussion on the telephone with Mr Mahmood and confirmed that the next step would be the receipt of the report from Veritau when the investigation had been completed. Mr Mahmood enquired how he might raise any concerns if any arose following the completion of the Veritau report, particularly regarding any potentially prejudicial aspect with which he disagreed.
County Councillor John Weighell stated that he had confidence in the independence of the forthcoming report and reiterated that he was happy to receive it once it was completed. Finally he gave a personal assurance that any concerns Mr Mahmood had regarding the report could be brought directly to himself or the Chairman of the Audit Committee, County Councillor Patrick Mulligan.
Other NYCC Articles: