Local Government Ombudsman's policy of
(1) accepting everything Council Officers tell them
(2) ignoring Council Officer lies
Research by Trevor R Nunn, LGO Watcher The bodged road blog Public Service Ombudsman Watchers OWRC
During 2005, whilst investigating my complaint against a council, a Local Government investigator (York office) stated that they had no reason to disbelieve anything a council officer told them. Now most people would find this admission difficult to accept, especially from a so called impartial investigator, however, I didn't because I had experienced this policy in action during 2002 when an Assistant Ombudsman (York office) accepted the word of a council officer against overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
What chance does a complainant have when the Local Government Ombudsman has a policy of accepting everything a council officer says without demur or validation! Now I know for a fact that a council officer lied to and misled the investigator on numerous occasions regarding my complaint. However, I had to wait until August 2008 to see if the Ombudsman was, in line with the policy I had identified earlier, going to overlook the lies. After the LGO (York Office) published their report I had the initial evidence I needed. Proof beyond a shadow of doubt that even when the LGO is aware of council officer lies they do not report the fact to either the councillors, the complainant or in their reports.
All that was left for me to do was to see if my experience was unique or, as anticipated, common to all investigations. (I had been in contact with other complainants who had experienced the same policy.) Therefore, I decided to carry out some research to identify how many times the LGO had actually identified that a council officer had lied to them during an investigation. I started by submitting the following Freedom of Information Request to the LGO on the 23rd November 2008.
|I would like to know how many times over the last 10 years that the Local Government Ombudsman has brought evidence to the attention of a public authority that proves one of their staff has lied during an investigation. I would also like the names of the authorities concerned.|
This is the response I received from the LGO on the 5th January 2009.
This is not information that is separately recorded anywhere so would only be information that is included as part of the file on a complaint. We only keep these complete files for 12 months after the case is closed and decision letters for five years, so essentially this information is not held the whole scope of your requestion. [Sic]
In addition, the Freedom of Information Act (section 44) does not override any restriction on the release of information covered by an earlier law. Under the Local Government Act 1974 (section 32(2)), the Ombudsman is not permitted to disclose any information obtained in the course of, or for the purposes of, the investigation of a complaint, unless he or she considers it is necessary for the purposes of the investigation (or for other very limited reasons mostly related to legal proceedings). The information you are requesting is covered by this exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.
Due to the LGO's failure to provide the information (I wonder why? After all a council officer lying does constitute maladministration. However, I can understand their reluctance for the truth to come out.) I decided to submit a Freedom of Information request to every council in order to obtain the information. Due to the number of requests, the time taken to follow up responses and other priorities it took me until early August 2009 to submit the same Freedom of Information Request to every council.
|During the last five years how many times has the Local Government Ombudsman (as a result of investigating a complaint against [COUNCIL NAME] ) brought to the attention of the council the fact that a member of [COUNCIL NAME] staff had misled them, lied to them or done anything else to hinder their investigation. If they have what disciplinary action was taken against the individual(s) concerned by the council.|
I started with Adur who responded within a 1 day (excellent) with the following answer, which I later found out would be a common response.
|On no occasion in the last five years has the Local Government Ombudsman suggested that any member of staff has lied to or misled them.|
Unfortunately, quite a few councils put forward ridiculous reasons for not supplying the information requested. This delayed matters whilst I complained to the Information Commissioner. On a few occasions some councils didn't respond before they ceased to exist (A number of unitary councils were formed during April 2009 (example) whilst a number of former councils ceased to exist (example). The latter example is of a council that was particularly bad at responding to Freedom of Information requests. I did complain to the Information Commissioner about this council on another matter and received the following response, "I have considered the explanation for the delay provided by the public authority. Although a clear breach of the Act did occur, I am satisfied that the authority has recognised this and I have no reason to think that other, similar delays will recur in the future." Contrary to what the Information Commissioner concluded the council continued to delay responding to Freedom of Information requests until they no longer existed. Unfortunately that also meant I couldn't complain again to the Information Commissioner about the fact the council had not improved. However, this does demonstrate that even the Information Commissioner is, like the LGO, willing to accept council spin and lies.
The list below provides a summary of the responses I received as a result of my Freedom of Information requests. If you click on the links you will be taken to the What Do They Know website which I used to submit the requests. The links on the left will allow you to view all Freedom of Information requests to the council underlined whilst the associated link on the right will allow you to view the full history of my particular request to that council.
With a few of them you will be able to see the difficulty I had extracting the information, (East Cambridgeshire District Council is one example but their are many more). However, I must also acknowledge the many councils who responded quickly and without using any devious tactics to stop me getting the information. Adur Council is a prime example but there are many others that I would rate as excellent as far as providing a response to my Freedom of Information request is concerned. Especially Bolton and Havering. I have yet to receive an answer to all my Freedom of Information requests, as can be seen below, therefore, I will be updating this page as more response are received.
Annexe 1 to 4
|(1) Bolton MBC: There are no cases in which the Investigators for the Ombudsman found that the Council had ‘misled’ or ‘lied’ to them or hindered their investigation. For the sake of transparency and openness, I should also note that in one case in 2007 the Investigator expressed ‘concern and disappointment‘ that the Council had not fully answered one of their questions but this did not affect the satisfactory resolution of the complaint [my emphasis]. [Back to table]|
|(2) Havering LBC: One in 2007, the Ombudsman drew attention to an incident where an officer appeared to have provided an 'edited' document in evidence rather than the original. Enquiry revealed that the officer in question had out of a misguided sense of helpfulness, copied a document so as to remove what appeared to him to be extraneous handwritten notes from the margins of the document, In the event these notes contained nothing untoward. The officer in question was reprimanded in no uncertain terms that all documents should be provided 'as is' and not edited in any way. The Ombudsman accepted the explanation and no further action was required to be taken [my emphasis]. [Back to table]|
|(3) Durham CC: The Ombudsman did draw to our attention one local settlement case where the relevant investigator was concerned initially that the Council was providing misleading information. These faults were acknowledged by the Council with an undertaking to put things right for the future. This did not result in any disciplinary action being taken against a member of staff. The Council's Standards Committee which has an overview of complaints handling received a report on the specific case [my emphasis]. [Back to table]|
|(4) Lewisham BC: In the LGO's Annual Review for year ending 31 March 2009, the Ombudsman does say "the position of the Council as presented to my colleague in writing was not supported by the evidence later provided when officers were formally interviewed". The Council does not agree with this statement. The compensation figure given in the Review is also incorrect. The Council has raised these issues directly with the Ombudsman's office. It should be noted that no formal public report was issued against the Council, following the completion of the Ombudsman's investigation into this case [my emphasis]. [Back to table]|
Over the last five years the Local Government Ombudsman has not brought one single incident of a Council officer misleading or lying to them to the attention of a Council which led to disciplinary action being taken against a Council Officer for misleading or lying to an Ombudsman. (The closest so far is Durham County Council but concern was raised over the council and not a particular officer and Lewisham, however, they are currently contesting the Ombudsman's statement in their Annual Review.) Now this could be explained away by arguing that no council officer has ever lied to the Ombudsman. However, this assumption is far from the truth and I can prove it with reference to my own case. The Ombudsman initially refused to investigate my 2002 complaint because of what a council officer told an Assistant Ombudsman. I told them at the time they were being misled by a council officer but my pleas and contrary evidence were ignored. However, during 2006 it became so obvious they had been misled the LGO had no alternative but to comeback on my 2002 complaint. One of the criteria for comeback is that the Ombudsman had been misled by the council. Although, if you read my article on comeback, you will find that the Assistant Ombudsman didn't want to comeback on my complaint for statistical reasons, however, ironically he did suggest I had a good case for a new complaint because the council had not been telling the truth. During August 2008 the Ombudsman produced a final report into my complaint and although finding the council guilty of maladministration for delay did not bring to the attention of the council the fact that one of their officers had lied to the Assistant Ombudsman during 2002. To prove my point please refer to the answer the council question gave in response to my Freedom of Information (in the box below). It is also important to appreciate that this is not an isolated incident, in my case the Ombudsman was lied to on numerous occasions by Council Officers during the investigation of my complaint (Further details when I publish my response to their final report). In addition I am also aware of other cases in which the Ombudsman has been lied to by a Council Officer with impunity (as can be evidenced from my research).
As far as I can see there are two reasons why a Local Government Ombudsman would want to ignore Council Officer lies
(i) they are biased in favour of Councils and prefer to overlook the problem.
(ii) it saves them having to expose their own failure to validate.
However, I'm sure that most complainants would be astonished to know that, for whatever reason, Local Government Ombudsmen turn a blind eye when a Council Officer has lied to them.
Neither is this a new phenomenon. The famous Balchin's case proves that this bizarre policy has been in existence for at least 18 years. I am also sure that this long term policy is partly to blame for the culture of deceit that has now become prevalent in many Local Councils
|(A) ...the Local Government Ombudsman has not had occasion to inform Cheshire County Council that a member of staff has misled, lied or hindered their investigations. In fact there have been a number of occasions where the Ombudsman has specifically thanked staff for their honesty, help and co-operation.|
Another Freedom of Information request has identified that all three Local Government Ombudsmen, Tony Redmond, Ann Seex and Jerry White are ex Council Chief Executive Officers whilst all three Deputy Local Government Ombudsman and the majority of their staff are also ex Council Officers. I will let the readers draw their own conclusion.
The Next Stage
I am now collecting further evidence and ask any reader who has experience or knowledge of a Council Officer lying to a Local Government Ombudsmen to send me a copy of their evidence for inclusion in a final article regarding the tendency of Local Government Ombudsmen believe anything a council officer tells them or overlooks it when it is obvious they have been lied to.. Preferably within the last five years.
This page will be updated as new responses are received