“Irrelevant”   Melbourn in Cambridgeshire

Now some may say it’s a rather quirky title to give a blog page, but it comes from an interesting comment Bob Tulloch made in the Royston Crow on Friday 27th October 2017.

Reacting to the publication of the report, Mr Tulloch told the Crow: “The report was fundamentally flawed. Publication was rejected by the parish council twice, and the incoming parish council also decided not to publish it. The Information Commissioner’s Office decided it should not be published and after all this time none of the people in the report are in public office. So it’s irrelevant – I’m not certain what it’s meant to achieve.”


In his reaction to the publication of the Grievance Report, Bob Tulloch makes several interesting points about the release of the document, but offers very little substance as to why “The report was fundamentally flawed”.

He does go on to say:

“Publication was rejected by the parish council twice”.
There is only one known recorded vote when the council rejected the Grievance Report. This took place during an extraordinary meeting held on 16th May 2016 (council minutes – click here), part of which was held in camera. We can only assume that the correct procedures were followed during this part of the meeting, since an update to the minutes has not been released.

However, the minutes do show, the meeting took less than 30 minutes and at least at the beginning of the meeting, it was chaired by the then Chairman of the Parish Council, Bob Tulloch. The Chairman made no ‘declaration of Pecuniary or Non-Pecuniary interests’ in regards any agenda item.

“The incoming parish council also decided not to publish it”.
Bob Tulloch is right in that the ‘new’ Parish Council did indeed refuse to publish the document. Although the Council wished to see the Grievance Report released, they were unable to do so due to “legal proceedings”.

“We have been consulted by a party who is named in this report. This person intends to take legal action concerning the allegations and sensitive information in the report. We understand that a Freedom of Information request may be made, or has recently been made, for production of this report. Clearly, with legal action pending it would be inappropriate and potentially unlawful to disclose the report in its entirety or at all pending the outcome of any legal proceedings…”

“The Information Commissioner’s Office decided it should not be published”
Again Bob Tulloch is correct. However, the ICOs reasons for rejecting the request had nothing to do with the report being ‘fundamentally flawed’, it was because they felt it was potentially embarrassing to one or more people. To quote the Commissioner:

“… the Commissioner acknowledges that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing how the grievance was investigated and the outcome of that investigation but in this case she considers that this is outweighed by the individuals’ strong expectations of privacy and their right not to have any unwarranted intrusion into their private lives.”

“after all this time none of the people in the report are in public office.”
A little bit on background of the process that led to the release of the document.

A request was made to Melbourn Parish Council for the release of the Grievance Report on 20th July 2016, under the Freedom of Information Act. At the time, Bob Tulloch was the Chairman of Melbourn Parish Council.

Further requests were made to the Parish Council for the documents release and eventually citing the threat of legal action, the request to see the report was refused.

Because of the council’s refusal, a request was made on 25th October 2016 to the Information Commissioner Office (ICO), requesting the ICO to compel the Parish Council to release the document. On 2nd May 2017, the ICO rejected the request on the grounds as mentioned above.

The reasons behind the ICO’s rejection were indeed ‘fundamentally flawed’, as stated by the First-Tier Tribunal, for they had effectively given the ‘green light’ to any members in public office to use the words ’embarrassing’, should they wish to avoid publication of a document that was not in ‘their’ interest to make public.

For this reason, an appeal was launched on 19th May 2017 to the First-Tier Tribunal, against the decision made by the ICO. The point above was illustrated to Judge Hughes of the First-Tier tribunal, by way of the following.

As the report shows, the Parish Council can indeed “significantly affect people’s lives” and in preventing its publication, “because it has the potential to embarrass a councillor” goes beyond all reasoning.

What this will indicate to other councils and councillors is that should a council document be ‘problematic’, they can indeed be secret, thus avoiding the “public authorities’ accountability for their actions” and “prevent public debate”.

The Tribunal clearly reviewed all the documentation as you would expect from a Court case. Judge Hughes went on to say:

It is hard to see a more clear cut case of a FOIA request pursuing a legitimate interest. The Chair of a Council has, using his role as chair, controlled the receipt of a report critical of him and caused it to be rejected in a private session of the Council. This was misconduct of a councillor of considerable gravity.

The Chairman of the Council received the scrupulously fair and impartial report of a well-conducted panel of experienced councillors which made adverse findings with respect to his conduct and sought to suppress it in breach of his fundamental obligations as a holder of public office. It is hard to see any right to confidentiality with respect to such misconduct, there is no legitimate interest of the Chairman of the Council to protect.

The points made above are to illustrate that the legal process takes time and in this case from the first day the original request was made in July 2016, when “people were still in public office.” to the final decision, it had taken almost a year and half.

“So it’s irrelevant?”
Judging by the report by Judge Hughes, published on 6th October 2017, well over a year after the Grievance Report had been produced, he certainly did not feel it was irrelevant. More importantly those that were treated in a way that went well beyond all decency, did not feel it was ‘irrelevant’. A rather inappropriate expression and resignations from Public Office certainly do not absolve anyone from blame on how this sorry situation ran its course.

“I’m not certain what it’s meant to achieve.”
Selflessness; Integrity; Objectivity; Accountability; Openness; Honesty; Leadership.
The Nolan Principles, which the former Chairman of Melbourn Parish Council agreed to adhere to when he joined the Parish Council and which he failed to do.

At the time the request was made the report had been taken to two Council meetings and, according to the evidence in the bundle, on neither occasion had it been properly considered. On both occasions the Chairman of the Council had most improperly remained in the chair of the meeting to influence the proceedings in his own interests.

What it’s meant to achieve? In the first instance, bullying and intimidation will not be tolerated. Secondly, ignoring the very principles of the office you serve, you will be held accountable.

If, as Bob Tulloch has said the report is “fundamentally flawed”, then tell us what is it in his opinion, makes it so. As was seen on this website prior to the mass resignations of the previous council, there were some in the village willing to show him support online, and others happy tell you verbally that the document was nothing but lies. So, what is it they know that others including the Judge, don’t know, that makes the document “fundamentally flawed”.

“The floor is open!”

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