31 March 2011

Do unto others

The Western Gazette carried an interesting piece today (Thursday) with the announcement that the Police investigation into the Etsome Terrace/Tin Dunny transaction was at an end and that no charges would be brought against those arrested as part of that investigation. (If you haven't seen it, the article is reproduced in the 'Press' pages of Muck&Brass.) The Western's piece confirmed the identities of those having been arrested as being Mr H E Keenan, Mr A H Canvin, Mr C Edgar and Mr R Calderwood and carries the Police statement that the investigation "did not find any evidence that criminal offences had been committed".

Canvin, Keenan and Edgar are reported as considering legal action against those who made allegations against them and I for one will watch that development with interest especially when we find out exactly what these 'allegations' were. The article quotes Mr Keenan as saying, "We've requested under the Freedom of Information Act, all correspondence between the Council, individual councillors, the police and the auditors.". Knowing the agencies involved, I'm sure that they will get all the information to which they are entitled and when they receive it I hope they remember the manner in which they (Canvin & Keenan) responded when I made enquiries including Freedom of Information enquiries of the old Somerton Town Council in 2008 & 2009. 

In August of 2008 I wrote to the Council (Chair Keenan & Vice Chair Canvin) prior to the decision to swap the Etsome land for the Tin Dunny. That letter contained 16 questions and the Town Council failed to reply. In April of 2009 the Town Council denied me access to public documents which caused me to make three successive Freedom of Information requests which, as a result of the obstruction of the Town Council, led to three complaints against the Town Council. Up till 27th October 2009 (the date of the mass resignation) the old Somerton Town Council continued to obstruct the Freedom of Information Act and the Information Commissioner found against the old Town Council in all three instances. 

When the new Town Council was elected in January of 2010, they were keen to satisfy the Information Commissioner that all enquiries had been answered and I was given access to the Council's records. I was amazed to find that the old Town Council's response to the '16 questions' letter of August 2008 had been to take a legal opinion as to how they might avoid answering the specific questions. Furthermore, both Calderwood (the Town Clerk) and Canvin (the Vice Chair) had sought further legal opinions, through 2009, examining ways of obstructing the Freedom of Information Act with regard to my enquiries. Calderwood had also made enquiries of the District Solicitor who was unable to support the old Town Council's obstructive position.

Regarding the Police investigation, Keenan is quoted in the Western as saying that "This has resulted in a waste of tax-payers' money, police resources and time.". Later in the article Canvin is quoted as saying, "We've had absolutely nothing to hide and every penny has been accounted for."

If you see the police investigation as a consequence of my objection to the accounts of the old Town Council, and if you accept the position as laid out by Keenan and Canvin, then why did they obstruct my enquiries into the activities of the Town Council back in 2008 and 2009? If there was nothing to hide then why didn't they open the books at that time and explain it. They had plenty of documented opportunities yet, instead of answering the questions they spent a lot of time and public money obstructing legitimate enquiries.

If everything is exactly as Keenan and Canvin say then maybe they'd like to repay the cost of the External Auditor's enquiry because it was their obstruction that caused the problem in the first place. By the same token, if they had answered the questions and enquiries back in 2008 and 2009, would there have been an External Auditor's investigation or a Police investigation?

The sad fact is that this situation was authored by Keenan and Canvin. It was their determination not to answer my letter of August 2008 that led to my Freedom of Information enquiries. They took legal advice and not one opinion supported their obstruction of the Freedom of Information Act yet they went ahead and obstructed the law. They complain about wasting public money and police resources. Maybe they should have thought of that in August of 2008.

Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly.

PS This also in the Western Gazette, p16.