Sheriff orders Edinburgh City Council to hand over secret report into dirty tricks campaign against whistleblower

Council chiefs have been ordered to hand over a secret report into a 'dirty tricks' campaign waged against members of its own staff.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 8:00 pm

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John Travers, now 66, and his family were targeted with vile abuse after he raised concerns about the alleged misuse of £400,000 in public money.

The abuse lasted several years and included his wife's email being bombarded with pornographic material sent from an internal council address.

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Targeted: John Travers and his family were victims of a smear campaign
Targeted: John Travers and his family were victims of a smear campaign

The local authority went to court in an effort to keep private the results of an investigation it commissioned into Mr Travers' treatment from the leading accountancy firm PWC.

But now a sheriff has backed Mr Travers’ claim that he was promised a copy of the investigation report and ordered the council to hand it over.

The Travers family suffered abuse from anonymous trolls and harassed at work after he tried to raise concerns about an alleged misuse of public funds back in 2002.

The allegations related to the supposed misspending of £400,000 of taxpayer money by the council’s arms-length company Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership.

Councillor Rose described Mr Travers' fight for justice as a 'David and Goliath' battle

Mr Travers was hauled before a council disciplinary hearing, he was abused online and personal information about his family and medical history were also posted online.

His wife also worked for the council and some of her line managers were closely connected to those implicated in the whistleblowing allegations.

Mrs Travers was subject to ‘repeated incidents of harassment’, she was disadvantaged by the type of work she was given to do, pornography was sent to her work computer and she was continually denied access to her work computer as it had been tampered with.

Their son, who was only a child at the time, was also victimised. He was subject to online abuse, and fake social media posts, supposedly written by the child, were published online.

.Former councillor Donald Anderson backed Mr Travers' case

Furthermore, trolls targeted the family in their home, by ordering items to their address.

Now, after a lengthy legal battle, Sheriff Alistair Noble has ruled in favour of Mr Travers and against the council, ordering it to hand over the details of an investigation which was spurred by his whistleblowing.

In October 2002, Mr Travers, using the pseudonym ‘Donald Reekie’, sent four emails to then council leader Donald Anderson, alleging misuse of public funds, misappropriation of intellectual property and council employees working for their own company in breach of their contracts of employment within the council’s education department.

In November, another email, using the same pseudonym, was sent to all community education staff, making disparaging remarks about recent staff appointments.

The court did not find whether this email was sent by Mr Travers, but later mass emails using the ‘Donald Reekie’ pseudonym were found to have not been authored by him.

Rather than investigate the allegations of corruption in Mr Travers’ first emails, he was instead disciplined by council officers for the mass email to the community education department.

He was given a written warning, which he contested, and which ended up in an employment tribunal.

It was then that the harassment of Mr Travers and his family started, as details of the employment tribunal were leaked online.

At the time, Mrs Travers worked at Cameron House community centre, in Prestonfield, which has been plagued by a litany of botched works.

More than a decade after Mr Travers’ whistleblowing, in 2015, the chair of Cameron House made allegations of misconduct by council officers involved in the commissioning and construction of the ailing building.

Floors, pipes and the heating system have been damaged at Cameron House in repeated floods while the centre was cleared to open despite effectively having a tarpaulin as part of the roof.

It was only after investigating these claims that the council made links between Mr Travers’ earlier whistleblowing and the problems experienced with Cameron House.

The council hired accountancy giants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to investigate the alleged misuse of funds, and the possible link between Mr Travers’ allegation and the problems at Cameron House.

The scope of the investigation was later widened to include the abuse directed towards Mr and Mrs Travers.

Councillor Cameron Rose, a ward councillor for the Travers family and the then Conservative group leader, had discussions with the family and found that the Traverses would only provide their evidence to the inquiry on the condition that they be given a full copy of the report once it was complete.

Mr Travers says he was promised a copy of the report by the council’s then deputy chief executive Alastair Maclean, who commissioned the investigation.

However, after the report was completed, the council turned around and refused to give Mr Travers a copy of the report, saying it never agreed to give him access to the report in the first place, and citing GDPR concerns.

The legal battle ended up in court, and now Sheriff Noble has found that ‘on the balance of probabilities’ Mr Maclean did promise Mr Travers a copy of the report, and dismissed the council’s concerns over GDPR.

The council will now have to hand over the report.

Former Labour city council leader Donald Anderson said: “I'm obviously delighted for the family which has suffered from unprecedented persecution and abuse over a prolonged period.

“I'm deeply sorry that I didn't realise the degree to which there was institutional corruption in the Corporate Services and Community Education departments on my watch.

“I am also deeply disappointed that senior finance officers signed off a report that misled the entire council about what was in all likelihood significant fraud at Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership.

“I thought they were better than that.

“This historical abuse has been a dark, dark cloud hanging over a family of good, honest and decent people for nearly twenty years.

“I sincerely hope the family can now get justice at last and that the cloud can finally be lifted.”

Councillor Cameron Rose added: “This is a bit of a David and Goliath moment.

“After five years my constituent has achieved in court what both he and I believed had been agreed at the time the inquiry into malpractice was initiated.

“It has never been clear to me why the council resisted.

“That is why I have called for a report to all councillors in my motion today.

“It is no small thing for a single family to battle an organisation as big as the council and stick with it for five years.

“And that was on top of the whistleblowing which also dragged on for years.

“I am appalled that the family had to go to court.”

An Edinburgh City Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the Sheriff’s decision and will be complying with it.”

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