A quick impression of last night’s extraordinary consultative meeting.
Back in April the council voted unanimously, with one abstention, to conduct an investigation into how Humphreys continued in his council roles, with access to children, and then became an honorary Alderman after his arrest.
The Chief Executive, Mark Williams, was asked to advise how this could be done. So it may surprise readers to know that five months later the Council met again last night to vote on whether or not to conduct an investigation.
In the interim, Mark Williams had decided to advise the council against taking any such action because, in his opinion, all that was to be known was known and such an exercise would be a waste of taxpayers money. Just how Mark Williams can make such a categorical statement hasn’t been revealed. He kept repeating the mantra that the council must be “Fact specific”.
This “foot dragging” led Cllr Jess Bailey to take the unusual step of raising a ”requisition order” to appoint, after research, a specific independent investigation organisation, Verita, to conduct one (referred to as Option A). For a requisition order to be put to the vote it has to be supported by nine councillors.
Her move prompted Mark Williams to come up with an alternative (Option B) which would involve commissioning a legal practice to undertake the investigation. However, his first recommendation to the council was to drop the notion of conducting an investigation, but if the council rejected this advice then it should consider his Option B as an alternative to Option A.
After debate, the council voted to conduct an independent investigation by 27 votes to 9 with 5 abstensions. There were quite a few apologies.
The council then turned its attention to the two options put before it.
During this, in what seemed a surprising move to Owl, the Chief Executive started to sow confusion by spewing out other options such as conducting an external audit or even getting asking the Secretary of State to conduct a review through a process whereby the council reported itself for misconduct!
During discussion yet more options emerged such as using Ofsted, the option recently adopted by Devon County Council.
When put to the vote Council members voted:
22 votes to choose Option A, zero votes for Option B with 18 abstentions.
So the option concocted by the Chief Executive was completely rejected.
Owl was left with the overwhelming impression that the council has been badly let down by Mark Williams, Chief Executive.
In April he was asked to advise how an independent investigation could be conducted. This was the moment when he could have come up with the idea, that Devon County Council came up with a couple of weeks ago, of using Ofsted or indeed any of the other options he suddenly threw into the pot last night. But he didn’t, he left a void and failed to give any constructive advice other than an investigation is unnecessary and a waste of money.
We know the debate was watched by one of the victims. He very courageously gave an introductory speech as a member of the public. Special arrangements had been made so that he could do this anonymously. He spoke about how his life had been wrecked, how important it was for his rehabilitation to be heard and how an investigation would help him.
As Cllr Eleanor Rylance put it: Humphreys weaponised his role as a councillor, later an Alderman, to elevate his status in society to put him into a position of being beyond reproach. He used it to intimidate his victims.
Some councillors were close to tears whilst making their contributions during debate. But, watching the debate, the victim may have been left with the impression that a significant “establishment” barrier lurks in the background.