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