In March 2013, Cllr. Graham Brown, Chair of East Devon Business Forum, was uncovered by a Telegraph sting offering to get planning permission for cash. Last week former Mayor of Exmouth and recent town and district councillor until 2019, now alderman John Humphreys, was jailed for 21 years for serious sexual assaults dating back to the 1990s.
Whether or not a rotten apple taints the barrel, depends on how quickly and assiduously those in charge act to root out the problem, investigate and learn any lessons.
What those in authority have to demonstrate is integrity, transparency and candour. The long term reputation of the organisation depends on this.
Graham Brown 2013
In the case of Brown, he was thrown out of the Conservative party and, after a short delay, he resigned from the then Conservative controlled East Devon District Council (EDDC).
However, his case raised issues of corruption and how widespread that might have been. The “masterly inactivity” of the then Tory District Council in investigating his case is chronicled in this East Devon Watch post, published on the first anniversary of the Telegraph story breaking.
A police investigation eventually started after a 15 month delay, but fizzled out in November 2014 when Mark Williams reported to councillors in an e-mail of 12.11.2014 that the investigation “hasn’t identified (anything) worth pursuing”.
Just after that, at a meeting of the EDDC overview and scrutiny committee Tony Hogg, the then Conservative Police & Crime Commissioner spent an hour and a half batting away questions on the slowness of the police response.
“Nothing to see here” would seem to be a good summary of this episode. How can anyone have confidence in an organisation whose “Top Team” appeared, by inaction, to condone such behaviour?
Perhaps this episode marked the point at which the Tories began to lose control of EDDC.
John Humphreys 2021
In the case of Humphrey, so far there is a distinct contrast. Cllr. Ian Thomas (independent) as Chair of the “New Guard” EDDC has issued a statement (24 August) extending his, and the council’s, sympathy to the two victims. He also said, regarding the honour of “Alderman” bestowed on Humphreys in December 2019:
“In view of Mr Humphreys conviction and offences, I do not believe he is a fit person to hold this honour.
I will therefore be convening an Extraordinary General Meeting at 6pm on Tuesday 7 September with the sole recommendation being that the honour is withdrawn forthwith.
This will be the first time any such step will have been taken and recognises the gravity of his crimes.”
But in this case, as with Brown, there have been unexplained delays in the police investigation.
Humphreys was brought to justice by a long and complicated police investigation which started when the second victim told his girlfriend and mother of the abuse in 2005, some four four years after it happened.
Police took a statement but did not prosecute at the time.
In a victim impact statement, he said he had bad feelings against the police at the time and felt Humphreys ‘had been favoured because of his political connections’.
The case was reopened in 2015, ten years later, when the first victim came forward, telling officers that he was making his disclosures after 25 years of psychological trauma and sleepless nights.
It is to the credit of the District Crown Prosecutor and police investigating officer (who, as has been pointed out by Tim Todd, are women) that the case was successfully pursued.
But questions remain. Who decided to drop these cases? And what links might they have had – or still have – and what roles did they have in common with other people who may also have had council roles or links during that time? Who during this long period of time was made aware of decisions taken by the police?
The picture painted by Sasha Swire and others is that Humphreys was a very political person, well connected and active within the local Conservative party. This would have given him all sorts of power, access and influence.
So far Owl has failed to find any mention of the case or expression of sympathy to the victims on Simon Jupp’s twitter account. Perhaps he has been waiting for EDDC to make the first move. Nor has Owl found any mention on the East Devon Conservative association website. Is Humphreys still a member?