Details of allegations of Tower Hamlets corruption cover-up emerge

This report is not intended to be a comprehensive report of yesterday’s (Thursday 29th August 2019) events at the East London Employment Tribunal in the case of Mark Edmunds, a forensic investigator who was employed by Tower Hamlets Council to investigate corruption in the Youth Service and is now bringing a claim for unfair dismissal against his former employer.

My notes taken during the day run to over 4,500 words and this would probably run to 8,000 words in properly constructed sentences. And I don’t think anyone wants to read 8,000 words on this. Do they?

So the below is an attempt to give a fair and balanced overview of events but it is not a transcript of the days proceedings.

The tribunal started with some basic ‘housekeeping’ discussions including the on-going issue of the redaction of the evidence bundle(s) but not in any great detail.

Evidence of Clare Belgard

First witness was Clare Belgard Interim Head of Youth and Community Learning from November 2015 onwards at Tower Hamlets Council and since October 2018 has been Interim Service Manager, Early Help Partnership and Families First Service at the London Borough of Newham.

Francis Hoar (file photo)

Francis Hoare representing Mark Edmunds took Ms. Belgard through various aspects of the case relating to her work and her management of Mr Edmunds.

In reply to Mr Hoare Ms. Belgard said that while in her post she was aware that there were serious allegations about council employee NAME REDACTED, and that these allegations were not pressed when Andy Bamber, Service Head Safer Communities (who was responsible for Youth Services at Tower Hamlets Council from November 2012) was leading the investigation into Youth Services.

When the allegations were passed to the Youth Service Project Group that was tasked with cleaning up Youth Services, NAME REDACTED received a final written warning instead of dismissal.

The other key witness giving evidence today was Ronke Martins-Taylor. Both herself and Ms. Belgard were tasked with sorting out Youth Services in June 2017. [LINK]

Ms. Martins-Taylor was Youth Services Development Manager at Tower Hamlets Council on secondment from the London Borough of Redbridge from June 2017 until November 2017, then Interim Divisional Director Youth and Commissioning at Tower Hamlets and from November 2017 until now has been Divisional Director, Youth and Commissioning at Tower Hamlets Council.

Evidence of Ronke Martins-Taylor

When Francis Hoare suggested to Ms. Martins-Taylor that in order to carry out her duties effectively she needed to understand the history of Youth Services she stated that she “was aware of it but not the detail.”

Francis Hoare suggested to Ms. Martins-Taylor that while he agreed that she need not know the minute detail of Youth Services history “it was important for you to know the sort of allegations, corruption and systemic problems” that had occurred.

Ms. Martins-Taylor replied that it was that her “distinct brief was to restructure Youth Services [by her work on the Youth Services Project Group] and as part of that role I became aware of the detail.”

Mr Hoare: “Even before you were on Youth Services Project Group you should have known?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “I knew about the broad issues, not the detail”

Mr Hoare then asked Ms. Martins-Taylor if she knew of the abuse of Tower Hamlets credit cards by members of Youth Services?

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Broadly I knew about it.”

Mr Hoare: “Credit cards were given to individual employees with little or no scrutiny on the projects they managed.Were you aware of that?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Yes i was.”

Mr Hoare: “Substantial sums were spent on different activities and it was difficult to justify sums spent. In addition a number of Youth Service staff had connections with organisations that were fraudulent.”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “I was aware of that.”

Mr Hoare: “[Council] grants were given to organisations that either did not exist or were much smaller than they claimed to be?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “My role was as Project Manager – it was a distinct role. My job was to make it fit for purpose.”

Mr Hoare: “You accept that you were responsible for a large amount of money [council funds]? The buck stopped with you.”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “We had a budget.”

Mr Hoare: “I specifically asked if the bucks stopped with you?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “It stops with the Service Head in charge, not me.”

—— Later ——

Martins-Taylor did not read PwC report

Mr Hoare: “So your role was leading on the review of Youth Services and to align it to the issues emerging from the PwC audit report published in November 2014?” [PDF]

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “I was aware of it.

Mr Hoare: “This report led to the government Commissioners coming in to the Town Hall.”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “I was aware of it but did not read it.”

Mr Hoare: “You did not read the report despite knowing the scope and scale of issues were very important?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “I was aware a report had been written by PWC but my job was to restructure Youth Services.”

—— Later ——

Mr Hoare: “You were chair of the project group [YSPG] specifically set up to eradicate corruption in Youth Services?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “The group objective was to receive reports from investigators.”

Mr Hoare: “Is it not a missed opportunity after in uncovering an incident you do not try to stop it happening again?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Our principle purpose was go through the 59 cases and ensure that each case was properly dealt with in line with guidelines.”

Mr Hoare: “At the end of this process Will Tuckley [CEO of Tower Hamlets] gave a public statement that the commissioners were taken back by the government and he said this was a vote of confidence in the good administration of Tower Hamlets. He was confident Youth Service corruption had been eradicated through the work of the YSPG and also the Clean-Up Group. Youth Services the was the main source of corruption.”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “I did not know proportionality.”

Mr Hoare: “It was your role to ensure leads were followed and use the experienced team of investigators you had was used effectively?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “The final Terms of Reference clearly state what YSPG was intended to do. That was its distinct purpose.”

—— Later ——

Ms. Martins-Taylor agreed with Judge Critchley that the purpose of YSPG was not just to conclude the 59 existing investigations but to follow up new lines of enquiry that might arise from them.

Mr Hoare: “Returning more specifically to your ‘tools’, these were the investigators group and the wealth of experience they had was useful?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Two investigators.”

Mr Hoare: “Investigators having experience of particular domain was useful?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “We were looking for investigators.”

Mr Hoare: “There are lots of investigator who can investigate but investigator with specific knowledge of area will improve their efficiency?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “It was not a prerequisite.”

(At this point Mr Hoare became visibly annoyed in reaction to the way Ms. Martins-Taylor was responding to his questions. The judge intervened.)

Judge Critchley: “The knowledge and skills that Mr Edmunds generated – would they have enhanced his job?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “In a local authority you have to be able to investigate.”

Judge Critchley: “In this instance there is a network of connections – literally called the Spiders Web. Would a person with knowledge of this web mean that investigator would be better than one without?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Possibly.”

Judge Critchley: “59 individual cases is indicative of a culture of wrong doing. Is that a large number?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Yes.”

Judge Critchley: “Where you satisfied they were thorough?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Yes.”

Mr Hoare: “I am going to suggest you are deliberately avoiding the issue, that you are minimising the benefit of an investigators experience to minimise the benefit of using Mark Edmunds?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “No.”

—— Later ——

Mr Hoare: “At the first meeting of the Youth Services Project Group why was the Head of Media Kelly Powell there? You were the Chair? You invited these people?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Terms of Reference had been drawn up. Investigators were named as resources to the board.”

Mr Hoare: “But you do not have an experienced investigator at the meeting?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “There was a lawyer, Interim Service Head, Service Head of Risk Management, Human Resources, Child Services and Head of Media present.” [Note: Mark Edmunds was not invited to this meeting.]

Mr Hoare: “But none of these individuals had experience of investigating corruption?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “The committee members are ’combined wisdom’.”

Mr Hoare: “But you are lacking the wisdom from an investigator. who had experience of investigating corruption at that meeting.”

Judge Critchley intervenes as Mr Hoare becomes frustrated again by the manner in which Ms. Martins-Taylor responds to his questions.

Judge Critchley: “Are you accepting that board members had experience of investigation? Were you hampered by not having investigators?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “We felt we did not need investigators [at the meeting] but just access to investigators.”

Mr Hoare: “Mark Edmunds had two years of experience of these investigations and he says ‘I could not understand why I was not invited to the meeting.”

—— Later ——

Later in her evidence Ms. Martins-Taylor referred to the Youth Services Project Group meeting under discussion as “a Task and Finish group.”

Mr Hoare replied that it was interesting that it was called a Task and Finish group.

Mr Hoare: “The important task of the group was to finish a task at a specific timescale. I suggest the finish was more important than the task.”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Disagree.”

—— Later ——

*After much discussion concerning Mark Edmunds position, the structure of the YSPG group, redundancy issues, disagreements over how various organisations bids for Council funds were scored, Human Resources issues. the manner in which Mark Edmunds was dealt with in regard to his employment by LBTH and much more, each issue wrapped up in another issue, the line of questioning returned to the core thread of the afternoon’s testing of Ms. Martins-Taylor evidence – what was the motive for removing Mark Edmunds from his position investigating Youth Services?”*

Mr Hoare: “The reason I suggest for the move of Mark Edmunds to be under Claire Belgard’s management was to ensure that he could not adequately raise concerns about management?”

Ms. Martins-Taylor: “Not true.”

Mr Hoare: “And the reason for that in turn was because the intention behind the YSPG was not to investigate corruption – it was to shut down investigations into corruption.

Ms. Martins-Taylor strongly disagreed with this proposition.

As usual both Cllr. Andrew Woods and Cllr. Peter Golds were in attendance at the tribunal proceedings.

No Labour Party councillors attended.

Shahed Ali also popped on to the proceedings late on Thursday afternoon and he and Moley had a good chat afterwards. Shahed is keen for the long-running issue of the grants being given to Rich Mix to be put under proper scrutiny in the light of the current allegations.

Notes

1. The case was originally scheduled to finish today, Friday 30th August 2019, but the various discussions about reporting restrictions and the provision of the evidence bundle to members of the press delayed hearing witnesses.

2. The case will now resume in December 2019. This is due to scheduling issues and people having booked holidays etc.

3. The Reporting Restrictions Order (RRO) imposed on the proceedings will be lifted on September 5 2019. This RRO prevents the naming of 10 people from being reported in connection with proceedings.

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