The NEW owl has arrived …


2 February 2020





East Devon could NEVER remain Owl-less …

As one departed another has taken its place …

The new Owl has arrived!

Talons sharpened, eyes trained …

A new light now shining into the darkest corners of East Devon

Contact us at

In the link below EDDC announces the launch on Monday 30 March 2020 of the East Devon District Council Coronavirus Community Support Hub and explains what  it will seek to do.

It also brings you up to date with a comprehensive range of local services appropriate to the Coronavirus  emergency.

It is too long to post but is a useful reference.

Homes plan for hamlet on edge of Exeter approved

But will the sewage system in the area cope? – Owl

An area just off the A30 close to Exeter Science Park will soon have 44 new homes and 6,000 metres of office space. East Devon District Council’s planning committee gave approval to the two schemes when they met on Tuesday.

Daniel Clark

One scheme will see the office space built on land to the east of Anning Road/ Tithebarn Way, close to Junction 29 of the M5. The second will see the demolition of existing dwelling and outbuildings, in the nearby hamlet of Blackhouse for the construction of 44 homes, 22 of which will be affordable.

Both applications were recommended for approval by council officers at Tuesday’s meeting. Councillors backed both schemes.

Cllr Richard Lawrence (Conservative, Whimple and Rockbeare) backed the proposal for new housing. “What a refreshing application,” he said. “Fifty per cent affordable housing, a village green. I don’t know what else they can do to make this application better.”

But Cllr Mike Howe (Conservative, Clyst Valley) highlighted the sewage issues residents have been experiencing. He warned that, despite the quality of the application, it will only make that problem worse.

“Sewage treatment plants and the sewage stream run right into the River Clyst, and consequently right into the River Exe,” he explained, before calling on South West Water to help reduce the sewage in the area.

“South West Water are sticking their head in the sand and not doing their duty,” added Cllr Howe. “It is quite simple. We have factual evidence of sewage outflows into streets, blocking people’s toilets for weeks on end when they can’t have any facilities in the house to the extent where we have people with porta-potties now.”

Housing plans for Blackhorse

Cllr Steve Gazzard backed Cllr Howe and asked: “Can they [South West Water] pull their fingers out and come back with some way that they’re going to try and resolve the situation for residents?”

Cllr Olly Davey (Green, Exmouth Town) also supported the application, but wanted future plans to feature more traffic control measures.

“Village greens were not designed for large amounts of traffic,” said Cllr Davey. “And knowing the frequency with which people use motor vehicles, I suspect that at any given moment, there’s going to be a car moving around this site.

“Any traffic coming in off the A30 is going to travel up all the way past that green and park at the top. The amenity of the green is very much reduced by having traffic going past it. I’m not against this development, but I do feel that in future, we should be designing in low-traffic neighbourhoods.”

Both developments, for the housing and commercial properties, were approved.

Only 10,000 people in Great Britain have applied for government-issued voter ID

Looks like many people will be turned away from voting in person in May. Does ID apply to postal votes?

A backwards step for democracy. – Owl

Peter Walker 

Only about 10,000 people in Great Britain have applied for a government-issued voter ID since the scheme opened, just 0.5% of the total who might need the document, the Guardian has learned.

The slow take-up, which could leave hundreds of thousands of people disfranchised at local elections in England on 4 May, will add to worries that the scheme is being rushed through and could cause chaos.

Subsequently, under the new scheme photo ID will need to be shown in England, Scotland and Wales for all parliamentary elections, and for police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. Northern Ireland has a longstanding voter ID system, introduced owing to historic electoral abuse by sectarian groups.

As of last Friday, just over 10,000 people had used a central government portal to apply for one of the certificates, which are then issued for free by local councils, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told election officials in a briefing on Tuesday.

This covered the first fortnight of the scheme to issue the so-called voter authority certificates, a period that included a major advertising campaign by the Electoral Commission to inform people about the new voting rules.

According to earlier government research, close to 2 million voters do not possess photo ID that has a recognisable picture of them, as is required under the new law. At the current rate it would take eight years to issue the documents to all those who could need them.

While the Electoral Commission has pledged to push ahead with public information efforts, the very low initial number suggests large numbers of people are ignorant about the new voting system and could be turned away from polling stations in the English local elections.

The Electoral Commission has previously written to the government saying the timetable meant the local elections could not be conducted in a “fully secure, accessible and workable” manner.

A 2021 study by the Electoral Commission found that the proportion of potential voters without usable ID was especially low among more disadvantaged groups, such as 11% for those who were unemployed, and 8% among people with a disability.

Alex Norris, the shadow minister for elections, said the rollout of the scheme was a “complete and utter shambles and reeks of government incompetence”. He added: “Not only is the Tory voter ID plan completely unworkable, it is unnecessary and set to lock millions of people out of voting.

“The Conservatives have got their priorities all wrong. During a cost of living crisis when people are struggling to make ends meet, it is an outrage that they would rather spend money on disenfranchising them.”

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said the initial statistics showed it was “encouraging that people are already aware of the voter authority certificate and are applying early”.

They added: “The commission is working closely with civil society organisations and local authorities to build awareness and support those more likely to need the free ID. The deadline for applying for free ID ahead of the May elections in England is 25 April, so there is still plenty of time, but we’re encouraging voters to check now if they need it so they can apply in good time.”

A government spokesperson said that the “vast majority of eligible voters” already had accepted ID, and that those without had until 25 April to apply. They added: “We are pleased that so many people have applied within the first two weeks and will continue to work with the Electoral Commission to ensure all voters are aware of the new requirement.”

Everyone to live 15 minutes from green space or water in England

Looks suspiciously like a rehash of old policies and unfunded new ones from a government whose approach to regulation is instinctively “light touch”. There are many reports with very mixed views. – Owl

Ministers have pledged that everyone will live no more than a 15 minute walk from a green space or water as part of a five-year environmental plan.

Sami Quadri

The Government will also crack down on leaky lavatories and “confusing dual flush buttons” in a bid to meet targets for water, air and land.

Councils will be challenged to improve air quality more quickly and tackle major pollution hotspots. There is also a pledge to transform the management of 70 per cent of the countryside by incentivising farmers to adopt nature-friendly practices.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey is set to unveil the measures on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said protecting the environment was “fundamental to the health, economy and prosperity of our country”.

He added: “This plan provides the blueprint for how we will deliver our commitment to leave our environment in a better state than we found it, making sure we drive forward progress with renewed ambition and achieve our target of not just halting, but reversing the decline of nature.”

Ms Coffey said: “Nature is vital for our survival, crucial to our food security, clean air, and clean water as well as health and well-being benefits.

“We have already started the journey and we have seen improvements.

“We are transforming financial support for farmers and landowners to prioritise improving the environment, we are stepping up on tree planting, we have cleaner air, we have put a spotlight on water quality and rivers and are forcing industry to clean up its act. ”

However, environmentalists have condemned the plan as a “road map to the cliff edge”.

Dr Doug Parr, of Greenpeace UK, said: “If this is a road map, it’s a road map to the cliff edge.

“Here’s yet more paperwork containing a threadbare patchwork of policies that fail to tackle many of the real threats to our natural world. This won’t do.

“Ministers want to crack down on dual flush toilets while letting water firms pump tonnes of raw sewage into our rivers and seas.

“Until we see immediate action (from) this Parliament to ban industrial fishing in all our marine protected areas, reduce industrial meat and dairy farming and ramp up protections across a bigger network of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, we’re in real danger of UK nature going into freefall.”

Paul de Zylva, of Friends of the Earth, said that “on closer inspection it seems that many (of the measures) are just rehashed commitments the government is already late on delivering – and it’s unclear how others, such as ensuring everyone can live within a 15 minute walk of green space, will actually be met”.

He said: “There’s also a big emphasis on improving air quality which is completely at odds with the government’s £27bn road building agenda, raising serious questions over whether councils are being set up to fail.”

The plan includes a multi-million pound Species Survival Fund to protect rare species, from hedgehogs to red squirrels, is promised along with a pledge that Government support schemes will help 65 to 80 per cent of landowners and farmers to adopt nature friendly farming practices on at least 10 to 15 per cent of their land by 2030.

They are also to be helped to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2050.

The restoration of 400 miles of river through the first round of Landscape Recovery projects and establishing 3,000 hectares of new woodlands along England’s rivers is also promised.

Species decline over past 50 years graphically illustrated (from BBC)

6% increase in police budget agreed

People in Devon and Cornwall will see their council tax bill rise to provide extra money for the region’s police force. 

Remember about 12% of your council tax goes on the police, 7% on EDDC and 4% on town and parish.

Ms Hernandez has now raised the police precept five times since her first budget in 2017/18, the maximum permitted.

She is keeping a low profile so no selfie to share with you today. – Owl

Philip Churm, local democracy reporter

Friday’s decision by the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel means a six per cent increase and will add £15 per year to the contribution from band D properties. 

Police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez said the cash will provide the police with a revenue budget of £384 million covering 3,600 officers and will ensure 23 front desks are open at police stations. 

The increased budget comes as the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures show crime rose by 10.6 per cent in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly during the 12 months to September 2022.  However, the figure is lower than the nation figure of 12.3 per cent. 

In outlining the budget for 2023/24 Ms Hernandaz said consultations had shown “70 per cent of people agree that investment should be made to open more police stations to the public.

“86 per cent of respondents said they would like to use police stations as locations to report crime and 65 per cent said they would like to share information with the police about what’s going on in their communities.”   

Amid the ongoing inquest into the Keyham murders, the commissioner also outlined plans for £600,000 to improve checks for firearms’ licences in the region.  Devon and Cornwall currently has the highest number of legally held firearms in Great Britain. 

Members of the panel debated whether hard-pressed council taxpayers should always be responsible for funding the force’s operations in future.   

Conservative councillor in Cornwall, Martyn Alvey, said proposed measures in his area might be an example to follow. 

“We’ve already made a commitment to double council tax on the second homes, provided the legislation is in place,” he said. 

But Liberal Democrat councillor in Teignbridge, Alistair Dewhirst, insisted the lower-than-inflation increase in funding would still hit many people. 

He said: “This £15 increase is a massive dent in poor families’ budgets in my district and clearly it’s a day’s food for a family, and we would want to see real value for it.”

Labour councillor in Plymouth, Zoe Reilly, asked what the extra money would mean, particularly for women the city, with increased concerns following Keyham.  Cllr Reilly, who is also a caseworker for women affected by violence, suggested confidence in the police could be better.  

“Given the current situation, and misconduct publicly, particularly for women’s safety in Plymouth, I know that reporting crime for sexual abuse, sexual assault etc., isn’t actually considered to be that great.” 

However, the commissioner insisted the support services funded by the police were crucial in giving victims confidence. 

“One of the things that my office does is it funds those services for those women, children and men to access,” she said. “They don’t even have to go to the police if they’re too frightened, not confident, however they may feel they can go direct to Victim Support.

“And that service is one of the most empowering services that any victim of domestic violence can have because they can help you and support you through the reporting process.” 

The 2023/24 police budget and the precept [the money for the police service], was approved by the panel.

Ms Hernandez has now raised the police precept five times since her first budget in 2017/18, the maximum permitted.

In other debates, following concerns raised at the panel last November about the length of time people were waiting for the police to answer 999 and 101 calls, the commissioner said there had been considerable improvement and 90 per cent of emergency calls were now picked up within 10 seconds.

Water firms in England urged to upgrade sewage works for new homes

Campaigners are intervening to prevent new houses being occupied in several areas of England until sewage treatment works are upgraded to cope.

Meanwhile Owl has received reports that SWW have taken over a large part of the lime kiln car park in Budleigh Salterton in order to drill a new sewer outlet pipe under the Otter. The purpose is to replace the original Victorian pipe and give raw sewage discharge into the sea at the Otter Head a new lease of life.  Does this count as “upgrading sewage treatment”?

Sandra Laville 

In Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds and in Cumbria, the failure of water companies to invest in sewage infrastructure means new homes would just add more sewage into treatment works that are at or beyond capacity, and increase pollution into rivers, they say.

The move comes as the regulator Ofwat continues its investigation into water companies for what it says are shocking failures in the way they run their treatment works and for potentially illegal dumping of raw sewage.

Charlie Maynard, a Liberal democrat councillor on West Oxfordshire district council, said: “The sewage treatment infrastructure owned by Thames Water is just not there to support existing housing let alone new developments.

“We have to do something, but at the moment there isn’t any serious plan nationally as to what we are going to do about this massive underinvestment by water companies in sewage treatment works.

“For 30 years there have been wonderful dividends for investors from water companies, but these dividends should have been invested in our sewage systems.”

As a result of pressure from Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (Wasp), councillors in West Oxfordshire have pushed for so-called Grampian conditions on developments, which state that they must not be occupied until Thames Water has invested to upgrade sewage treatment works to cope. A Grampian condition means a restriction is placed on a development until certain conditions have been met.

Thames Water has included a condition on the development of 150 new homes in Long Hanborough to state no development should be occupied until confirmation that all sewage work upgrades required are completed or there is a phasing plan agreed to allow the development to be occupied.

Another 40 homes in North Leigh will have a similar Grampian condition, which states that they must not be occupied until the Church Hanborough sewage treatment works is upgraded to cope.

The West Oxfordshire area has a government target to build more than 10,450 new homes by 2031. But Maynard said the sewage infrastructure was a “wasteland” – treatment works were unable to cope with the current population, and pipe networks desperately needed investment to stop groundwater ingressing into the system and further overloading it.

In Cumbria, local conservationist Matt Staniek is calling for a Grampian condition to be imposed to stop the occupancy of 40 new homes at Loughrigg until Ambleside sewage treatment works has been upgraded.

Staniek, who set up the Save Windermere campaign, argues the lake could become ecologically dead because of the amount of sewage being pumped into it.

Staniek said in his submission to the Lake District national park that without the upgrade of Ambleside treatment works to make sure it is operating legally within its environmental permit, granting consent for the development would endorse its intermittently illegal operation and increase the spilling of untreated and poorly treated sewage into the lake.

“In the last few years, I have observed the sharp and sudden degradation of our rivers and our lake,” said Staniek. “With dead fish floating in the lake, tributaries and algal blooms suffocating Windermere, it’s hard to ignore.

“I believe that the biggest contributor to the current decline of Windermere is the water company United Utilities, who service the local area.”

In 2021, there were more than 5,000 hours of raw sewage discharged from United Utilities’ wastewater treatment works into the Windermere catchment, according to data submitted by the water company to the Environment Agency.

Lake Windermere is judged to be at only moderate ecological status under the Water Framework directive, which measures pollution. Significant phosphate pollution from sewage discharges is cited as the reason for not achieving good status.

“The impact of this is being felt across Cumbria – from the businesses that rely on the tourism that our lakes and rivers encourage to the health implications that swimming in polluted water has on those seeking to use it,” said Staniek.

Ashley Smith from Wasp, which has made 13 submissions regarding sewage capacity and new developments in West Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds, said: “The idea that new housing is routinely nodded through to join inadequate sewage works by planners and water companies will shock most people.

“That some of those works will even be operating illegally yet ignored by all of the authorities supposedly acting in the public interest is a step too far and that is why Wasp is working with local councillors to end this money-making scam on the public.

“We are not aiming to hold up housing – we are aiming to force water companies to spend money when they should, not hang on to it for years after it was due.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Over the last five years we have requested planning conditions for waste networks and/or waste treatment at 27 sites in West Oxfordshire. In addition, we are currently reviewing our advice on a small number of additional sites, at the council’s request.”

A United Utilities spokesperson said: “In 2020 we completed a multimillion pound upgrade at Ambleside WwTW [wastewater treatment works] which has raised the standard of treatment and ensures it has the capacity for growth from development and tourism up until 2036.”

First Simon Jupp, now Rishi Sunak gets a “Blue plaque”

The government becomes a laughing stock. – Owl

Pranksters erect ‘blue plaque’ commemorating Rishi Sunak’s seatbelt fine

Andy Gregory

Pranksters have stuck a fake commemorative “blue plaque” to a lamppost on the street where Rishi Sunak was fined for not wearing a seatbelt.

The prime minister was reprimanded by police earlier this month after posting a promotional video to Instagram which inadvertently showed him failing to abide by the rules of the road.

A sticker intended to replicate the English Heritage-style plates has now appeared on Squires Gate Lane in Blackpool, which is on the route taken by Mr Sunak at the time of the infraction.

The ‘blue plaque’ commemorating Rishi Sunak’s Fixed Penalty Notice (Blackpool Gazette / SWNS)

It reads: “Rishi Sunak 19-1-2023. Received a fixed penalty notice for being filmed passing this spot in a car whilst not wearing a seatbelt.”

The clip went viral shortly after it was posted to Mr Sunak’s social media account, as viewers noticed Mr Sunak was missing his seatbelt while discussing the government’s levelling up programme in the back seat of a moving car en route to Morecambe.

Lancashire Police announced the day after the video was released that he would be fined.

It is the second fixed penalty notice Mr Sunak is known to have received while in office, having previously been fined while serving as chancellor alongside predecessor Boris Johnson over their attendance at a gathering in Downing Street which violated lockdown rules.

A Labour spokesperson said at the time: “Hapless Rishi Sunak’s levelling-up photo op has blown up in his face and turned him into a laughing stock.”

Downing Street said that Mr Sunak “fully accepts this was a mistake and has apologised”, with a No 10 spokesperson adding: “He will of course comply with the fixed penalty.”

English Heritage blue plaques are typically used to commemorate the birthplaces and residents of famous people and achievements throughout history.

Additional reporting by SWNS

Owl suffers technical issues over week end – what you might have missed

Apologies – Email subscribers will have lost the auto updates from sometime on Friday until this morning. Key posts you may have missed include:

Three reviewing the Devon County Council report on how it dealt with the John Humphreys and the part played by EDDC:

The latest news on sewage pollution:


UK economic woes worse than Russia’s, predicts IMF

The UK is on course to be the world’s worst-performing big economy this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Who crashed the economy? – Owl

Mehreen Khan, Oliver Wright

In an update to its growth outlook, the IMF delivered a hefty blow to Britain’s prospects despite brightening global conditions, with a 0.9 percentage point downgrade to the UK’s annual growth projection year.

It expects the economy to contract by 0.6 per cent in 2023, which would make Britain the slowest-growing big economy in the world. The Russian economy is expected to grow by 0.3 per cent this year after a 2.2 per cent contraction in 2022.

The IMF has upgraded its global growth forecasts in response to plummeting global energy prices and hopes that inflation will fall faster than expected. Britain is notable for being the only big economy expected to contract, according to the forecasts, while next year’s growth is expected to rise to 0.9 per cent, 0.3 percentage points up on the IMF’s last forecast in October.

Britain’s underperformance relative to its peers is the result of “tighter fiscal and monetary policies and financial conditions, and still-high energy retail prices weighing on household budgets”, the IMF said.

The outlook is a blow to the government before the spring statement in March, with Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, under pressure to provide relief to households as market energy costs reduce government borrowing needs.

Hunt pointed to comments by the governor of the Bank of England that any recession this year was likely to be “shallower than previously predicted”. But he added: “These figures confirm we are not immune to the pressures hitting nearly all advanced economies. The UK outperformed many forecasts last year, and if we stick to our plan to halve inflation, the UK is still predicted to grow faster than Germany and Japan over the coming years.”

The UK is the only economy in the G7 not to have reached its pre-pandemic size and has suffered the worst inflation rate of its peers in the past year. The economy is forecast to enter recession within months, with the downturn expected to last until the end of the year. The IMF said UK households were suffering from “stretched budgets” while high interest rates were raising borrowing costs and slowing down the housing market. The Bank of England is expected to raise rates again on Thursday to get a handle on high inflation.

Overall, the IMF raised its global growth forecast by 0.2 percentage points to 2.9 per cent this year after an expansion of 3.4 per cent last year. The upgrade is largely the result of China’s emergence from its Covid-19 lockdown and a fall in the record energy costs that plagued the world economy last year.

“Adverse risks have moderated since the October [forecast]”, the IMF said. “On the upside, a stronger boost from pent-up demand in numerous economies or a faster fall in inflation are plausible. On the downside severe health outcomes in China could hold back the recovery, Russia’s war in Ukraine could escalate and tighter global financing conditions could worsen debt distress.”

Europe and the US have recorded better than expected falls in inflation and signs of robust economic output at the end of last year. Global growth is expected to accelerate to 3.1 per cent next year, a slight downgrade from the IMF’s autumn projections.

“You’ll like this… not a lot, but you’ll like it!”

Some water companies still use dowsing to detect leaks – It’s magic, Owl

Rhys Blakely 

Thames Water and Severn Trent Water still use dowsing rods to hunt for leaks, even though scientific studies show that they do not work.

Water dowsing, also known as water divining which dates back to at least the 16th century, involves a person holding two L-shaped or one Y-shaped rod in front of them. The rods, sometimes known as witching sticks or wands, are supposed to twitch or cross to indicate the presence of water underground.

There is no known force in physics that would account for how buried water would move the rods, and scientific trials have shown that dowsing is no more effective than guessing.

Experts have asked Ofwat, the water regulator, to stop companies spending money on it. Thames Water, which supplies 2.6 billion litres a day, has admitted that about a quarter, or 650 million litres, is lost in leaks. Severn Trent loses about 400 million litres a day. Last year’s official declarations of drought focused attention on the poor state of water infrastructure.

The two companies told New Scientist that their engineers used dowsing rods to find leaks; 15 water companies told the magazine they had abandoned the method. A spokesman for Thames Water said dowsing rods were used to find leaks, and to verify results from other equipment. “Some people they work for, some people they don’t. If they work for you, you come to trust it,” he said. “People are sceptical of it, and I was sceptical when I first saw it. I started using them because I saw someone else use them and I have found leaks.”

Severn Trent said that a small number of its “expert engineers . . . may still carry dowsing rods with their equipment.” However, it added that it did not issue them as it did not consider dowsing rods to be effective.

Experts have attributed belief in dowsing to confirmation bias: the tendency to forget times when the method failed and celebrate it when it appears to work.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, said that it was plausible that some dowsers picked up on signs from the environment, such as green patches of vegetation, to be led to water sources. “I’m not sure that there’s any evidence that this happens, but it doesn’t seem impossible,” he said.

“In studies where there are no environmental cues, it fails.” he added.

Something known as the ideomotor effect may also play a part in the phenomenon of dowsing. This happens when somebody moves without meaning to and might explain why divining rods seem to twitch and move of their own accord.

The use of water dowsing by water companies made the headlines in 2017 when a couple in Warwickshire called out engineers from Severn Trent and were surprised to see them “walking around holding two bent tent pegs to locate a pipe” near their home in Stratford-upon-Avon. They told their daughter Sally Le Page, who was a scientist at theUniversity of Oxford.

Ten of the big 12 water companies in Britain told her at the time that they were still using the technique. She described them as trying to “use magic to do their jobs”.

Emergency care plan to slash NHS waiting times – no new money

“Care in the community” needs care staff in the community – “Home alone” might be a better description. – Owl

Andrew Gregory 

Rishi Sunak will vow to rapidly slash long waiting times for urgent NHS care with a promise of thousands more beds, 800 new ambulances and an expansion of community care backed by a dedicated fund of £1bn.

The health service is engulfed in its worst-ever crisis, with urgent and emergency care in particular under unprecedented pressure in recent months. The prime minister will describe his blueprint for resolving the problems as “ambitious and credible”.

However, the Guardian understands the £1bn dedicated fund being pledged to finance the strategy is not new money. It will come out of cash announced last year for health and social care in the autumn statement. There were also no precise details on who will staff new ambulances and beds.

In the two-year plan for England, the government and NHS England will promise 800 new ambulances, including 100 specialist mental health vehicles, and 5,000 more hospital beds.

A major element of the strategy is to expand urgent care in the community, keeping people away from hospitals and seeing more treated at home.

Same-day emergency care units will open in every hospital with a major A&E. Ministers hope this measure will see thousands of people each week avoiding an overnight stay in hospital.

There are also plans for pilots of new approaches to NHS step-down care, with patients receiving rehabilitation and physiotherapy at home in some instances. Over the weekend, the government said 3,000 “hospital at home” beds will be created before next winter, with the aim of about 50,000 people a month eventually being cared for at home each month.

There is an increasing reliance on virtual wards to combat NHS pressures, which see patients treated from home while monitored by medics via daily visits or video calls.

Sunak will visit an A&E unit in the north-east of England to highlight the new strategy. “Cutting NHS waiting times is one of my five priorities,” he will say. “Urgent and emergency care is facing serious challenges but we have an ambitious and credible plan to fix it.

“It will take time to get there but our plan will cut long waiting times by increasing the number of ambulances, staff and beds – stopping the bottlenecks outside A&E and making sure patients are seen and discharged quickly.”

However, NHS leaders expressed doubts that initiatives such as creating more virtual wards to keep people out of hospital would succeed in reducing pressure while there remained a workforce crisis. There are currently 133,000 vacancies in England alone.

“We desperately need action to tackle the vast workforce shortages, staff exhaustion and burnout,” said Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers.

Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing director for England, said: “Without investment in staff, this plan won’t make a difference.”

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS has been at the mercy of a sluggish and short-term approach from the government in its response to the crisis facing emergency services this winter.

“The NHS needs the right numbers and mix of staff in place if it is to truly recover the performance of emergency care and other services long term.”

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 16 January

Tim makes a considered comment on EDDC’s role in the DCC Humphreys review

Tim’s comment upgraded to full post:

The impression I get from this report, and what I have seen and heard over the last few years, is that what matters to DCC and the former EDDC, was avoiding blame for their part in this failure. Without a shadow of doubt, some previous institutions, those councils and Devon and Cornwall Police, have failed the victims of Humphreys.

Contrary to the expectations of many who know the details, Devon and Cornwall Police have never investigated their appallingly unprofessional early handling of this case, nor have they had any other force investigate them for it. They suggest they will investigate if a complaint is made, but I’m pretty sure they will only accept a complaint from the victims, people who now want to get on with their lives and even then, it would no doubt be more heavily redacted than DCC’s report.

Owl has reviewed DCC’s report and I’ll add nothing further

In respect of EDDC, and it must be emphasised that we are talking about a past Tory controlled council and some existing officers, I find the explanations so far offered as less than satisfactory.

I want to focus on the explanation that an EDDC officer attended the DCC LADO meeting and accepted the request that those present had to treat the police information given about Humphreys in absolute confidence. It is suggested that the council officer concerned, and people do know who it was, accepted that advice and never even mentioned it to his boss the CEO – until the news became public.

Rightly or wrongly I believe that the senior officer concerned, whom I believe was male, had a primary duty to consider how the information given might affect his duty to EDDC and its public, and of course, to check that the reasons for secrecy were appropriate in all the circumstances.

Many of us know that Masonic influence has been a matter of concern in local councils and in Devon and Cornwall police. In 2017 Devon Live named 26 Devon councillors who were members of Masonic Lodges. I have previously FOI’d Devon and Cornwall police about police staff and membership of Lodges but they advised that they did not require such membership to be recorded. Make no mistake though, there will be such members – but we don’t know whom.

Humphreys was a Mason, we do not know if the police officer demanding secrecy was or was not. I have worked with Masonic police officers-most by far are decent honest folk – but I also know that is not always the case and have seen one rightly jailed for ‘helping a brother out’.

That EDDC officer would, or should have been aware of potential masonic conflict and should have enquired why the officer wanted such secrecy – I’m told it was an unusual request. He should have been aware of the need to confirm that secrecy was a legitimate request. It would appear he did not as there seems to be no such record. That EDDC officer’s primary duty is to his employer and the people the council serve. It seems totally unprofessional not to have explored the reason for the request for secrecy further. He should have anticipated that silence would potentially involve putting others at risk.

Much has been said from one quarter about the obligation on that officer to respect and abide by the police officer’s request, supported by various memos etc, to maintain absolute secrecy about Humphreys. Well frankly that is absolute nonsense.

The law and relative guidance provides for how such confidential should be treated. Firstly it acknowledges that there will be times when confidential information can properly be passed to another party . Secondly, it uses the phrase ‘need to know basis’. Certain senior officers of councils may ‘need to know’ about all sorts of matters, indeed there will likely be quite a few occasions in which they have already been passed information on a ‘need to know’ basis because they may have a role to play in predicted events and need to be prepared. It needs to be noted that the ‘need to know’ exception means that those who have a valid reason to know is restricted, it isn’t to broadcast throughout the organisation or be made public. That EDDC officer should have told his boss the CEO for he has oversight of what is going on and could, if he felt appropriate, have kept Humphreys out of certain areas to protect the East Devon residents and the council’s reputation.

I am disappointed that the ‘need to know’ exception was never brought to the attention of today’s council members. It is a common practice in most areas that you can think of from say newsrooms protecting a story from rivals, to chancellors of the exchequer with pre-budget details, to Council CEOs in regard to emergency planning measures . I’m willing to bet that our CEO has quite a few ‘need to know ‘ matters that he shares with the few who have reason to know.

In my old job I dealt with classified confidential information on a daily basis in many of the roles I held. I might have been the officer requesting confidentiality or at the end of the chain the person expected to produce resources when certain things happened. I might be the only person in the know in my department, or I might deem it appropriate to share with some junior colleagues.

The point is that that the ‘need to know’ exception to confidentiality is common practice in all organisations and senior staff would, I hope, have understood this and when it should be applied. It should have been applied to Humphreys being recognised as a suspected paedophile in an influential position.

Coastal areas need help to overturn inequalities, report says

Ministers must do more to help struggling coastal communities around England with levelling-up policies at risk of failing to turnaround decades of inequality, a new report warns.

[Preview, report to be published Wednesday]

BBC News

Nearly one in five jobs pay below the living wage, the study says, with household income almost £3,000 lower than in non-coastal areas.

Poorer health, education, transport and broadband links are also highlighted.

The government said it continued to provide support to coastal economies.

The report was commissioned by the Coastal Communities Alliance, the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group and the Coastal Partnerships Network and the BBC has been given exclusive access to it ahead of its publication on Wednesday.

The report – called Communities on the Edge – warns levelling up’s focus on regions means “massive challenges” faced by some smaller, remote parts of the country are “hidden” and likely to be missed by the government.

It points to the East of England, which has the third-highest regional average weekly pay despite parts having some of the lowest earnings in the country.

  • Many areas have lower wages due to jobs being seasonal and part-time in the tourism sector, or with small firms.
  • A lower proportion of children achieve GCSE qualifications in maths and English, with children more likely to regularly miss school.
  • Fewer council houses mean people rely on private rentals where costs are higher, and cars are needed because of poor public transport.
  • Coastal areas have higher rates of depression, suicide, alcohol-related hospital admissions and emergency admissions for lung conditions.
  • Limited gigabit broadband and 4G provision causes a “digital divide”.

It described the issues facing such areas as having been “years, if not decades” in the making.

Challenges ‘entrenched’

Commenting on its findings, Sally-Ann Hart MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities, said: “The additional challenges faced by people living on the coast are so entrenched that help is needed from central government to stop them falling further behind.

“Our beautiful coastline is an incredible national asset. But it urgently needs sustainable long-term investment to make the most of the opportunities for growth – particularly in green jobs which can support the government’s climate goals.”

Presentational grey line

Wages are ‘pretty grim’

Six miles from Lands End and home to the last onshore lighthouse in Britain, Pendeen in Cornwall is a community surrounded by stunning scenery. But like many coastal villages, that charm masks inequalities.

Jennifer Dines recently moved to the area and is able to take advantage of hybrid working, which means her commuting costs are lower than for some other residents.

“I’m one of the lucky ones who can work from home some days,” she says.

“No-one local can afford to buy a local place. Prices aren’t reflected in wages at all.

“It’s pretty grim how much people earn here, trying to buy places that are ridiculous amounts of money.”

Presentational grey line

What can be done?

The report calls for the government to target deprived areas by changing its levelling-up criteria and funding formulas. It also recommends helping projects financially over their full lifespan rather than for a short, defined period.

The right support, it argues, “would boost growth and see coastal areas contribute far more to the wider UK economy”.

Among the key opportunities it identifies are the move to hybrid and home working which it says gives younger people the chance to remain in their local areas rather than move away to find work.

And with coastal areas already involved in industries such as offshore wind, it argues the transition to green energy could provide hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs.

Additionally, it says developing ways to extend traditional tourist seasons beyond summer months would enable areas to benefit from the current growth in UK trips and visitors.

Presentational grey line

‘We’ve been forgotten’

Once a thriving place, Newbiggin in Northumberland was heavily affected as industries such as fishing and mining wound down.

Retired teacher Sheila Harrison said she despaired at a lack of investment and opportunities for young people.

“Over time, the fishing industry shrunk, mines closed and railways closed,” she said.

“Consequently, the place just deteriorated.

“Governments haven’t really invested in the area in the last 20 or 30 years. There are few jobs now and only very low-paid ones in service industries or retail.

“Newbiggin is a bit of a forgotten area, but it’s got so much to offer. It has a beautiful south-facing bay and lots of potential, but needs money from the government.”

Presentational grey line

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said coastal communities “play a key role in levelling up and we continue to support them to improve their economies”.

“Since 2012 we have invested over £229m through the Coastal Communities Fund to run 359 projects throughout the UK’s rural and coastal communities helping to create jobs and boost businesses.”

It added Levelling Up funding of £2.1bn announced earlier this month – to be shared across more than 100 places nationally – would help “to create better-paid jobs and spread opportunity right across the country”.

Spoof blue plaques to Simon Jupp unveiled

Environmental campaigners have unveiled mock blue plaques to ‘honour’ the MPs and the Government who voted against tougher laws on dumping raw sewage in our oceans. Members of ESCAPE (End Sewage Convoys And Pollution Exmouth), Transition Exmouth, Plastic Free Exmouth, Tidelines, Women Swimmin’ and TEDS swimming group joined together as part of a national day of action with Extinction Rebellion across the UK.

Olivier Vergnault

They were joined in Cornwall by members of Extinction Rebellion, Surfers Against Sewage, local medical professionals to highlight issues of decreasing water quality around the UK from sewage discharges into the sea and rivers due to storm overflows. The gatherings were part of a national day of action, with those involved saying more needed to be done to prevent pollution incidents. There were similar protests in Teignmouth too.

In October 2021, the vast majority of Conservative MPs, including Simon Jupp, MP for Exmouth, voted against an amendment to the Environment Act 2021 that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to pump waste into rivers.

Local councillor Joe Whibley who took part in the day of action, said: “This is an awful situation for our environment, not to mention the fact that it could devastate our growing watersports-related tourism ventures. We’re horrified every time a BBC crew turns up to report on the state of the waters.

“South West Water have so far offered nothing quick and nothing concrete. Together with the Environment Agency, we need our representatives to create tougher standards for what is, and more importantly what isn’t, acceptable.”

Mary Culhane of Women Swimmin’ added: “As year-round swimmers we’re taking risks entering the water – the situation is so bad that last year Exmouth was ranked as the second worst Blue Flag beach for sewage spills in Devon, with the beach closed to swimmers in September. Profiteering water companies rake in multi-million-pound profits and hand huge bonuses to their CEOs whilst we are left to swim in raw sewage.”

Surfers Against Sewage, Extinction Rebellions, environmental campaigners and members of the public unveil spoof Blue Plaques in Exmouth to protest at the increasing sea pollution and the MPs who voted against tough laws on raw sewage being pumped into the sea
Surfers Against Sewage, Extinction Rebellions, environmental campaigners and members of the public unveil spoof Blue Plaques in Exmouth to protest at the increasing sea pollution and the MPs who voted against tough laws on raw sewage being pumped into the sea (Image: Paula Fernley Photography)

South West Water (SWW) said it had been working hard to reduce such incidents. It added that, in the last bathing season, it had “reduced spills by 50% on the previous year, with the duration of those spills down by 75%”.

However according to figures gathered by campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, the utility company’s Maer Lane works spilled sewage at Exmouth beach 62 times for a total of 857 hours during 2020, increasing to 74 times for 1,128 hours during 2021.

Environmental groups said the situation is made worse by the fact that the company also treats huge amounts of sewage from other parts of Devon which only adds to the problem. The campaigners Over 26 million litres were trucked in during 2020 from 16 locations throughout East Devon in 3,008 HGV movements. That’s enough to fill more than 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools with human faeces. Since 2021, data from South West Water shows that 80 tankers a month bring sludge into the town.

ESCAPE has been working locally with Surfers Against Sewage and Exmouth Town Council to raise awareness after examining data. An ESCAPE spokesperson said: “A revolving door of Environment Secretaries and a government in disarray has led to little action being taken to hold water companies to account, especially the poorest performers like South West Water.

“Instead, we just get empty threats from government and lethargy from industry regulators. To my mind what we’re seeing can only be described as complete abandonment of responsibility for pollution on the part of water companies and the Environment Agency.”

Anne-Marie Culhane from Tidelines added: “Storm sewage overflows can contain anything that goes down the drains – from human waste to household chemicals, pharmaceuticals and plastics. As well as potentially harming human health, frequent sewage discharges can seriously damage river and ocean ecosystems, for example by creating algal blooms.

“Chemicals in the water can harm fish, shellfish and other species and reduce oxygen levels in the water which impacts aquatic insects and other species throughout the whole ecosystem and food chain. This is a critical issue. All of us should be bending over backwards to keep our rivers and oceans clear and healthy. What is the Exe/Isca ‘river of fish’ without life?”

South West Water said it had been “working hard to reduce the impact of storm overflows”.

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, said: “I recently met with some of the campaigners who were involved in this protest and we’ve started working together to hold South West Water to account. I would never vote to pollute our water, despite some politically motivated claims suggesting otherwise.

“I’m from Devon, I live near the sea in Sidmouth, and I love where we live. If campaigners truly want to hold South West Water’s feet to the fire over their failures, I’d encourage them to put down their placards and work with me. I will continue to work with local groups and councils to get South West Water to clean up their act.”

[Simon Jupp’s and the government’s record on “light touch” regulation including abandoning the principle of a legal target for river health, and postponing a deadline for agricultural run-off reduction by three years (from 2037 to 2040), announced in December, can be found here. What goes in our rivers ends in the sea. – Owl]

Breaking: Nadhim Zahawi sacked as Tory chairman after tax probe finds he breached rules seven times

The crispy lettuce wins again! – Owl 

Rishi Sunak has sacked Nadhim Zahawi as chair of the Conservative party after an investigation found he was guilty of a “serious breach” of ethics rules.

Hugo Gye, Paul Gallagher 

Sir Laurie Magnus, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, concluded that the minister had repeatedly failed to be open and honest about his tax affairs.

Mr Zahawi was first probed over his taxes by HMRC in April 2021, Sir Laurie revealed – more than a year earlier than was previously known.

But the minister did not tell civil servants about his discussions with the authorities at the time, and publicly denied being under investigation.

After he became Boris Johnson’s final Chancellor in July last year and HMRC stepped up its investigation, Mr Zahawi did inform civil servants about the probe.

But he did not tell Whitehall officials, Liz Truss or Mr Sunak that he had agreed to pay a £1m penalty to settle the dispute over his taxes, meaning that neither of the incoming prime ministers knew the full details at the time they reappointed him to their Cabinet.

In his four-page report into Mr Zahawi, Sir Laurie concluded that the minister had not declared his financial interests properly and had made inaccurate public statements on the issue.

He told Mr Sunak: “Mr Zahawi’s conduct as a minister has fallen below the high standards that, as Prime Minister, you rightly expect from those who serve in your Government.”

On Sunday morning the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Zahawi saying: “It is clear that there has been a serious breach of the ministerial code. As a result, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position in His Majesty’s Government.”

He praised him for his ministerial work, in particular overseeing the Covid-19 vaccines rollout, and added: “It is also with pride that I, and previous Prime Ministers, have been able to draw upon the services of a Kurdish-born Iraqi refugee at the highest levels of the UK Government. That is something which people up and down this country have rightly valued.”

In his response, Mr Zahawi did not apologise for his conduct but pledged to continue supporting the Prime Minister from the back benches. He took a swipe at the press, complaining about one news outlet’s headline which said “the noose tightens” in reference to his chances of professional survival.

Seven breaches of the ministerial code

April 2021: HMRC commences its investigation of Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs, which includes a meeting with him and his tax advisers in June 2021. Mr Zahawi, who was a business minister at the time, told Sir Laurie Magnus, the prime minister’s ethics adviser, he was under the impression he was “merely being asked certain queries”. Sir Laurie says he should have understood it was a “serious matter”, informed his permanent secretary, and disclosed it in his ministerial declaration of interests.

September 2021: Mr Zahawi was promoted to education secretary by Boris Johnson. He did not declare the ongoing HMRC investigation into his tax affairs, “despite the ministerial declaration of interests form including specific prompts on tax affairs and HMRC investigations and disputes,” Sir Laurie says.

5 July 2022: After he was appointed chancellor, Mr Zahawi completed another declaration of interests form, which again “contained no reference to the HMRC investigation”. Only after receiving a formal letter from HMRC on 22 July did he fill in a “later form” acknowledging that he was “in discussion” with HMRC, in an attachment.

10 July 2022: After a number of press reports about his tax affairs, Mr Zahawi said publicly: “There have been news stories over the last few days which are inaccurate, unfair and are clearly smears.” He did not correct the record until earlier this month. Sir Laurie says the delay in correcting an “untrue public statement” is a breach of the ministerial code.

August 2022: Mr Zahawi reached an in-principle agreement with HMRC, while he was still chancellor, including a penalty. He finally settled the following month. Sir Laurie found that this fact “requires declaration and discussion” and is ”a relevant interest which could give rise to a conflict”, particularly for a treasury minister.

September 2022: Liz Truss appointed Mr Zahawi to the role of chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Again, he failed to declare the HMRC investigation or the penalty he had agreed to pay.

October 2022: Mr Zahawi was handed the job of chair of the Conservative party by Rishi Sunak. Yet again, he did not make a declaration about his tax affairs nor declare the fact he had received a penalty for tax avoidance.

Mr Zahawi, who has been MP for Stratford-upon-Avon since 2010, had said that HMRC concluded there had been a “careless and not deliberate” error in the way the founders’ shares, which he had allocated to his father, had been treated.

He had also insisted he was “confident” he had “acted properly throughout”.

Labour accused Mr Sunak of being too slow to act. The fact that Mr Zahawi had paid millions to HMRC was first reported a fortnight ago, and it emerged a few days later that the £5m payment included a payment for an error which the minister said was “careless and not deliberate”.

The Liberal Democrats said that given the seriousness of the breach, Mr Zahawi should “do the right thing and resign as an MP”. The party’s deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “He is unfit to serve in Cabinet and unfit to serve the people of Stratford-on-Avon.”

But Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove rejected the call. Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Gove said: “I don’t think Nadhim should resign as an MP, absolutely not.”

More questions on EDDC’s involvement in the DCC LADO meetings regarding John Humphreys

A correspondent writes:

Having read your very useful summary of the Humphreys investigation, I have a number of questions regarding the officer or officers of EDDC who participated in the LADO meetings.  It is impossible to say whether one person attended all meetings or different officers attended different meetings.

My questions are as follows:

1.  How was the initial contact made with EDDC about the LADO meetings and who was it with?  Did that officer delegate someone to attend the meeting(s) or attend themselves?

2.  Once the officer(s) who attended these meetings knew of the allegations, what was their duty at EDDC, given that there were safeguarding issues and legal issues involved?  

3.  If they were senior officers, to whom did they report the information from these meetings? What action (or inaction) was subsequently decided upon?

4.  Was the Monitoring Officer at the times of the LADO meetings made aware of the meetings?  If not, why not?  If so, who did the Monitoring Officer inform?

“Monitoring Officer:

It is the role of the Monitoring Officer to report on matters they believe to be illegal or amount to maladministration, to be responsible for matters relating to the conduct of councillors and officers and, to be responsible for the operation of the council’s constitution. They are often, but not always, the head of legal services in a local authority.”

5.  Section 1.2 of the EDDC constitution (Standards for Officers)  states:

You must report to the appropriate manager any wrong doing or legal, or ethical, breaches of procedure. Alternatively, you can use the procedure outlined in the Whistleblowing Policy.

Did anyone do this and to whom?

6.  The report states that JH allegedly blackmailed an adult member of the gay community.  If the identity of this person was known, was that person connected in any way to EDDC?

So many questions, no answers.

DCC review of the John Humphreys case – Owl’s synopsis, comment, critique and list of unanswered questions

The independent review into the response of Devon County Council’s LADO Service regarding the case of John Humphreys

(LADO – local authority designated officer for the safeguarding of children)

Link to review 


The independent reviewer looked into the record of three meetings held by DCC, following an initial referral by the NSPCC in 2014 and follow up meetings in 2016. The paper review was followed up by discussions with LADO services and workers acting then and now, supplemented by contemporary information regarding John Humphreys (JH) historical involvement with schools.

The overall conclusion reached by the reviewer is that no missed opportunities to safeguard children during the period covered by the review were identified. 


This might come as a surprise to many. JH had held positions of influence and authority in the community, including time as a primary school governor, as a local councillor (including being appointed to the position of mayor) and as a provider of work experience for young people through his landscape gardening business. 


In Owl’s opinion this conclusion cannot be said to be robust because the independent reviewer himself lists a series of inexcusable failures in the document trail and records of meetings. The review does make a number of criticisms.

The impression one is left with is a complete lack of accountability especially within DCC. At no time did anyone seem to think it necessary to act, there was never “sufficient evidence”. There was even confusion in the record of who actually chaired meetings

The last meeting reviewed took place at a significant moment in April 2016 as the police were on the point of arresting JH. The DCC legal representative at the meeting expressed concern about the potential for JH to have contact with children if he continued in his role as a local councillor after being arrested. This legal representative appears to have been the only individual at any of the meetings to have “raised a red flag” throughout the referral process. What we don’t know are the terms, if any, that were set on granting JH police bail.

Despite this, no decision seems to have been taken other than to have a follow up meeting when further progress had been made with the police investigation. 

There was no follow up meeting. 

JH continued in his role of councillor until May 2019, and was made an Honorary Alderman in December 2019. He stood trial, was convicted for historic rape of minors and sentenced to 21 years in August 2021.

Hiding behind the veil

East Devon have issued the following statement:

“East Devon District Council never officially knew that John Humphreys had been charged by Devon and Cornwall Police until this news was made public.

“The EDDC officer who had attended the LADO meetings mentioned in the DCC report was in attendance under the strictest condition of maintaining confidentiality.”

Hiding behind a veil of secrecy in this case to justify taking no action must be challenged. It is an extreme interpretation of what maintaining confidentiality is intended to mean. Why attend meetings of such a sensitive nature if no action could be taken as a result?

The independent reviewer records that the meetings lacked clarity and purpose but did not raise confidentiality as a bar to this. To claim that East Devon never officially knew that JH had been charged until the news was made public seems at odds with the record. EDDC attendance was recorded in both the DCC referral meetings and this fact has not been redacted in the review DCC has placed in the public domain, where many other redactions have been made.

What answer does EDDC give to the DCC legal representative who expressed concern about the potential for JH to have contact with children if he continued in his role as a local councillor after being arrested? Sorry chum we weren’t really there?

When conflict in duties occurs, individual must make a judgement call. In this case, it seems obvious to Owl that the duty to safeguard must take precedence over any perceived duty of confidentiality. Discreet use of this information could, and should, have been  used without any damage to JH’s reputation, especially after his formal arrest in 2016.

In making him an Honorary Alderman in 2019 EDDC has been brought into disrepute.


The review, possibly constrained by its terms of reference, lacks depth and leaves many unanswered questions.

Evidence substantiating this critique

First Meeting: referral from NSPCC

This followed the NSPCC referral and was held on 14 April. Surprisingly, DCC appeared, at this time, to have no single individual in charge of safeguarding. 

Quoting from the review (with emphasis added): In April 2014 a referral was received from the NSPCC. At the time this referral was received Devon did not have a dedicated officer in the role of LADO. The role was managed on a rota basis by several officers alongside their substantive roles  

Not only that, but this extraordinarily inaccurate description of JH was recorded:

“The referral identifies JH as ‘the Mayor […], a Conservative MP, a member of the Devon District Council’, and says he ‘is believed to be governor of [a] Primary School.’” 

We also learn that:

“The original NSPCC referral is not in the records provided.” 

Information from this referral is recorded (second hand) in the minutes of this first meeting.

The decision taken at this meeting was to take no further action. The information in the NSPCC referral concerned historic abuse of children who were then adults; and the police confirmed that they were taking no further action. 

Quoting from the review: There is no detail in the record of the allegations made by  ##  to the police, or of any discussion about how the police had evaluated these to reach the conclusion that no action was to be taken. Similarly, there is no record of discussion about the information in the NSPCC referral about JH potentially being in regular contact with children. 

 Second Meeting. “Initial Strategy”

 An “Initial Strategy Meeting”, was held two years later, in March 2016, attended, inter alia, by an EDDC officer. This initial strategy meeting was chaired by a ‘Senior Manager’ (the attendance list does not say from which agency, although the same person has signed the foot of minutes identifying themselves as the LADO).

Quoting from the review: Under the ‘Purpose of the Meeting’ section, the minutes recorded that ‘[JH] was under Police investigation for alleged historic sexual offences against 3 young males; rape, sexual activity with a child (male victims around 13-15yrs old), and blackmailing an adult in the gay community. The offences span was 1980’s and 1990’s. [JH] had not been arrested at this time.’ 

The main action from the meeting was that the police would continue their investigation, with a specific point about the police checking if JH was involved in any local charities. 

Third Meeting: Strategy reconvened

This meeting reconvened a month later, in April. At this third meeting, again attended by an EDDC officer, the minutes describe plans for the police to arrest JH soon. 

It was agreed that there would be a follow up meeting ‘when there is further progress with the police investigation’. 

Reading between the lines of the text as published it seems reasonable to conclude that the EDDC attendee has had his or her name redacted, in the review. Why?

Quoting from the review with emphasis added: Again, there is no record of any discussion about whether ##### JH #### were aware of the allegations, or whether ##### should have been informed of these, despite the presence of ##### a representative from the council JH was a member of. [The symbol # is used here to indicate redaction but the reader cannot infer from this the length of the redaction.] 


Formal Recommendations from the review:

  • The service should make sure that there is clarity about the role of the LADO service both within Devon County Council and with partners so that the service has oversight only of those cases which meet the remit set out in guidance
  • The service should make sure discussions are recorded sufficiently thoroughly so that the rationale behind decisions, including decisions about holding meetings and who should attend these, is clear
  • The service should make sure that the discussion of allegations is fully transparent to those against whom these have been made, in line with the need to keep children safe
  • The service should track work effectively to make sure this is brought to a clear conclusion and not allowed to drift or be lost

Unanswered Questions 

Questions prompted by Devon County Council John Humphreys report.

Complied with the help of a correspondent

1.Why did LADO not compile a list of all organisations who had provided work experience students to John Humphreys?

2.Did the reviewer not have access to a single person who attended the meetings in 2014 and 2016, and did he not request any such meetings?

3.There is an apparent contradiction between the reviewer pointing out it was not appropriate for the strategy meetings taking place without JH or +1 being aware of the allegations and pointing out that there is no record to clarify whether or not they were aware. Of course JH was aware from 2004 if not 1991.

4.Why does the period of review only commence from 2004? The abuse case from 1990/91 involved retraction of allegations while the victim was in a secure unit. Against an unnamed man but where the victim knew his home address and work van and where the victim had the abuser’s phone number.

5.An attentive professional would pick up that both the police in the case and the staff at the secure unit had either failed to act on this information or failed to create a safe environment where the victim felt secure enough to offer it. Presumably the secure unit was a DCC or other authority social services facility.

6.Was the reviewer not informed of this?

7.Was the reviewer provided with any DCC social services records dating from 1991, when the accusation was made by a minor, or did he request them?

NB this victim was picked up aged 12 for the first offence outside a public convenience well known to the police as a cottaging venue and which faces the entrance of the former social services offices in Exmouth Town Hall. When did this building cease to operate as a social services office?

8.In the light of this victim being an opportunistic pick up, by a manipulative serial offender, why does the report focus so deliberately on access to children through work experience? To such an offender any minor contact opportunity boosts familiarisation for future exploitation.

9.Was the reviewer provided with any social services records from 2004-7, or did he request them?

10.Was the reviewer presented with any social service records from the case of the 3rd alleged child victim, date of offences and complaint(s), dates unknown, or did he request them?

11.Was the reviewer given a reason for this alleged victim not coming to court, or did he request one?

12.Was the reviewer given, or did he request, access to records from the DCC boarding facility to which Humphreys might have access to students, either on or off site, from 1992 onwards? This boarding facility closed down in 2018, on cost grounds, midway through the investigation.

13.Did DCC place boarding students at this school?

14.Did DCC place vulnerable boarding students at this school?

15.When DCC visited schools in 2022 to apparently build a picture for the reviewer, why was this school not visited?

16.When DCC visited schools in 2022 why did they not visit the other schools in Humphreys’ ward, Exmouth Littleham? As a newly elected parent governor in either 2009 or 2010 I was introduced to him as a ward councillor at Beacon School summer fayre. He told me he was looking for someone to pass on his business to. What a bizarre thing to say, but one which bears the hallmark of the contact process outlined in court regarding his 1999 onwards work experience victim.

This was in the grounds of Holy Trinity church so he would not have had to sign in, but he would have had to do so on other occasions, when he entered the school.

17.When DCC visited schools in 2022 why did they not ask for a check of signing in records? 

Consultation date is announced as views are invited to shape a new 25-acre public meadow in East Devon

Views are invited from next month to help shape the future of a new public meadow of 25 acres set in East Devon.

Becca Gliddon

East Devon District Council (EDDC) is launching a six-week public consultation, from 10am on February 6, until 4pm on March 20, inviting comments on its proposal for land earmarked for the Clyst Valley Regional Park.

The draft proposals for the public meadow, near Broadclyst,  includes ideas for habitat creation, a multi-use trail, network of circular paths and a small car park.

A drop-in session has been arranged the Broadclyst Victory Hall, East Devon, on Thursday, February 16, from 3pm until 7pm, to see the proposals, ask questions and see a short, recorded, presentation.

The presentation will be repeated at 4pm, 6pm and once the consultation starts, will be available online for those unable to attend the venue.

The area is close to Cranbrook and is intended for walking, relaxing and nature spotting in East Devon.

It was bought by the council  for an undisclosed amount in 2022 and is expected to be ready to use this year.

EDDC urged people to make their views known – saying proposals had already been changed in response to residents’ suggestions.

Cllr Geoff Jung, EDDC portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, said: “We are thrilled to be able to progress plans for this new area of green space for local people to enjoy.

“It’s really important to us to listen to views and to accommodate these as much as possible.

“We had some really helpful informal consultation with local residents last autumn and we’ve altered our proposals as a result.”

An EDC spokeswoman said: “Local people are being invited to share their views on 25 acres of land, acquired by East Devon District Council for a new nature-rich, accessible green space.

“The new green space is an important milestone in the creation of the Clyst Valley Regional Park.”

The area covered by the proposed Clyst Valley Regional Park. Image: EDDC

The area covered by the proposed Clyst Valley Regional Park. Image: EDDC