Tuesday 26 April 2011

MetPro breaking news: Barnet admits only one film destroyed

Today I received an email from Barnet's director of Corporate Governance, or whatever he calls himself this week, in reply to points raised about MetPro and the infamous council budget meeting where I and several residents were secretly filmed by unlicensed security employees. His response included the following observations:

Neither the Council nor its officers requested or authorised any individual or organisation to carry out filming at the Council budget meeting on 1 March 2011. I am not, therefore, in a position to answer the questions you have raised in this regard. The Council was sent a copy of a film it had not sought or permitted to be taken – this was destroyed without being viewed. The original film has never been in the possession of or the property of the Council.

The Council had been assured by Metpro that its relevant staff were all SIA licensed. Ensuring that licensing arrangements were in place and that all associated requirements complied with were matters for the company. You will be aware that the Council has now terminated its arrangements with Metpro.

The actions taken in relation to the public gallery during the course of the meeting were not, as you put it, in contradiction to Police advice. That advice given to officers outside the Chamber was that, whilst it was not their decision on whether or not there should be further admission to the public gallery, they could not guarantee that the timing and nature of the movement would not result in disruption. This advice was given based on observations of those who were not at the time seated in the public gallery. The Police advice was taken into account by the Mayor in making the decision not to admit further members of the public to the gallery.

So: this scandalous story just gets worse. Barnet Council now admits that it received and destroyed a copy of a film from MetPro, but not the original one. It is telling me that it did not look at the film, which seems highly irresponsible, if true: are those of us who were filmed not entitled to know what footage was taken? Worse still, we are now told that other copies exist: why did Barnet not demand that these be handed over, and report the matter to the Information Commissioner? How many other copies are there?

It is not good enough for Barnet to retrospectively divest itself of all responsibility for ensuring that MetPro's staff were licensed - and CRB checked. Surely it had a duty of care to the people with whom these employees came into contact, and is it not a damning indictment of the standards of scrutiny within the procurement process that these vital safeguards were not made? And of course, no mention is made of the truly incredible fact that in the five years that MetPro was engaged by Barnet Council and was in receipt of what may well be millions of pounds of our money, it seems that no contract was ever in place, let alone any proper monitoring and regulation of service delivery.

The claims made in the last paragraph are untrue, and I know they are untrue because I was a witness. I heard and noted what the Mayor said in the chamber, and I also spoke to the police officer in charge, Inspector Simon Roberts. He told me categorically that he had not, as the Mayor claimed, advised that residents in the overflow room should be prevented from taking up the empty seats in the public gallery. I repeat: the Mayor stated that no more residents would be allowed to enter the half empty gallery because that was the decision made by the police, and the officer concerned himself consequently denied this and actually told me to go and get seventeen people to take up the vacant seats. These people were then physically barred from the gallery by security employees and council officers.

There is supposed to be an internal audit committee investigation into the MetPro affair. The council leadership, of course, hopes that this will safely contain the matter without further political damage. This is a mistake.

LibDem peer Councillor Lord Palmer is to chair this committee. I wrote to him, asking him to state when this will meet, what terms of reference the investigation will have, and the extent of any powers he will have to take action in the case of any critical findings. It is evident from his response that there are as yet no answers to such questions. Without any disrespect to Lord Palmer, his good intentions are not enough: an internal investigation, in circumstances as serious as we now know them to be, is clearly both inadequate and inappropriate. We must continue to demand an urgent, honest and fully independent public inquiry.


Mr Reasonable said...

This is utterly unacceptable! I cannot believe that they did not seek recovery of the original. They should have immediately sought egal redress to recover the original film given that it was filmed on council premises and without permission. Failure to hand it over should have prompted a call to the police. As for denying responsibility for checking the SIA licences were in place is nothing short of negligence and highlights huge deficiencies in the contract monitoring process.
On the matter of the role of the Police Inspector, I too was there in the overflow room. My recollection was that he said in the overflow room, " 17 people can come to the gallery. I think it is only fair that those people should be Barnet residents but it is up to you to decide". The Inspector escorted me past the Metpro staff and it was only when I got to the entrance to the main gallery that I was prevented from entering by Nick Walkley himself.
As for the internal inquiry. I hope Lord Palmer has the common sense to take statements from members of the public and to have all sessions in public. Failure to do so will completely undermine any sliver of credibility it currently holds.

baarnett said...

Your blue text is unreadable, Mrs A!

Maybe change it to yellow?

baarnett said...

Again without any disrespect to Lord Palmer, all material requested by him, or supplied to him, and discussion by senior officers into the matter will no doubt be subject to the most rigorous examination by the residents of Barnet, using Freedom of Information Act requests. This could go on for months.

Don't Call Me Dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs Angry said...

Mr R: I absolutely agree: it is unacceptable, and it is difficult to know what to believe, frankly: did they really destroy this evidence and fail to obtain the original? Just staggeringly incompetent.
DCMD - who needs a camera when you have a notebook, and a blog?

Baarnett: I didn't want it to be blue - trying to stop it being blue last time ended up with me losing the whole bloody thing and I am not in a very good mood so don't push your luck.

baarnett said...

In not letting people in to the public gallery, you could argue that the council was in breach of the The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960, as consolidated into the Local Government Act 172, as amended.

Mrs Angry said...

it's red now, baarnett: better?