NYCC Standards Report: Blackburn Whitewashed!

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NYCC Standards Report: Blackburn Whitewashed!

County Councillor BLACKBURN “would not do that” – Oh, really?

  • an ‘In My View’ article by Nigel Ward, reporting on another sorry travesty of the Complaints Procedure at NYCC.


On 16th December 2012, I published an article here on Real Whitby entitled “The Stamp(s) of Authority”.

Briefly stated, the article reported on a sequence of events that began eleven days earlier when a member of the public commented on a previous article (“Double-Dipping double-talk – a Frank and Honest Statement?” – concerning County Councillor Joe PLANT [Con] and his pusillanimous empty rhetoric regarding his serial double-dipping).

The comment concerned anecdotal evidence to the effect that SBC/NYCC double-dipper County Councillor John BLACKBURN [Con] had openly bragged about siphoning off the postage stamps provided to him by NYCC for Council correspondence for his own private use and – far more seriously – sending out party-political election campaign material in the run-up to elections.

This is a criminal offence, since it involves using the tax-payers’ money to promote a single political party – in this case (you guessed it) the Conservative Party.


I soon tracked down the source of the anecdotal evidence. It turned out that County Councillor John BLACKBURN’s rather rash remarks had allegedly been made at private Conservative Party campaign meetings, in the presence of other witnesses. The witness was reluctant to come forward and report the matter because of previous indications that it would be smart to keep quiet about County Councillor John BLACKBURN’s indiscretions, on pain of certain undefined but clearly unpleasant consequences.

At first, I was somewhat disappointed, because I believe that wrong-doing by those holding the public trust should always be addressed. Fortunately, another Councillor very kindly pointed me in the direction of a NYCC guidance document that informed me of the possibility of lodging an Anonymous Complaint on behalf of the witness, provided always that such Complaint was in the Public Interest, which, in a case of allegations of fraud on the part of a County and Borough Councillor entailing electoral abuse, it clear is:

  • “Please note that the Council will not investigate anonymous complaints unless there is a significant public interest in doing so“.

So, having obtained a written statement from the Anonymous Complainant, along with an authorisation for me to act as Complaint Friend, on 6th December 2012 I lodged a Formal Complaint against County Councillor John BLACKBURN. This was eventually acknowledged on behalf of NYCC by Moira BEIGHTON, Senior Lawyer (Governance) seven weeks later on 31st January 2013.

On 18th March 2013, Moira BERIGHTON emailed me assuring me that the matter had been referred for investigation. Time passes slowly up here in the mountains.

On 29th April, I emailed Moira BEIGHTON to inform her that a second Complainant had come forward, via Real Whitby, with testimony corroborating the Anonymous Complaint. This second Complainant was willing to support the Complaint in his real name.

Two days later, on 1st May 2013, I received an email from one Catriona GATTRELL, Corporate Services Legal Manager at NYCC, informing me that she had been appointed as the Investigating Officer for the BLACKBURN Complaints and claiming that, having previously emailed me on 21st March 2013 (my email client has no record of that email – perhaps it was genuinely ‘lost in space’?), she was now completing her Report.

It will not have escaped readers’ attention that the County Council Full-Term Elections was due to take place on the following day – 2nd May 2013.

Could it be that NYCC had been dragging their heels over the BLACKBURN Complaints to prevent any adverse publicity during his re-election campaign?

Readers are, of course, free to make up their own minds on that point.

Speaking for myself, I have formed the opinion that such was indeed the case.

Be that as it may, I responded to Catriona GATTRELL immediately, providing the name and contact details of the second Complainant.



Having provided the necessary background to the BLACKBURN Complaints, I will now ‘cut to the chase’.

On 14th June, Catriona GATTRELL emailed me, stating that she had been unable to question County Councillor John BLACKBURN until the previous week (3rd to 7th June 2013), and attaching her Final Report.

In disregard of the innumerable occasions on which I have notified NYCC that I reserve the right to publish my correspondence with the Council into the public domain, at my own prerogative, Catriona GATTRELL also stated that:

  • “You will note that the report is marked confidential and not for publication.”

Out of sight, out of mind, eh? That is what she thinks.

She also states that it was not until 7th May 2013 (after the elections) that she received notification of the second Complaint. How very convenient. But then time sure does pass slowly up here in the mountains.

Catriona GATTRELL’s Final Report is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. It is a cheap-grade whitewash and a sham.

Her conclusion is that, although it is true that County Councillor John BLACKBURN hoarded his Stamp Allowance, she has been unable to ascertain exactly how many stamps (and to what value) he has claimed since his election back in May 2004, or for what purpose they were used. They may even have been converted into cash, but Catriona GATRELL has not addressed that possibility at all in her Final Report.

Catriona GATRELL admits that, despite having made no attempt to question the Anonymous Complainant (either via the Complaint Friend or in person, without the Anonymous Complainant disclosimg his/her identity):

  • “In making my findings I have given limited weight to the written statement of the anonymous complainant”.

Nor has Catriona GATTRELL made any attempt to question the second Complainant (though she does have name and full contact details, and has corresponded with him directly regarding his Formal Complaint).

Astonishingly, she adds:

  • “I have spoken to Councillor Blackburn and questioned him directly on the allegations on two occasions and give greater weight to his evidence”.

On this basis, she concludes that County Councillor John BLACKBURN “is unlikely to have made remarks of the nature alleged”.


Because she is willing to accept County Councillor John BLACKBURN’s claims that, although he rather conveniently cannot recall the specific events that gave rise to the Formal Complaints:

  • “he did not use the postage allowance in this way and would not have done so”.

Catriona GATTRELL seems to be unaware that, in English, the word “would” is an auxiliary verb indicating the subjunctive or irrealis mood (a mood that does not refer directly to what is necessarily real or true).

It is also conditional – it implies an “if” clause, in the following sense:

In plain language, County Councillor John BLACKBURN has satisfied Catriona GATTRELL only this:

That he “would not have” abused his Stamp Allowance, “if . . . “

If what?

If he knew that the ultimate consequence of bragging about having abused his Stamp Allowance  “would” result in two independent Formal Complaints against? That I can believe.

In summary, Catriona GATTRELL’s investigation of two Formal Complaints, from two independent witnesses – whose statements she has made no attempt to investigate, and to which she has determined to give “limited weight” – has recommended absolving County Councillor John BLACKBURN on the grounds that he says he “would not have” abused his Stamp Allowance in the way that two witnesses have independently asserted he previously bragged about doing.

Is this what passes for “due diligence” at County Hall?

Apparently so.

The court of public opinion may be less biased in County Councillor John BLACKBURN’s favour.

After all, County Councillor John BLACKBURN’s record is not encouraging. He is one of thirty-seven DOUBLE-DIPPERS who exploited the respective Allowances Schemes of NYCC and SBC for his own personal gain.

I will be raising further penetrating questions about County Councillor John BLACKBURN’s moral probity in due course – but not via the NYCC or SBC Complaints Procedures, in which I have no confidence whatsoever.

Nothing for it, then, but to NAME and SHAME. With luck, he might sue me.

Meanwhile, NYCC CEO Richard FLINTON continues to decline my invitation to discuss a rational and just resolution to this continuing saga of corruption in North Yorkshire.

Of course, in the final analysis it is no skin off his nose that four of the SBC Double-Dippers lost their County seats in the May 2013 County Elections (Councillors Bill CHATT, Mike COCKERILL, Peter POPPLE and Brian SIMPSON), as well as Councillor John FOX [LibDem] of Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) and Mike JORDAN [Con] of Selby District Council (SDC) – not to mention Councillor Neville HUXTABLE [Con] of Hambleton District Council (HDC), Councillor Dave PEART [Con] of SDC, and Councillor Andrew WILLIAMS [Lab] of HBC, who chose not to stand, thus evading relentless media censure.

But Councillors do only as Council Officers advise. Perhaps it is time to look more closely at Council Officers?



About the Author:

Website Admin for the Real Whitby Website. All authors of the Real Whitby Website have access to publish on the website. Individual authors will usually sign off their articles with their own names.


  1. Brian Dodds June 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Excellent article Nigel, as you say it has all the earmarks of a complete whitewash, which I believe was fully expected. I think you have hit the nail on the head and maybe it is time to start investigating the council officers, I don,t think there will be many contradictions when I say,” it is obvious that they all pee in the same pot” councillors and council officers are all as corrupt as each other.

  2. Rupert Ferguson June 17, 2013 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    Oh yes! They’re at it again! No wonder it’s ‘Austerity’ time for the rest of us!

  3. Geraldine Mitchell June 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    From the Governments own figures the £millions spent on biscuits by public servants is astonishing in these times of austerity….but the exceedingly large waste of taxpayers money spent on ‘double dipping’ and so forth is scandalous. Talk about benefit fraud!I expect Councillor Blackburn and Catriona Gattrell had a chuckle at anyone having the temerity to get seriously cross about his using ‘a few stamps’ inappropiatly and decided that you were just trying to sabotage the man and his party. For me , as a member of the public who reads about all the money paid to people in public office who are not entitled to it, it seems to me that a few stamps are the same as claiming expenses for a moat or for the same thing twice….they are all part of a culture of corruption, spin , denial, and unaccountability. Until the public refuse to accept any wrongdoing by any elected person,this wasting of multi £millions won’t stop; integrity is not judging wrong and right by ‘what you can get away with’it seems to me a man who brags about getting away with something amongst cronies and who denies his actions in public has no integrity at all. Its a good thing the Real Whitby jounalists are tenacious in sticking with these corrupt public servants and demanding more honesty from them than the present culture seems to expect

  4. kathleen parker June 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    I agree start investigating the officers! See what muck they’re hiding!

  5. rod mathers June 18, 2013 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    He should own up, pay up, shut up and resign. End of.

  6. Jane Swales June 18, 2013 at 6:33 pm - Reply

    It’s easy to see why the officers are so keen to bury every complaint. Mr Flinton’s future career will depend on him keeping NYCC as blemish free as possible, with no big scandals during his watch. His problem now is that he may have past the point of no return. The whitewashes are getting more and more flimsy. And he must be terrfied of the consequences of the Carl Les fraud allegations, which appear to be virtually watertight. In his shoes, I would announce an immediate crackdown on corruption at every level, and I would invite the Real Whitby crew to join in on an appointed impartial body to deal with these things properly. It would save the taxpayer a fortune and save his own CV at a stroke. Maybe that perspective is too feminine for a male power-player….but it is tried and tested. If you can’t beat ’em, co-opt ’em!

    • Jane Swales June 20, 2013 at 7:42 am - Reply


      Funnily enough, I picked up a very useful piece of information just last night. Before I saw your comment. It’s not forced to be true, of course. But it might explain a lot. That would depend on who else knows it.

  7. Nigel Ward June 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    “However, a survey using Freedom of Information laws has found that the orders are also widely used across police forces, leading to concerns that whistleblowers are being silenced.”

    Now tell me that there is no cover-up culture.

  8. Nigel Ward June 19, 2013 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    “According to figures released under Freedom of Information, in the past eight years 539 [BBC] staff have signed gagging orders at a total cost of £28million.”

    Now tell me there is no cover-up culture.

  9. Carole Gerada June 22, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Any organisation that investigates itself will always find in its own favour. There is no justice.

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