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SBC Legal Posturing Booted Into The Long Grass

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SBC Legal Posturing Booted Into The Long Grass

  • an ‘In My View’ article by Nigel Ward, offering an overview of the current Mexican stand-off between Real Whitby and Scarborough Borough Council.

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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

The criticism most frequently levelled by Scarborough Borough Councillors against their own Council (SBC) is that it is ‘Officer-led’. This is a euphemistic turn of phrase, the meaning of which is actually that Councillors have little or no input into the overall direction that the Council adopts, other than reactively – as opposed to pro-actively. Even in this reactive mode, they are hamstrung by ‘the party line’.

The truth, of course, is that a small group of Executive Officers, together with core members of Councillor Tom FOX’s hand-picked Cabinet, assume a more or less autonomous rôle in directing precisely which major projects and corporate actions the Council ultimately pursues.

Local readers will recall the abysmal failures (in terms both financial and in the quality of local services and amenities) of its various forays into commercial life; the Sands development, the proposed sale of the Town Hall (and concomitant acquisition of a derelict out-of-town office-block), the Open Air Theatre, the exploitation of the “miraculous windfall” opportunity of the Dogger Bank wind-farm, and so on. These (and more) on-going failures are continually off-set by an increasingly aggressive strategy in relation to revenue – increases in parking-charges, berthing, rents and concessions – accompanied by equally aggressive policy prohibition, licensing, ‘fines’, prosecutions and legal actions.

In short, SBC – or rather this small cadre of Executive Officers and ‘leading’ Cabinet Portfolio Holders – has been playing a private game of Monopoly with the public purse, rather badly, and shoring up its coffers by squeezing to the bone the general public, the public by whom they have been entrusted with the duty to serve.

Although it is true that the Council (both the body corporate and the body electoral) is a person*, it is important to remember that this person is comprised of a number of individual human beings. Fallible human beings – if that is not a tautology.

[*– legally speaking, a person is any being whom the law regards as capable of rights and duties].

Which brings me to my own most frequent criticism of the Council – and Scarborough Borough Council is by no means the only Local Authority against whom I would level this criticism – namely, that the Council appears to be innately incapable of acknowledging that mistakes have been made and, on occasion, serious wrong-doing and even criminality has taken place.

In their determination never to ‘fess up’ to anything – which must necessarily entail conceal wrong-doing – they have ignored fully-documented Formal Complaints in the public interest and Freedom of Information requests (including my own Subject Access Request), and have even U-turned on their own official position. SBC is presently pursuing an evasion policy with regard to the due processes of accountability.

Their engagement with the public is restricted to opaque correspondence couched in a sort of pseudo-legalese. For those readers who are unsure of the meaning of the term ‘legalese’, the Free Dictionary provides the following definition:

Legalese
n.

The specialized vocabulary of the legal profession, especially when considered to be complex or abstruse.

My own legal dictionary quotes Thomas Jefferson on ‘legalese’, in the following terms:

“. . . their multiplied efforts at certainty, saids and aforesaids, by ors and ands, to make them more plain, are really more perplexed and incomprehensible, not only to common readers, but to the lawyers themselves.”

Essentially, legalese is the language of bluff and bluster. The true nature and message of these Council letters, written in pseudo-legalese, is that they bellow and scream “We know the law – you don’t – and we will use its full might (paid for from public money) to intimidate you into withdrawing from any contention with the Council”.

In my view, that is a totally unacceptable message, coming as it does from those who are duty-bound to serve, not to dominate. It is tantamount to institutionalized legal bullying:

“Legal bullying is the bringing of a vexatious legal action to control and punish a person. Legal bullying can often take the form of frivolous, repetitive, or burdensome lawsuits brought to intimidate the defendant into submitting to the litigant’s request, not because of the legal merit of the litigant’s position, but principally due to the defendant’s inability to maintain the legal battle.”    [Wikipedia]

SBC v Real Whitby and Members of the Public

Regular readers will have discerned that I am coming now to the threat of legal action against Real Whitby and its main contributors, instigated by SBC’s Director of Democratic & Legal Services Lisa DIXON, back on 26th March 2013.

Since then, the Cabinet has convened twice without being able, it would seem, to circumvent the requirement for all Members to declare any personal and/or prejudicial interest in the matter, as occasioned by the past conduct of all bar one of them – Councillor David CHANCE (Con) – because, as ‘double-dippers’ (of whichever stripe) whose personal loss of dignity and credibility (as reflected in the local and national press, where they have been roundly and quite rightly lambasted), has arguably brought themselves and their Council into disrepute, clearly they have a personal and prejudicial interest in stifling further criticism.

To some degree, the same dilemma faces Lisa DIXON herself, in virtue of the acute embarrassment she has incurred through her abject failure as Monitoring Officer to the North York Moors National Park Authority – a failure that has necessitated the referral to the North Yorkshire Police of a prima facie suspicion that some variation on ‘insider dealing’ has taken place in regard to the York Potash Ltd planning application. She, too, is widely viewed as having brought herself and her two authorities into disrepute.

Unsurprisingly, SBC has failed to confirm who (if anyone) authorised the letters-before-action that Lisa DIXON wrote to Real Whitby and its main contributors.

And, curiously, Lisa DIXON has even ignored several requests from a member of the public to provide the definition of the term ‘disrepute’ upon which the Council relies, as appears in the Code of Conduct:

  • 7. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing the Council into disrepute, or your position as a Councillor into disrepute.

Consequently, it is small wonder that the SBC Cabinet has now deferred the matter of the threatened legal action – first from 23rd April until 21st May 2013, and most recently from 21st May to 17th September (four months into the future, and six months after the original abortive attempt to terminate the Real Whitby website).

  • SBC Cabinet has effectively kicked the legal threat out into the long grass.

But the matter will not rest there.

Truth and/or Fair Comment

It must be remembered that in order for a statement to be adjudged defamatory, it must be demonstrable that it was both untrue and was known to be untrue by its author.

Expressed conversely, a statement of TRUTH, or of FAIR COMMENT (believed to be the truth at the time of publication), cannot be defamatory.

It is now over ten weeks since Lisa DIXON’s threatening letters; during which time she has thus far proved unable even to indicate (i) which statements, (ii) in which articles, (ii) by which author she alleges to be defamatory – i.e. untrue and published in the knowledge that they were untrue.

Thus, SBC, as claimants, would be well-advised to reflect very carefully before squandering tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds on a lost cause that can only drag the Council into further public disgrace – the more especially so when those pounds come from the public purse.

But here we come full circle, for we are back at the point where I began: the Council appears incapable of admitting errors of judgment, commercial folly or moral turpitude such as the ‘double-dipping’, the failure to declare disclosable interests, the witting propagation of disinformation or any of the abuses of position that have been meticulously documented on Real Whitby.

This aggressive/defensive posturing begins at the top and permeates the management layers of the Council, paid public servants and elected members alike, like a malignant tumour. Its root cause is an unacknowledged fear of being seen to be unequal to the real-world demands of playing corporate Monopoly with the public purse.

Metaphorically speaking, the Emperor knows only too well that he is naked and cringes at finding himself exposed by the spotlight of Real Whitby scrutiny.

Why else would our anti-corruption campaign elicit such hostility?

Under a more confident, competent and less tainted leadership, the Council might perhaps discern the wisdom of engaging with the anti-corruption lobby with a view to fulfilling the worthy aspiration to attain acceptable standards of conduct within the Council – in line with the Nolan Principles.

I close now by expressing my thanks for all the messages of support, both here and on the social-media network, by email and phone, and not forgetting the local people who have provided so much information. I can promise you that we will not succumb to corporate bullying and we will continue to publish the truth as we know it. The truth is unassailable in law, as in life.

For information

The Cabinet of Scarborough Borough Council comprises:

Councillor Thomas W Fox  (Leader/Chair) – [Category 2 double-dipper]

Councillor Derek J Bastiman – [Category 2 double-dipper]

Councillor David Chance – [not criticized by Real Whitby or Private Eye]

Councillor William Chatt – [Category 1 double-dipper]

Councillor Mike Cockerill – [Category 1 double-dipper]

Councillor Miss Jane M Kenyon – [Category 3 double-dipper]

Councillor Mrs Penny Marsden – [Category 1 double-dipper]

Councillor Brian Simpson – [Category 1 double-dipper]

[Category 1 = Broadband/IT Allowance from both SBC and NYCC; Category 2 = Broadband/IT Allowance for both husband and wife in the same household; Category 3 = Telephone/Calls Allowances from both NYCC and the NYPA].

Related Reading

“Attempted Termination of Real Whitby”

“Who is monitoring the Monitoring Officers?”

“Scarborough Bully Council”

“SBC Press Censorship – More Incredible Revelations”

 Flawed_Cabinet

Posted by on June 10, 2013. Filed under Featured,News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

14 Responses to SBC Legal Posturing Booted Into The Long Grass


  1. Al Roberts Reply

    June 10, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks Nigel for a complete and factual account of this fiasco.

    How sad that the behaviour of the heads of department at SBC, in not defending their actions, has removed any respect and confidence for the organisation that should be looking after us.

  2. kathleen parker Reply

    June 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Thankyou Real Whitby that’s all we need is TRUTH and HONESTY,we get that from you shame we don’t from S.B.C.

  3. rj arbuckle Reply

    June 10, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    hi nige, Legalese is just legal jargon, but does not make it lawful (: and a Person is a legal fiction hence ur birth certificate or a corporation acting under a person 2 (: BLACKS LAW DICTIONARY ( :

  4. Longbones Reply

    June 10, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    I sincerely hope that in the very near future that Scarborough Borough Council loses it’s amateur status. Not for nothing is the edifice at St Nicholas Street called the “Clown Hall”

  5. Brian Dodds Reply

    June 10, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    By the looks of it the powers that be in the town hall have realised they can not intimidate you with words and they have no case against you in a court of law. So now comes the diversion tactics, the smokescreens to try and keep the truth about their guilt hidden for as long as possible. They are nothing but a bunch of mini dictators, running scared because they know the time will come when they can not hide the truth any longer and their little empire will come crashing down around them. The timescale is unknown but it will happen if you and the team at Real Whitby carry on publishing the facts as you have been doing, damn good job mate, well done to all of you.

  6. Helen Reply

    June 11, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Fascinating read and research. Well done. I do find it hard to believe about chatt though cos in my experience he’s always been honest to his detriment.

  7. Frank Chalmers Reply

    June 12, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Just who do they work for?

    It is high time we are told!

  8. GERALD. Reply

    June 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    What is double dipping all about ??
    Is it just for money, or a desperate need to have broadband ??
    Political campaigns carried out on facebook, on twitter, betting, porn access [ must be a reason for not banning porn, after all most people get broadband down a telephone line, all of which sites can be 'cut'/blocked by the IT providers.] Add to the M.P.s who use it, the number of councillors nationally, and then wonder why the electors have to pay for it.

    How MPs racked up 3m Facebook hits: Figures show they waste thousands of hours on social networks and betting sites

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2339955/How-MPs-racked-3m-Facebook-hits-Figures-waste-thousands-hours-social-networks-betting-sites.html

  9. jeffrey davies Reply

    June 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    its called pure greed brought on by thatchers legacy jeff3

  10. Jane Swales Reply

    June 12, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    What a tyrannical attitude your Council has. And rather sinister. I see something more than hurt pride behind the bully-boy antics. And I see fear of exposure, fear of prosecution. My guess is that there’s something on a far far bigger scale than double dipping a foot.

  11. Carole Gerada Reply

    June 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Yes. It appears there is. Interestingly the police have joined in with bullying victims into silence because they agree with everything SBC say. I have no idea how to survive in a police state where both SBC and the police see nothing wrong with a parish council being referred to as a White English council. And there is nothing anyone can do about it.

  12. Peter Hofschröer Reply

    June 14, 2013 at 6:56 am

    As this threat of legal action tunred out to be without foundation and the correspondence caused distress, then did the SBC officers involved not commit a criminal offence of harassment under the Prevention of Harassment Act, 1997?

    Am I correct to assume that North Yorkshire Police has acted with vigour to uphold the law here and that arrests are imminent?

  13. Ian Detute Reply

    June 14, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Peter don’t hold your breath.It seems they (SBC) are back pedaling faster than Usain Bolt can run forwards.One day and i prey its very soon the whole corrupt fiasco that is SBC will come tumbling down. Surely its just a matter of time with the evidence stacked against them.I despair i really do paying my HARD earned money to them in council tax only for it to be shared out at the trough.

  14. rev phil; Reply

    September 2, 2013 at 11:53 am

    SBC are climbing higher to avoid your complaints and criticism, THIS alone shows just how pathetic they are, because, once they are higher the FALL will only be longer and more painful.
    I KNOW they WILL fall, as I suspect THEY DO.
    The time is now to start placing liens on these people so they cannot evade rectifying the damage they are doing.

    Namaste, rev phil;


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