EDDC to decide on investigation into Humphreys at Extraordinary Consultative Meeting Wednesday 28 September

John Humphteys was convicted in 2021 of the historic rape of two boys and sentenced to 21 years.

He was first questioned in 2005 but police did not find sufficient evidence for a prosecution.

Following a complaint by a second victim, Humphreys was arrested eleven years later, in 2016, before being released on bail on suspicion of sex crimes against children. 

John Humphreys was Mayor of Exmouth from 2012 to 2014 and served for 12 years as a Conservative councillor on East Devon District Council (EDDC). He was also a governor of a primary school in Exmouth and was appointed an alderman by EDDC in 2019. He accepted the honour despite knowing that he was under investigation by the police.

EDDC in an Extraordinary Consultative Meeting to be held online on Wednesday 28 September at 6.00pm is to decide whether or not to investigate how all this could have happened and what lessons can be learned.

The issues couldn’t be more serious: the protection and safeguarding of children.

Owl believes this online meeting must be witnessed by as many East Devon residents as possible, preferably in real time, alternatively later on the EDDC Youtube channel. 

More than enough evidence for investigation

In May the inews.co.uk carried an investigative report on Humphreys uncovering evidence that:

“The council knew Humphreys was being investigated for sex offences from 2016 but did nothing to prevent him continuing with his duties, which involved him coming into contact with children”

Also:

“A senior council official knew about the police investigation into Humphreys in 2016 because Devon and Cornwall Police asked him, in a formal meeting, if Humphreys’ continuing role as a councillor would bring him into contact with children, i has learned.”

And:

“A leaked memo from East Devon District Council (EDDC) chief executive Mark Williams, which was sent to all 60 councillors earlier this month, states: “An officer knew something dating back to 2016 but was under a duty of confidentiality.”

“A second councillor is also alleged to have told a fellow member that he knew Humphreys had a court hearing coming up but it is not clear if he knew details of the charges.” ( Covered in this post)

These are more than enough grounds to prompt an investigation. Obviously in a spirit of candour to learn lessons, rather than recrimination.

What has happened since decisions to proceed were taken in May?

At the time this inews article was published in May, EDDC seemed intent on conducting an external investigation looking into the circumstances around Humphreys from 2016, when he was first arrested to the point when he was convicted and jailed in August 2021. The Chief Executive, Mark Williams, was tasked with investigating how this might be done.

In June Mark Williams is quoted as saying “Rushing something as important as this is, in my opinion, inappropriate.”

Then, in the September cabinet meeting, at short notice, Mark Williams outlined reasons why he now advised against a separate independent investigation and requested an extraordinary consultative meeting (EGM) to consider this.

He indicated that, in his opinion, the council should be focusing its attention on the future, rather than rake over old ground. “That’s why I don’t think it would be a proportionate use of public money merely to sort of focus in on Humphreys.”  

Council is now to consider two options

This crucial meeting is now scheduled to be held online on Wednesday 28 September at 6.00pm.

The council will be asked to decide between two options

Option (A) This Council hereby commissions Verita [an independent investigations company] to carry out an independent investigation in accordance with Verita’s proposal attached (“the Investigation”) and instructs Simon Davey the Strategic Lead for Finance immediately to complete (or authorise completion of) the contract and any necessary paperwork with Verita; Approves a budget of up to £45,000 (exc VAT) for the Investigation. ……[Veritas to work through Lead for Strategic Finance and Cllrs Ian Thomas (Chair), Sarah Jackson (portfolio holder for Democracy and Transparency) and Jess Bailey].

In brief, this is a proposal to conduct an investigation with the aim of establishing a timeline of what was known, to understand what decision-making processes were involved and the extent that Humphreys was considered a safeguarding risk, to determine whether any improvements could be made and to flag up any other significant issues that arise. [View full Verita proposal here]

Option (B) That Council approves a budget of £45,000 and that a Legal 500 recommended firm of Solicitors is appointed in accordance with contract standing orders to undertake an investigation and report which will provide the Council with a full understanding of the legal issues and implications arising from the investigation, prosecution and conviction of John Humphreys as far as it relates to the role of EDDC and its officers and members and that delegated authority be given to one of the statutory officers, in consultation with the Portfolio Holders for Council & Corporate Coordination and Democracy, Transparency & Communications, to progress the investigation.

In brief, this looks like an officer led, administrative review of procedures and legal issues concerning the council, focusing on the future.

Comment: Owl doesn’t see how you can look to the future (Option B) without having fully understood what lessons needed to be learned from the past (Option A).

Candour and transparency

It is now six years since Humphreys was arrested and a year since he was convicted. Despite his very long sentence, reflecting the gravity of his crime, there has been very little press coverage. Information has emerged piecemeal but only when someone has had the courage not just to ask questions, but to press them. For example, it was only after a question from Cllr Paul Arnott on 4 May asking for clarification that Simon Jupp MP issued the following statement saying

 “For less than two months in 2019, I lived at a flat owned by Mr Humphreys but was completely unaware of his abhorrent crimes for which he was jailed in August 2021.

“I deplore his actions. Had I known anything about his crimes, I would not have lived at the property and would have immediately reported my concerns to the police.”

At that time the local Tory party was very much in “No Comment” mode.  Over a year since Humphreys’ conviction we can, at last, see a formal “nothing to see here” response from them dated 7 September.

Would it be unfair for Owl to describe all this as foot dragging?

Administrative inertia?

Reading between the lines it looks as if a few feathers have been ruffled in trying to set up an inquiry.

Given the persistent reluctance, to date, to grasp this problem with urgency, frankly this is a good sign.

Note these quotes from the agenda papers “Report”, para 12, page 7.

“Cllr Bailey did not discuss her proposal with any of the statutory officers. We have highlighted our concerns to Cllr Bailey in correspondence but in summary form, having reviewed the Verita website, the Verita proposal and also read the report that Verita did for the Green Party, it does not suggest that Verita have relevant legal expertise and knowledge or experience of local government to warrant an exemption being made to contract standing orders. For example, the aim of investigation section displays a fundamental misunderstanding in that it assumes the Council was in the position (assuming it had knowledge) to take decisions in relation to John Humphreys continuing as a councillor.”

[Despite Mark Williams comments above, see here for Verita’s credentials and track record for conducting sensitive investigations of this sort, particularly for the Green Party, see here, and form your own view. It is worth mentioning that Cllr Jess Bailey is a member of the Law Society].

Followed by this general “put down” :

My reflection on what has been said so far in Cabinet and Council is that members are not sufficiently sighted on the legal framework, issues and implications of this issue. 

However, the briefing pack contains Counsel’s advice “In the Matter of John Humphrey” commissioned by Mark Williams. 

The Council the power but has it the will?

The “bottom line” from this legal advice is that the Council does have power to undertake an investigation, provided it is reasonable to do so and follows the advice given in para 21 with its scope observing the principles outlined in paras 16 and 23 to 28.

Footnote:

In June, Cllr Jess Bailey, formally asked when concerns were first raised with Devon County Council about John Humphreys and what action had been taken to keep children safe.

In a written response, Cllr Leadbetter (Cabinet member for Children’s Services and Schools) said: “I can confirm that the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) received a referral via the NSPCC in 2014. As part of the LADO process, our officers discussed the case with the police. The police were already aware of the individual and the allegations that had been made, and advised us that there was not enough evidence to investigate further, and it was agreed that no further action would be taken.

Owl understands that Devon County Council is now conducting its own investigation but the Devon and Cornwall Police Force is not.

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