Tagged: Local Government Act 1972

South Tyneside: Mr Monkey hunt: New plea to stop spending taxpayers’ cash

Town Hall bosses today faced a renewed call to stop using taxpayers’ money in their pursuit of the notorious ‘Mr Monkey’ internet blogger.

 The website first appeared in 2008, making malicious claims about certain political figures in the borough.

South Tyneside Council backed a bid to discover the identity of those behind the Mr Monkey blogs on behalf of four plaintiffs who came under attack – South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm, Coun Anne Walsh, the late councillor David Potts and council regeneration boss Rick O’Farrell.

It instructed Washington DC lawyers McDermott, Will & Emery to find who was responsible for the website, with the firm producing a dossier which said Mr Monkey was most likely a two-person operation and that a libel action would be “highly successful” if pursued through UK or US courts.

But to this date – and at a cost of about £150,000 – Mr Monkey has yet to be unmasked, some six years after the site first appeared.

That has infuriated George Smith CBE, president of South Shields Conservative Association, who has called for immediate action to prevent “further misuse of council taxpayer’s money.

Mr Smith  believes the four the plaintiffs in the case – not the public – should have funded the legal action.

Town Hall officials say the legal action was taken because the council has a “duty of care” to protect employees.

But Mr Smith has written to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is to conduct South Tyneside Council’s annual audit, demanding it steps in.

He says: “Although any authority may indemnify individuals in ‘defending himself against legal proceedings brought by a third party’ they are ‘prohibited from indemnifying members or officers for the cost of taking legal action for slander or libel.’

“I will be objecting to these payments at the audit but you may wish to take immediate action to prevent any further waste of council taxpayers money.”

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “This legal action was taken because the council has a duty of care to protect its employees from the kind of intimidation and harassment caused by the wilfully false and defamatory statements published on the blog.

“South Tyneside Council is satisfied that Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 gives the power to take the action that has been taken.”

June Elsom, who stood as an independent for Cleadon Park in last week’s Local Elections, asked Northumbria Police to investigate the matter, but a force spokesman said there was no cause for a criminal investigation.

The spokesman said: “We have received correspondence raising concerns around legal costs incurred by South Tyneside Council in relation to the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog.

“Advice has been given that as it stands, this is not a matter involving criminality and there is therefore nothing to indicate a criminal investigation should be launched at this stage.

“Should another body looking into the matter decide a referral to the police is appropriate then an investigation would be carried out.”

As part of the council’s courtroom pursuit of ‘Mr Monkey’ a former South Tyneside councillor was hit with a whopping £40,000 legal bill last year.

Mr Khan had launched an American courtroom bid to halt the search for the controversial blogger, which he said was a waste of public money.

But San Mateo County Court dismissed his anti-SLAPP motion (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation), describing it as “frivolous”.

The council is chasing Mr Khan – who has always denied being behind the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog – for the extra legal costs it incurred as a result of his unsuccessful challenge.

A council spokesman said the authority was continuing to pursue that demand – although it is not known how much, if any, of the amount owed had so far been paid.

> As far as I was aware, Mr Monkey stopped publishing in 2009. Still online, though, at:  http://mrmonkeysblog.wordpress.com

Source – Shields Gazette,  27 May 2014

Benefit fraud councillor claimed £5,000 in allowances – despite not attending a single meeting

A Sunderland city councillor continued to claim thousands of pounds in allowances after being convicted of benefit fraud – despite not attending a single meeting.

Lisa Smiles pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to notify Sunderland City Council of a change in circumstances, when she appeared before city magistrates in September.

She received £2,318 in payments across 12 months, after she did not declare wages and her councillor’s allowance.

She was suspended by the Labour Party, but could not be sacked as a city councillor as she had not been sentenced to at least three months jail, as set out in the Local Government Act 1972.

Smiles, who represented the St Anne’s ward, eventually stood down at the end of January – just days before she faced being booted off the council because she had not attended a single meeting in six months.

But despite attending her last Sunderland City Council meeting on July 24 last year, Smiles continued to claim cash totting up £5,422.99 between her conviction and quitting politics.

The amount is the pro-rata portion during that period, made up of her £8,369 basic allowance, her £6,277 special responsibility allowance as vice chairman of the West Sunderland area Committee, and mobile phone allowance.

Although Smiles has not done anything illegal, she came under fire by members of all political groups on the council.

Conservative Councillor Lee Martin said: “The extra allowance she has claimed is more than the amount she is having to repay for defrauding housing benefit. I’m disgusted.”

Colin Wakefield, leader of the independent group said: “It is incomprehensible that a councillor who has been prosecuted by the council for fraud and thrown out of the Labour group, is still allowed to hold a special responsibility allowance and have her mobile phone bills paid after being effectively ceasing to be a councillor.”

Sunderland Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “I wouldn’t condone it at all. I don’t know the reason she hasn’t come in, whether she was just too embarrassed or whatever, I haven’t a clue.

“But if people are not getting the amount of representation the public pay for, it’s the law that needs changing. The law could be expulsion after not attending for a couple of months or a certain number of consecutive meetings. It casts a shadow on all elected members.”

> So all agree it was not a good thing – after the event. Even though it was apparently legal.

What did any of them actually do at the time ? What will any of them do to stop it happening in the future ?

Source – Sunderland Echo,  07 March 2014