Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Made up quote by Graham Smith of the Cornish Guardian

On the Cornish Guardian website there is a story written by Graham Smith. He claims I answered a question which I did not and attributes words to me which I never said.

Mr Smith rang me on Monday to tell me that he and a photographer intended to 'doorstep' me. He then asked me if I had any response to what the council had said. I asked him if we could speak off the record. He agreed. I then said that I would be updating my blog later that day.

Mr Smith then asked me a question about the police investigation in 2006. I told him that I would not be answering that question. He suggested that if I did not answer then his readers would jump to conclusions. I said that I would not be answering his question and ended the call.

Mr Smith has made up a quote which I never said or anything like it.

I have made a formal complaint to the editor of the paper and, if I do not receive an apology and correction I will be making a complaint to the press complaints commission. I reserve the right to take legal action against Mr Smith, the paper and anyone who repeats the libel.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Cornwall Council announces independent inquiry

Radio Cornwall has carried the news that Cornwall Council is to commission an independent inquiry into the handling of false claims made about me. I cautiously welcome this acceptance by the council that there are significant question marks over the process they have followed.

The inquiry will be able to review the process by which decisions were taken behind closed doors and judgments reached without my having the chance to read and respond to the allegations against me. Indeed, I have still only received a list of claims and no actual evidence from the council that could lead them to reach the conclusions they have.

I am told the inquiry will also look into the decision to make accusations against me 
in letters to local schools and sports clubs, and the decision by the council to press release this. I hope that it will also cover data protection issues.

I fully expect to be given the chance to have my say to this inquiry and look forward to doing so. I thank the many hundreds of people who have been in touch with me to offer their support and good wishes.


I will not be making any further comments.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The truth about why I resigned and the claims being made against me

Today, the chief executive of Cornwall Council, Andrew Kerr, took the incredible step of issuing a press release trying to force me to resign. I had planned on posting something short to assert my innocence of any wrongdoing. But the nature of the council press statement - which was released without any warning or notification - and Mr Kerr’s tactics in trying to bully me out of office deserve something more.

Here is the truth.
In 2006 (and before I became a councillor) I was one of many people who was arrested when credit or debit card details were found which linked the cardholders to a site containing indecent images of children. I have never viewed any such images nor had I ever visited the site or any others like it. I was able to show the police that my card had been cloned at some time in the past and used illegally for various things including a hotel in Brazil. I reported that at the time and my bank refunded the money. Of course I cannot be sure, but that is how I believe my card details came to be linked to the site as it fits the time my card was used fraudulently. When details are stolen on the internet they tend to come in a package and hackers can also have access to your address, email, password, phone, IP address, etc, which can easily be cloned and used by another person to cover their own identity and make it look like the victim of their fraud is the guilty party. The police searched my computer and other electronic devices I owned. Because I had done nothing wrong, and therefore there was no evidence against me, the police did not bring any charges and they told me the matter was closed.

I cannot blame the police for investigating based on the information they received. The whole episode put me through a huge trauma but I am reassured that they took such matters very seriously and I am glad that they were able to establish my innocence as they did.
In 2009 when I was elected to Cornwall Council my arrest was flagged up in an enhanced CRB check. I discussed this matter with the chief legal officer of the council. He told me that he would discuss it with the (then) leader Councillor Alec Robertson. I heard no more about this from the legal officer, Mr Robertson or anyone else. I assume that they took the view, quite rightly, that the matter was properly dealt with by the police and considered closed.

At some point within the past few weeks someone raised the matter with officers within Cornwall Council’s child protection team. Since then, anonymous letters and emails have been sent to the press and to opposition councillors. There seems to be a concerted campaign against me. Those first emails started a very difficult period in which meetings were held about me without my knowledge or involvement to discuss information and claims which they refuse to share with me. I have repeatedly asked officers for the information they received to be passed on to me so that I can refute it. They refused to do so. That limited information which has been shared with me I know to be untrue and they have not offered any evidence to support their outrageous claims. Given that they refused to share the information they had, I asked officers for time to go through the laborious process of requesting the information from the various organisations concerned which would prove their claims to be wrong. They refused to give me this time and convened another secret meeting which passed judgement. They then made deeply libellous and completely untrue statements to organisations, other councillors and the media. Nevertheless, I have started the process (which is likely to take some months) of seeking the information held and then correcting it where it is false. All they have told me is that everything relates to the original investigation in 2006 and that there have been no concerns or claims made about me relating to any time before or since.

It seems that officers are more concerned with covering their own backs than with establishing the truth. They seem to think they know better than the police did back in 2006 when they had all the evidence and were able to conduct a full and thorough investigation. On two occasions, whilst denying me the information on which they based their apparent judgement, Mr Kerr has demanded my resignation.
In the circumstances, in an effort to protect myself, my friends, my family and the council from harm, I chose to resign from the cabinet so that I could focus on proving my innocence. Sadly, the matter has become public, solely because to the actions of the chief executive who has bullied and harassed me and others throughout the process. He has consistently refused to give me or my lawyer the information that is being used to damn me. Nor has he allowed me the time to correct the wrong information held about me. Instead, he is briefing others within the council about the issue - claiming to pass on ‘facts’ which he refuses to share with me. I know the allegations are untrue and I am determined to prove it.

Now he has ordered officers to write to various organisations within Launceston and elsewhere to make claims which are untrue, which are deeply damaging to me and which I have not been given a chance to refute. Quite incredibly, he then chose to press release the fact that he had done so. As I have stated above, the police looked into these matters fully and did not find evidence to charge me because I had never done anything wrong. 

The lesson from this episode seems to be two-fold:
  • It does not matter if you are wholly innocent of any crime. An accusation based the fraudulent use of stolen bank details can nevertheless ruin your entire life.
  • Senior officers within Cornwall Council have no concept of natural justice and can force an elected politician out of his job through a kangaroo court.
I remain hugely grateful to everyone who has sent me kind messages, both since I stepped down from the cabinet and since this news broke. I intend continue to work my hardest for the people of Launceston and for Cornwall as a whole. 

In the circumstances, I have invited my party, the Liberal Democrats, to look into the matter under its own disciplinary processes. I have voluntarily suspended my membership of the party and the whip on the council for the duration of this process.
At the same time, I will be taking a leave of absence from the council for a few weeks in order to be able to obtain and correct the misinformation held on me, and whilst the party investigation is undertaken. I am grateful to my colleagues for their support which allows me to do this, and local people can be reassured that all casework and other inquiries will be properly and quickly dealt with.

But Cornwall Council needs to take a serious look at the person in charge. Mr Kerr is a tiny crumb of a human being. He is a bully who decided straight away that, despite the fact I had done nothing wrong, I needed to be forced out. He presided over the kangaroo court which passed judgement against me having refused to even allow me to see any evidence. When I refused his demands to resign from the council he came up with a scheme to bring this matter to public attention through the letters to local sports clubs and his press release today.

So here are some questions for the council:
  • Why, when the council knew all about my arrest - and the fact the police took no further action against me - back in 2009, did they then do nothing at all until the past few weeks? Where does that leave the chief legal officer, Richard Williams? Sadly for Mr Williams, given that he understands the law and justice, I suspect that Mr Kerr will be bullying him out of a job soon too.
  • Why does the council refuse to give me access to any of the claims, evidence, or information laid against me so that I can offer a proper defence?
  • Why did the council take the extraordinary step of writing to local organisations claiming that I am a danger of children when I have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing?
  • Why was Mr Kerr allowed to press release this matter without any warning, putting me and others in danger of some sort of vigilante action given the incredibly partial and untrue statements given to the press?


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

TRAC Report and Meeting

Cornwall Council has published their final report and evaluation of the TRAC and CYCLE projects in and around Launceston, Bude and Caradon Hill. The project failed to deliver many of its objectives.

There will be a meeting at 6pm next Tuesday to discuss the project and report. I'm grateful to council officers Peter Marsh and Steve Wood for coming to make a presentation and answer questions. The meeting is open to the public and will be at the Town Hall - Otho Peter Room - at 6pm.

As promised some time ago, the report is available here or you can read it below.



Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Resignation as a cabinet member

Today I have resigned as a member of Cornwall Council's cabinet. This is the text of the letter I sent to the Leader, John Pollard:
 
Dear John
As you know, I am currently dealing with a personal issue. I am therefore writing to tender my resignation from the cabinet with immediate effect.
I would like to say what an honour it has been to be part of Cornwall's cabinet. I believe that we have achieved a huge amount. The new budget is extremely tough but I believe that it is the fairest and best way of addressing the challenge that Cornwall faces over the next four years. We have managed to cut huge amounts of waste in order to focus on high quality front line services and I believe we have done our best for Cornwall.
I hope and expect to be able to address the personal issues I am dealing with and one day to be in a position to regain my seat at cabinet. But that is for sometime in the future. In the meantime I wish you and my other colleagues well. I thank you all for your support, but particularly Jeremy who has been unflinching in his support and advice throughout our time on the council.
I will continue to work my hardest for the people of Launceston.
Yours ever

Alex

This is his reply:

Dear Alex

Thank you for your letter, please accept this email as my acceptance of your resignation.

Thank you for all you’ve done for Cornwall.

Oll an  gwella

John

I don't intend to make any further comment at this time. Many thanks.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Lib Dems campaign for end to second home tax loophole

Lib Dems in Cornwall are campaigning to end a loophole being used by some second home owners to avoid paying either council tax or business rates.

As the cabinet member in charge of finance in Cornwall, I have been asking ministers to close the loophole. Now Julia Goldsworthy, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle has written to the Chancellor.

Here's how the loophole works:
  1. A second home owner is normally liable for full council tax on their property (two years ago the government removed the requirement to give a discount on second homes and the council immediately moved to require full payment to be made). The average council tax in Cornwall is just over £1400.
  2. But if they declare that the property is actually a holiday let and available to rent for 140 days or more per year then they can classify it as a business and be liable for business rates. The average business rates for any business with the word holiday in the category is about £1030, but this includes vast holiday parks so in practice the average for holiday lets is far less. 
  3. But most holiday lets are able to claim small business rate relief which reduces their payment to zero.
The decision as to whether a property is actually a business or residential is taken by the Valuations Office Agency - an independent body over which the council has no control. I have asked the government to ensure that they are applying the current rules correctly and to make sure that the VOA obtains evidence that the property is actually a genuine holiday let before they re-classify it.

This dodge is currently legal, but it means that Cornwall Council is missing out on potentially millions of pounds of income which could help to support services which are facing the axe. That is why we want the government to take action to end the dodge. But in the meantime we want an assurance that only genuine holiday lets are being moved from council tax to business rates.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Medical Centre expansion

A meeting to discuss the expansion of Launceston Medical Centre has been scheduled for 7pm on Thursday, December 18th in the Guildhall at Launceston Town Hall.

Dan Rogerson MP, a representative from NHS England, Paula Bland and Jo Beer from local Clinical Commissioning Groups, and Peter Harper from Launceston Medical Centre will all be attending.

Please put it in your diary if this is an issue you are concerned about.