Friday 6 July 2012

Hounding Helen Michael - the Coleman Poster: a letter for Mr Walkley

Helen Michael, local business woman and traders' spokesperson, in Cafe Buzz

Mrs Angry is feeling rather tetchy, having just returned from a day in Fortress One Barnet, at North London Business Park, where a day asserting her right to inspect and audit Barnet council's accounts consisted of arguing over the outrageously redacted copies and being escorted even to and from the loo, by fearful officers instructed to watch over her every move, as if she were intent on some sort of criminal activity, rather than looking at a bundle of invoices and, yes, you know, what passes for contracts, here in Broken Barnet. More on this in a later post.

This lunatic behaviour is all part of Barnet's culture of fear, like a paranoid personality disorder, of course, seeing any scrutiny or criticism of its policies and actions as part of a conspiratorial assault, an attack on their corporate body. We are the enemy.

The targeting of Helen Michael, the Finchley cafe owner who led a campaign by shop keepers against the totally unjust parking scheme imposed by the council, and who dared to call to account Councillor Brian Coleman, the former Cabinet member responsible for the scheme - by producing and distributing a poster featuring his lovely face, and an array of recently closed shops - is part of a new attempt to subdue the enemy: she spent two hours this week being interviewed, under caution, by two detectives from Scotland Yard, as a result of 'a complaint' received by police.

Who made this complaint, and why?

Helen had already been told earlier this year, that, after rectifying a technical omission on the poster, the police were satisfied the poster was perfectly legal, and that there would be no further action.

It is alleged that the current complainant is Mr Nick Walkley, the CEO of Barnet, and also the Returning Officer. If so, in which capacity has he made the complaint, and why?

And there is another question, which many residents are increasingly making: why is the case of the poster the subject of a complaint to the police, and being investigated by officers from a 'Specialist Investigations' unit at Scotland Yard, with all the demands on resources that this must make, and yet two breaches regarding recent Conservative campaigns simply ignored?

Yes, this is ok: no investigation by the police in regard to an apparently well organised campaign of flyposting by supporters of Tory mayor Boris Johnson, on bus shelters, shop windows etc, the night before the GLA & mayoral election day ... and yes, this is also ok, in the campaign literature for Conservative candidate Shaheen Mahmood in the Brunswick Park by election, seen below,

the claim which stated, in a leaflet that was deemed by the Returning Officer to be a breach of regulations, but was not investigated by police:

"Following a successful campaign by your local Conservatives, parking will remain free at the Ward’s two car parks in Osidge Lane &Brunswick Park Road, andChurch Hill Road car park in neighbouring East Barnet Ward."

but this poster is NOT ok, all because originally Helen did not at first put her publishing details on the bottom - an omission she immediately corrected:

This poster, even when compliant with all the requirements of section 110 of the 1983 Representation of the People's Act, is so dangerous, in fact, that an investigation by Scotland Yard has been instigated.

Earlier today, Dr Julia Hines, a local resident, expressed her concerns about Helen's treatment to deputy council leader, Tory councillor Daniel (John) Thomas. He replied:

I cannot speak for the person who has lodged a complaint and the Police who decided to pursue it.

On a general point, it appears to me that those who are quick to criticise the Council when they believe it has broken rules/laws (and there's nothing wrong with that!) prefer the enforcement of rules to be more lenient for individual members of the public.

Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne read this reply, and decided to ask for clarification from John Thomas, who stated:

It is my understanding that Councillors cannot instruct a Returning Officer to do anything and quite rightly so as that could breach their impartiality.

If you have a concern regarding a Returning Officer's decision please raise the matter directly with the official concerned and if you are not satisfied with the response please ask them to which body the matter can be escalated.

Oh, thought Mrs Angry, so this means that the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet have had no influence on Mr Walkley's reported decision to ask the police to investigate Helen Michael. Hmm.
Why then, has he bothered, now, after the election, and not bothered with the other two apparent breaches? She thought perhaps it might be a good idea to ask.

Mrs Angry has just sent the following email to Mr Nick Walkley, therefore:

Dear Mr Walkley,

I am sure that many residents of this borough will be speculating about the reason for the current police investigation of Helen Michael, the cafe owner from North Finchley whose anti parking policy poster has allegedly been the subject of a complaint by you, in regard to an apparent technical breach of electoral law.

Can you please clarify if you have indeed made a complaint to the police in regard to this poster, and if so whether or not this is in your capacity as Returning Officer, or as Chief Executive of Barnet Council?

Can you please explain why no investigation appears to have ensued over the flyposting, the night before the GLA elections, of posters in favour of Mayor Boris Johnson, in shop windows and bus stops in this borough - please see photographs on Councillor Arjun Mittra's blog for evidence -

This activity was reported as being carried out, in a seemingly well orchestrated manner, by a team of young men - similar events were reported that night via twitter in other areas of London.

Can you also explain why no investigation or further action has ensued over the breach of electoral regulations contained within a leaflet published by local Tories during the Brunswick Park by election purdah period, claiming that parking charges in the area had been retracted?

When Ms Michael first produced her poster, the local police received a complaint, presumably from the council or you as Returning Officer, vistied Ms Michael, and she immediately corrected a technical detail and was told there would be no further action. Last week, however, she was informed that a complaint has been made, and as a consequence she spent two hours being questioned under caution by detectives from Scotland Yard in regard to her motivation for the poster. This would be seem to be a grossly disproportionate action, especially when two other cases of apparent breaches of the regulations by Conservative campaigns appear to have been ignored.

It would seem clear that a reasonable conclusion to make is that Ms Michael is being unfairly treated, and that this investigation of her case, critical of a Conservative councillor, and not the other two produced by Conservative candidates is suggestive of political bias. It may be that there has been no action over the other two apparent breaches because no complaint has been received, in which case, please consider this email to serve that function.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

Mrs Angry is confident that the impartiality of the Returning Officer will inevitably result in an interview with Scotland Yard's finest Specialist Investigation officers for the agent for the Brunswick Park Conservative candidate - oh, yes, and for Mayor Boris Johnson.

*Update Tuesday 7th July:

Mrs Angry has now received a reply from Mr Walkley. It is a very interesting reply. My emphasis in red.

"Thankyou for your email.

A referral to the Police about posters published during the GLA campaign without the appropriate identifying marks was made by me in my role as Constituency Returning Officer. Publication of material without identifying marks is a potential breach of electoral law and the procedure is that the matter be thus referred to the police. The referral was made following a complaint raised by a party agent.

The conduct of any subsequent investigation and action to be taken is a matter for the Metropolitan Police and I have had no further contact about my referral since the election.

No complaints were received by me of a breach in Electoral Law relating to the Conservative Party campaign posters. As Returning Officer I am not clear what part of election law you are alleging was breached by them, although as Chief Executive I am concerned about any fly-posting that takes place in the Borough and we seek to remove the material as quickly as possible.

A complaint was made to me about election material produced by the Conservative Party in the Brunswick Park by-election. The complaint concerned an alleged breach of purdah in material published in a campaign newsletter. I agreed with the view of the complainant and asked the Agent to withdraw the leaflet which they did. No allegation of a breach in electoral law was made. There was no contravention of either election or general law since the local authority had neither published nor facilitated the publication of this material.

I trust this answers your questions. I note you wish to complain about the Brunswick Park and Conservative Party GLA posters but, as noted above, I am unclear as to the basis in election law for such a complaint.

If you can clarify I will be happy to consider.

Nick Walkley"

Here is a significant new piece, or two pieces, rather, of information, which fit in with Mrs Angry's later post about the Helen Michael story:

Mr Walkley was acting in response to a complaint by a party agent, and therefore we know whose agent that must be - the subject of the poster, Brian Coleman, AM (ret'd). And the Returning Officer has not had further contact about the referral to the police since the local police told Helen there would be no further action.

The reasonable conclusion, therefore, is that a decision has been made by a higher police authority to pursue a case for investigation already considered closed, or perhaps in response to a further complaint from an unknown individual or body. In other words, blaming Walkley for the ludicrous persecution of Helen Michael may indeed be unfair.

But then - who is to blame?


Mr Mustard said...

The Chief Executive is sooooooooo concerned about fly-posting that all that is done is to remove it. No talk of prosecutions because there have not been any. Perpetrators will be on cctv in town centres

Mrs Angry said...

Mrs Angry is pursuing this matter, Mr Mustard, concerned as she is about the anti social behaviour exhibited by this incident.