OSC draft minutes: “remaining inaccuracies”, and “a little more for the record” from EDA.

Councillor Tim Wood, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC), has been copied in to this e-mail just sent to EDDC from EDA Chair, Paul Arnott. (This evening’s OSC meeting begins at 6.30pm at Knowle.)

‘ I note that Tim (Wood) as Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in question, has removed the falsehood that Mr Williams had been “accused” by me of “meddling” with the police investigation. It is regrettable that EDDC published this in draft form online, and an apology from the council would be usual in the circumstances.

As you have already sent out the amendment, there is little point in my further commenting on its remaining inaccuracies. I will take the Chairman’s thanks for my taking time in transcribing the recording and pointing out the errors in the minutes as read.

However, it seems worth saying just a little more for the record, for Tim to consider in his role as Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny. As a former MP his experience in these matters carries much weight in the district.

Mr Mark Williams’ own published account and recorded statements in November disclose that very early in the timeline of the investigation – in the Spring of 2013 – he offered prejudicial opinions to the police in relation to the motivations of those who may have wished to give evidence in this matter.

Then, on the conclusion of the matter in November 2014, he repeated this course, and attempted to heap more blame on these same people, to their material disadvantage. It was an open effort by him to discredit councillors and public alike.

In summary, Mr Williams sought to do reputational damage both before and after the investigation. He then interfered with the course of any further internal investigation by attempting to eliminate a named councillor from the process.

In his November 2014 statement, sent to every councillor before your last meeting, he then falsely smeared the East Devon Alliance, of which I am chairman.

For your information, the EDA was not even constituted until some months after Mr Williams’ own colleague, Ms Denise Lyon, freely decided to report Mr Brown to the police, presumably with his knowledge and tacit approval.

If Mr Williams was keeping a cooler head he would understand that the East Devon Alliance was constituted after the event, and well after his own council had decided it must involve the police.

Many independent-minded, experienced council tax payers considered at the time that from that point on the whole process would require strong independent scrutiny. This is a function which the East Devon Alliance, amongst others, has performed valiantly, I’d suggest, on this and a range of other key district issues. They deserve greater respect than inaccurate and arrogant assertions from the man whose wage they pay.

On a personal note, just to be very clear indeed, I have never had any knowledge of Mr Brown, and had only ever heard his name mentioned, prior to the Telegraph report in March 2013, when local councillors, particularly my ward member Cllr Helen Parr, stated privately that they believed him to be one of a small number who had brought the planning system into disrepute over many years. Who could disagree with her?

These opinions were being freely offered years before Cllr Claire Wright, for example, was even a councillor. Perhaps they never came to Mr Williams’ ear.

I and many others consider that Mr William’s attack on Cllr Wright (and others) – both through the document he published before the November O&S, and indeed his disgraceful attack on Cllr Roger Giles during that meeting (which does not seem to have been seen as noteworthy enough to make the minutes) – were astonishingly ill-judged for one in his position. A matter for scrutiny, perhaps?

As to the police investigation into this matter, let it be recorded that it accomplished nothing other than to provide six hundred days political cover for EDDC to refuse to openly debate and make amends for its mistakes in Planning policy.

Any sincere and rigorous internal investigation carried out by councillors supposedly keen to get to the facts in Spring 2013 would have ranged from the inappropriate influence of the EDBF to the real narrative behind the catastrophic failure to implement a Local Plan in a timely fashion. This failure, predicted by many, leaves us without any protection for our district from opportunistic and unsustainable development. There is no gain in this for the residents of East Devon; the gain is plainly elsewhere.

With hindsight, it appears that the public interest in this matter would have been for Ms Lyon not to have made a report – not an allegation, it should be noted – to the police, but instead to have put extra impetus and urgency into the TAFF set up to look at matters in this area. Instead, this TAFF was put on ice. Tonight we shall learn of its refreshed remit, and precisely who the Chairman of O&S, and the officers he has consulted, deem helpful to sit on it.

As a layman, it would not be difficult to reach the conclusion that the police role as this story played allowed the council to keep this whole matter in the long grass. It can also be fairly commented that the police did not seem in any great haste to retrieve it.

all best wishes