24 February 2013

No surprises down Brympton Way.....

No-one was surprised to hear South Somerset District Council announce that no action would be taken in the matter of an outstanding complaint against Somerton's ex-Cllr, Anthony Henry (Tony) Canvin.

Quoting from the Western Gazette, "Ian Clarke, assistant director of legal and corporate services at the district council, recommended that its standards committee did not pursue the complaint because it did not have a strong legal basis to do so." Mr Clarke is further quoted as saying, "There is not a reluctance from the Council to do anything it is just that there is not much of a legal platform to stand on.".

This announcement stands in contrast to the highly publicised investigation of 'complaints' against another ex-Cllr from Somerton, Michael Fraser-Hopewell. In that instance, Mr Clarke advised the District Council to initiate an independent investigation of (then) Cllr Fraser Hopewell based upon a raft of complaints lodged by members of Somerton's 'Old Guard' including one from Canvin himself.

That investigation found those complaints to be entirely without foundation and, having seen the complaints myself, it was obvious that they were simply malicious, something that someone of Mr Clarke's undeniable experience would have been able to see quite clearly. Yet Mr Clarke advised the District Council to proceed with an investigation which was remarkably public.

To the best of my knowledge, prior to the complaints against ex-Cllr Fraser-Hopewell, South Somerset District Council had never made public, in a similar fashion, any complaints against Local or District Councillors. Certainly none had been named as was the case with ex-Cllr Fraser-Hopwell and the District Council's own records show Mr Clarke being oblique to say the least when making any reference to any such complaints.

Had South Somerset District Council decided to investigate the complaint against Canvin, the investigation might have had to be informed by the Audit Commission Report in the Public Interest into Somerton Town Council which was published in February of 2012. That Report illuminated many of the failings of Somerton Town Council particularly with regard to 'abuse of public funds', 'illegal expenditure', 'acting without authority' and a host of other issues.

So Ian Clarke's advice must come as something of a relief to the District Authority's 'standards committee' as it neatly allowed them to avoid sitting in judgement on one of their own.

Well done Ian, but, in the light of public hand-wringing about a whole range of public figures who have been alleged or have been proved to have been breaking the rules, what does Ian Clarke's statement say about his office and the culture of South Somerset District Council?

Compare Ian's recommendation in respect of Canvin to his enthusiastic pursuit of the complaints against Fraser-Hopewell. In Fraser-Hopewell's case, there was found, after a very public investigation, found to be absolutely no foundation to the complaints, other than malice. Yet, in respect of the complaint against Canvin, there is a huge body of documentary evidence which, any reasonable person might consider justification for an investigation.

There was, for example, the documentation which I provided to Ian in August of 2009, documentation upon which the Audit Commission based their own investigation. As I understand it, that documentation predated the complaint against Canvin so Ian cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, suggest that he was unaware of my concerns at the very least. Then there were the arrests in Somerton which, I am certain, must have indicated to Ian that there was something amiss with the Keenan/Canvin administration. Then there is the Audit Commission Report which I am sure that Ian has read as part of his duty as 'Monitoring Officer'.

Taken altogether, it makes me wonder just what sort of 'legal platform' or 'legal basis' there was to support Ian's enthusiastic pursuit of the complaints against Fraser-Hopewell when, in the light of the above, Canvin gets a free pass.

Maybe Ian should be given a new title, 'Director of Looking the Other Way' or 'Director of Not Rocking the Boat' would be quite suitable proposals and I'd be pleased to receive any other suggestions. But, title notwithstanding, Ian's recommendation suggests to me that both he and SSDC would prefer to maintain the status quo. And that is exactly why Jimmy Savile got away with his abuses for so long.