Monday 21 November 2011

Part Two: Night of the Long Knives - details of Councillor Salinger's complaint

Councillor Andreas Tambourides (left)

Thurday's standards sub-committee will consider the findings of a report into the allegations made by Councillor Kate Salinger against fellow Tory member Andreas Tambourides, referring to an article from online paper 'The London Daily News' which she says he sent to all Barnet Conservative councillors, in an attempt to 'denigrate and ridicule' her, after she refused to support a highly controversial pay rise voted for by Tory councillors in July 2010.

The last post explained the background to this complaint, and this post will detail the arguments contained in the report. You may wish to read the report yourself, which you can find here .

The original complaint submitted by Councillor Salinger stated that she believed Councillor Tanbourides may have broken the members' code of conduct as described in these paragraphs:

Paragraph 3(1)
You must treat others with respect

Paragraph 3(2b)
You must not bully any person

Paragraph 3(2c)(iii)
You must not intimidate or attempt to intimidate any person who is likely to be involved in the administration of any investigation or proceedings in relation to an allegation that a member(including yourself) has failed to comply with his or her authority's code of conduct;

Paragraph 5
You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute

Paragraph 6(a)
You must not use or attempt to use your position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage;

Paragraph 6(b)(ii)
You must, when using or authorising the use by others of the resources of your authority ensure that such resources are not used improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes).

After an initial assessment by an officer appointed to investigate the allegation, the following paragraphs of the code were identified as matters to be referred for further investigation, ie:

3(1), not treating others with respect,

5, conducting yourself in a manner which could be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute, and:

6(b)(ii), failing to ensure that the resources of your authority are not used improperly for political purposes.

The investigator's conclusion is that in his view, Tambourides has breached the code in two out of three categories, the first and third, ie not treating others with respect, and failing to ensure that the resources of the authority are not used improperly for political purposes.

The article in question was written by a man called John -or Yiannakis - Kaponi, who is or was, the owner of the London Daily News, and styles himself as 'editor in chief' - quite how many other editors there might be is unclear.

The London Daily News is - or was: rather mysteriously, Mrs Angry can't seem to find it anymore - very supportive of the Conservative administration of the London Borough of Barnet and always tries to present a favourable report of the councillors who feature in its articles. When Brian Coleman was found guilty of breaching the members' code in the case concerning Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne, for example, a photo appeared on the paper's site of Brian apparently 'celebrating' his defeat with a bottle of champers in a local restaurant. In her interview with the investigator, Kate Salinger claimed that John Kaponi is a 'great friend' of Andreas Tambourides, and a member of his ward committee.

On July 14th, an article written by John Kaponi about the meeting had appeared on the paper's website headed: "Barnet Tories Stand Firm on Pay Vote" in which it was stated: "Sources within the Conservatives in Barnet have also confirmed that Councillor Kate Salinger has been contacted by Barnet's borough lawyers over her conduct in a previous incident, unrelated to this incident ...' It claimed Kate Salinger was:

"Already a marginal figure and her actions have ostracised her entirely and she is now history."

The remark made in this article referring to an alleged incident involving borough lawyers was completely untrue, as confirmed by Barnet legal officer Margaret Martinus to the investigator in an interview. In conjunction with the remark about being 'history' she concluded the article was 'written abuse, innuendo and character assassination'.

Councillor Andreas Tambourides, she said, had forwarded this article to all Conservative councillors. She believed that he did so in order to denigrate and ridicule her to her colleagues.

The London Daily News eventualy published an apology to Councillor Kate Salinger, admitting that the allegations regarding her conduct were 'completely untrue'.

Mrs Angry notes, however, that a search of the 'What do they know' FOI website reveals that in August and September 2010, requests on the subject of Councillor Kate Salinger and her husband Councillor Brian Salinger, regarding pay, allowances and any enquiries or letters by borough solicitors in regard to the Salingers, were submitted to Barnet Council by one Declan Wilkes, who according to his 'Linkedin' details is, or was, the 'News Editor' of guess what, the London Daily News. These requests were clearly fruitless, the article in question was proven to be without substance, and eventually retracted, or at least the subject of an apology to Mrs Salinger. One might question why the paper did not make these enquiries before writing the article.

So what is Councillor Tambourides' response to this allegation, as detailed in this response?

Shortly before the interview, his solicitor, Stephen Hocking, had sent a letter to the investigating officer laying out the basis of his client's response to the complaint.

Stephen Hocking was the same lawyer used by Councillor Brian Coleman in the complaint to the Standards committee which was successfully pursued by Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne. Mrs Angry has discovered that there used to be a Conservative councillor in Camden named Stephen Hocking, and wonders if, by any chance, they are one and the same?

Mr Hocking's letter lays out the basis of Councillor Tambourides response to the complaint, and does so in order, he says, to save public money. Mr Hocking is keen to save public money, and hopes this letter might do so by making the interview unneccessary. The investigator disagreed.

He claims in the letter that when the email in question was sent, Tambourides was not acting in his role as a councillor. He also claims that the email was not sent from a council email address - or from a council computer.

Mr Hocking then delivers a stern lecture on a subject dear to the heart of all Barnet bloggers - and how lovely it is to hear these words coming from someone who has been an advocate of Barnet Tory councillors Brian Coleman and Councillor Andreas Tambourides:

"This is a country with a free press and freedom of speech is protected by law. Free speech and a free press are absolutely fundamental to a free and democratic society. It is utterly unacceptable for any elected politician, or a democratically elected local authority to attempt to curtail free speech."

Ha: quite. Tory councillors and senior officers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet, please take note.

On the same day on which the apology was published, Andreas Tambourides attended an interview with the investigating officer. He claimed that the reason for sending the email to Conservative councillors 'was to provide them with information so that it is helpful for them to take decisions'.

Tambourides was asked 'Do you think by sending the link to an article containing possible inaccurate statements about the recipient could be considered and therefore seen as bullying?'

We are told that following advice from counsel, he chose not to reply.

On the allegation of bringing his office or authority into disrepute, Councillor Tambourides claimed that he had presumed the article to be correct. Again, on advice from counsel, he did not answer the following question:

'Because of your known position as a councillor do you not believe that the recipients of your email would not have considered the email from you as a councillor?'

Tambourides said there had been no intention to denigrate or ridicule Kate Salinger when he sent the email.

Part of his defence had been a clear statement that the email in question was not sent from a council computer. Included in this report, however, are very interesting and complex technical details of the way in which it was proved, by the council's own infrastructure team, with support from Symantec, that in fact the email was sent via a scansafe council filtering system. (One familiar to all bloggers of the London Borough of Barnet).

With the report is a document giving a very detailed response (Form A/Appendix E) by Councillor Tambourides' advisor to the findings of the investigator. It is worth reading. Mr Hocking robustly rejects the case against his client.

He has chosen to query the investigator's approach by making allegations about his handling of the matter: On page 135 he alleges that Tambourides was subjected to 'a hostile interview where he was harried by the Investigator' and this is also described on page 141 as 'an aggressive interview, with improper closed questions of the "when did you stop beating your wife" variety.'

And then the defence approach becomes rather curious. As you can see on page 126 of the report, on March 23rd 2011, Mr Hocking sent a letter to the authority with some questions regarding the investigation. He asked four specific queries as to whether the investigator regarded Andreas Tambourides as acting or claiming to act or actually conducting the business of the authority when he sent the email. For some reason he asked to have these questions dealt with as Freedom of Information requests.

In a separate request he also asked for copies of all emails concerning the complaint that had passed between the investigator, a governance officer, the Director of Corporate Governamce, and Councillor Salinger. It would appear that this was refused, under DPA legislation.

He also, rather atonishingly, requested copies of all emails between the Reverend Bernd Koshland, who is the Chair of the Standards Committee, and Kate Salinger, details of the training undertaken by the investigator, and all notes and documents seen by him. When most of the information he requested was either withheld or stated not to be in the council's possession, he appealed, but the decisions were upheld.

Form C is headed 'Representations to be taken into account if a member is found to have failed the follow the Code of Conduct. The response appears to have been filed before the findings were concluded. It states: 'No representations will be made as the conduct is outside the scope of the Code and incapable of amounting to misconduct. Should a finding of misconduct be made an appeal will be lodged and will succeed.'

Tomorrow the committee will withdraw from the public hearing to consider the findings of the investigator's report. If they choose to accept the findings, a sanction may be imposed on Councillor Tambourides. They may choose to reject the findings, of course. Mrs Angry will attend on your behalf, and report the outcome.

There are two meetings of the standards committee this week, in which the behaviour of our elected representatives has been the subject of investigation. One has reached a stage where details must be made public, the other is shrouded in secrecy, as complaints against councillors usually are in this borough. This is unfortunate, as guidelines stated in the protocols of the standards' procedure clearly state that:

"In line with SBE (Standards Board for England) guidance, in most cases, the public interest in transparent decision-making would outweigh the subject member's interest in limiting publication of an allegation that has not yet been determined."

Of course what applies to the rest of England, in regard to the need for transparency in decision making, and the accountabilty of the elected council to the community, is completely irrelevant in our borough.

Come on, have you forgotten?

This is Broken Barnet.

We do things differently here.

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