Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Ex-Cllr Graham Brown, the East Devon Business Forum and the District Council's CEO's pre-emptive strike against the Business TAFF

The former chair of the East Devon Business Forum (and chair of the Local Plan committee at the time) has been under police investigation since the Telegraph sting last March:
'If I turn a green field into an estate then I’m not doing it for peanuts' - Telegraph
Police confirm they are still investigating East Devon councillor Graham Brown | Exeter Express and Echo

Following which, the EDBF imploded:
East Devon Business Forum, Graham Brown | This Is Exeter | Exeter Express and Echo
Re-branded East Devon business forum disbands after councillor row | Exeter Express and Echo

And questions were raised at the committee - or TAFF - which had been set up to investigate the influence of the EDBF:

But strenous efforts were made to curtail the reach of the TAFF from the outset - as this piece from the Express & Echo detailed:
Scrutiny councillors probing East Devon Business Forum are GAGGED! | Exeter Express and Echo

And then the TAFF was dropped: 
RIP East Devon Business Forum Task and Finish Forum | East Devon Alliance

And the chair of the District Council's Scrutiny Cttee was removed:
“Spineless and arrogant” - East Devon councillor slams party leaders | Exeter Express and Echo

This blog has recently looked into these matters: 
Futures Forum: Development and transparency at East Devon: "The longer this matter is kept quiet the more we think there is to hide."
Futures Forum: The East Devon Business Forum and the Overview & Scrutiny Committee: meeting Thursday 11th September: questions to be asked
Futures Forum: The East Devon Business Forum, housing numbers and greenfield sites

It seems that the political leadership at the District Council also believes these matters are connected.

The CEO of the District Council has taken the opportunity afforded by today's events to intervene and demand that the suspended investigation into EDBF be drastically curtailed.

These are the extraordinary events from today:
Police drop investigation in to former Cllr Graham Brown - News - Sidmouth Herald

Police drop investigation into East Devon councillor Graham Brown’s claim he could secure planning permission for a fee

By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: November 12, 2014

By Fran McElhone

Graham Brown
Comments (2)

POLICE have dropped their investigation into whether an East Devon district councillor may have committed a criminal offence, after he claimed he could secure planning permission for a fee.

In March last year, former Feniton and Buckerell councillor Graham Brown resigned his seat after he was caught on camera boasting that he could secure planning permission as part of his professional work as a planning consultant.

It is not illegal for councillors to work as paid consultants.

East Devon District Council referred Mr Brown’s comments to the police, under the Bribery Act 2010, and the council’s own policy on fraud, theft and anti-corruption.

Members of the East Devon Alliance campaign group subsequently expressed concerns at the “confusing and conflicting” information issued by Devon & Cornwall Police about the investigation.

Police have remained tight-lipped on what their investigation has involved.

A police statement issued on Wednesday, November 12, said: “Following an extensive investigation regarding allegations of abuse of planning processes relating to a former East Devon district councillor, Devon and Cornwall Police will take no further action. No arrests have ever been made in relation to the investigation, although there has been extensive and robust enquiries into the allegations as a result of a report in the national media. East Devon District Council has been informed of the decision and the matter is now closed from a police perspective.”

A council spokesperson, added: “The council welcomes the announcement that the police have completed their lengthy and thorough investigation into this case, which was referred to them by us very shortly after the revelations in a newspaper article.”

The East Devon Alliance previously criticised the length of time the investigation was taking and called for more transparency over the investigation.

Members said that while it remained “shrouded in mystery”, public confidence was at risk.

Meanwhile, the council has announced it will not be considering an application submitted by Mr Brown for a certificate of lawfulness for his Ottery St Mary farmhouse on the basis he has not been using it to conduct agriculture – a condition of the original planning permission – in public.

Ottery St Mary Town Council wrote to East Devon District Council with concerns about “contradictory evidence” in the application.

But a district council spokesperson said: “It is not considered necessary at this stage to depart from normal procedures that make this a delegated decision.

The lifting of the restriction could mean the value of Mr Brown’s house could increase, the meeting heard.

Both Ottery St Mary councillor of 20 years Roger Giles, and ward member for Lympstone and Woodbury Councillor Ben Ingham, are demanding that consideration of the application must be heard in public.

Cllr Giles, said: “The underlying principle of British justice and decision making in this country is that justice should be done, but justice should be seen to be done.”

No intention for Graham Brown application to be heard in public, East Devon District Council confirm

Rules checked after Graham Brown row


Tsarchasm | November 12 2014, 11:06AM

Councils are all too ready to hide behind the rules and regulations they create for themselves, but in this instance, and due to the apparent contradiction between what the applicant states in his application for lawful use, and other evidence, the council should determine this application in public. It is very important that the council recognize that in order to maintain public trust, the delegation arrangements must not apply to this application. Surely there must be a mechanism for councillors to call in an application to be considered by the committee when they have concerns as to the veracity of information provided to support that application. Councillor Giles is exactly right, not only must justice be done, it must seen to be done!

roverdale | November 12 2014, 10:38AM

There is something very smelly about this. Who has he secured planning permission for in the past? Makes me wonder who that might have been.

Police drop investigation into East Devon councillor Graham Brown’s claim he could secure planning permission for a fee | Exeter Express and Echo


November 12th, 2014

The following statements were issued this morning to the media:

From Devon and Cornwall police:
‘Following an extensive investigation regarding allegations of abuse of planning processes relating to a former East Devon District councillor, Devon and Cornwall Police will take no further action.
No arrests have ever been made in relation to the investigation, although there has been extensive and robust enquiries into the allegations as a result of a report in the national media.
East Devon District Council has been informed of the decision and the matter is now closed from a police perspective.’

Two lines from EDDC Communications Officer, Nick Stephens
‘The council welcomes the announcement that the Police have completed their lengthy and thorough investigation into this case, which was referred to them by us very shortly after the revelations in the newspaper article.’

More on this news, will follow…

Police and EDDC on closure of Brown inquiry | East Devon Alliance


November 12th, 2014

This extraordinary letter from the Chief Executive has just been sent to all EDDC councillors:

Dear Cllr,

I am writing to confirm that the Police have announced today that they have completed their extensive investigation into matters concerning ex Cllr G. Brown. You will recall that this derived from claims that ex Cllr G. Brown made to Daily Telegraph reporters which were reported in March 2013. They have concluded, after extensive and robust enquiries, that no further action is appropriate.

As far as the Council is concerned, this leaves outstanding the issue of the East Devon Business Forum TAFF. The East Devon Business Forum no longer exists, albeit for a period of time the Council did provide secretarial and administrative support as part of its wider economic development role.

It is my advice that the Overview & Scrutiny Committee should now review what further inquiry, if any, the Committee wishes the TAFF to carry out and what the proposed terms of reference should be.

My reasons for giving this advice are that the TAFF was originally established amid, what I would term, unfortunate circumstances and a febrile atmosphere during which all manner of things were being alleged concerning the Council. Those calling for the TAFF were mainly Cllr C Wright and the East Devon Alliance/Save Our Sidmouth who considered that there was evidence of improper behaviour deriving from or through the activities of the East Devon Business Forum and alleged influence on the Council’s planning process. Inextricably linked to the issue was the fact that G. Brown chaired the Forum in his capacity as a representative of the NFU (not in his then capacity as an East Devon District Cllr).

The wording used to explain the scope for the TAFF is vague and there a number of caveats. In light of recent developments it now makes sense to reconsider what is wanted and more particularly and importantly tease out the reasons why. I say this because as the Police investigation hasn’t identified any action worth pursuing then it would be wrong to allow the same issue to be pursued through a different route i.e. via the TAFF. If a version of the TAFF is to continue the purpose needs to be quite specific and not some generalisation which would otherwise enable the TAFF to justify any and all lines of enquiry they choose to pursue. If, for example, the TAFF is simply to look at the process or means by which, generally, land is put forward for employment purposes then the Scrutiny Committee should assess how this assists in the context of the current Local Plan adoption process.

It is my understanding that during their investigation the Police met or otherwise corresponded with Cllr C Wright and the East Devon Alliance in order to ensure that they were aware of all the claimed evidence regarding the alleged activites of ex Cllr G. Brown in whatever capacity. In so far as no further action is to happen, it is important that if a TAFF is to continue it does so without the taint, innuendo or implication that gave rise to its original formation. Furthermore, the membership of the TAFF should comprise Cllrs who come to the matter with an open mind and who have had no involvement in the matter previously. If a Cllr believes they have material evidence that might be of use to the TAFF they should be a witness to the TAFF and not a member of the TAFF.

If you have any queries regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.


One thought on “Mark Williams on “unfortunate circumstances” arising from G. Brown case”

Paul says:
November 12, 2014 at 4:37 pm

In this comment I am going to give my opinion of Mark Williams recommendations. In a follow-up comment I will look at what this letter says about Mark Williams as CEO.

1. The police statement says that the investigation has been dropped. It does not say whether there was no evidence at all or whether there was just insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution. Interestingly the police did NOT say that they had found no evidence of Graham Brown breaking the law which they could have said if that was the case. And just because the Police did not find sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution does not mean that EDDC should not undertake its own enquiry into these allegation in order to reassure both members and the public that there was nothing unethical in his behaviour even if the police are taking it no further.

2. What is needed is to find out the truth about Graham Brown’s activities, whether his roles of Councillor, Chair of Planning, Chair of the Local Plan Forum, Chair of the East Devon Business Forum, representative of the NFU etc. resulted in conflicts of interest, whether good practice in local government was being followed and whether improvements to process, procedure, and safeguards of probity are needed in the light of all of this. As long as the investigation is above board, transparent, completely thorough and unbiased, my own view is that the best possible outcome would be for Graham Brown to be completely exonerated – but the important thing is that it is investigated properly. The police investigation has necessarily had a much narrower remit than this, and that is why a separate council investigation is needed.

3. If we are to route out the truth, then the investigating body (in this case the TAFF) needs to have members who are willing to probe thoroughly and leave no stone unturned. I cannot think of anyone more appropriate for this than Claire Wright and (judging by their spineless attitude demonstrated in recent meetings) anyone less appropriate than one of the Tory members of the Overview and SCRUTINY committee (whose interpretation of “scrutiny” seems to me to be to accept everything at face value (i.e. “noting” reports) rather than digging to assure themselves that everything is indeed good).

So, removing Graham Brown and the East Devon Business Forum from the scope of the TAFF, and removing from membership of the TAFF someone who might look in the “wrong” place and find something wrong, does unfortunately look like it might be a bit of a cover up.

But with an election in the offing, a possible appearance (rightly or wrongly) of a cover-up might be the best of the alternative outcomes for the incumbent Torys.

Mark Williams on “unfortunate circumstances” arising from G. Brown case | East Devon Alliance


November 12th, 2014

‘East Devon Alliance (EDA) notes the statement issued today by Devon and Cornwall Police that they have decided not to continue their inquiry into the activities of former councillor Graham Brown because of insufficient evidence.

Following the “Councillors for Hire” report in the Daily Telegraph of March 11 2013, EDA was contacted by several people who wished for information to be given to the police. EDA did this on a number of occasions between May 2013 and September 2014.

EDA has therefore followed the conduct of the inquiry with interest. It has been concerned by initial delays caused by an erroneous referral to Action Fraud following the Daily Telegraph revelations, slow progress once the inquiry was underway, and the apparently limited resources devoted to the investigation.

The Alliance is now considering what action it might take to express these concerns in the appropriate forum.

Whatever the result of the police inquiry, EDA agrees with the statement of the EDDC Majority Whip Phil Twiss, in a letter to councillors on 17 March 2013, that he was “hugely disappointed that the inappropriate actions of a former member of the EDDC Conservative group has brought (the council) into disrepute”.

Urgent questions remain concerning the role played by Mr Brown in determining planning policy at EDDC and shaping the failed Local Plan. It is vitally important that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee resumes its much-delayed investigation into the Council’s relations with business, particularly with the East Devon Business Forum of which Mr Brown was chairman.

However, we are very concerned that EDDC’s Chief Executive, Mark Williams, has responded to today’s announcement by writing to all councillors demanding the exclusion of a named councillor from this vital inquiry, and that its scope be limited. ‘

Notes for editors:

Sandra Semple says:
November 12, 2014 at 5:05 pm

How does the CEO know who was approached or interviewed by police? What if other councillors were interviewed too? Was he interviewed? Will he be stepping aside?

Press Release from Paul Arnott Chair of East Devon Alliance, 12 November 2014 | East Devon Alliance

See also:
Telegraph undercover planning investigation: a summary - Telegraph
BBC News - East Devon Business Forum could be disbanded
New report: Scaring the living daylights out of people

EDDC Monitoring Officer has never asked for police interview re disgraced ex-Councillor Brown | East Devon Alliance
What do the police know about the investigation into disgraced ex-councillor Brown? Not much, it appears, as they don’t know what a “joint statement” is | East Devon Alliance


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