Edinburgh Council is failing to disclose important information about Sean Bell’s 20-year reign of abuse – John McLellan

Naively perhaps, when I became a councillor I thought we were elected to represent our constituents in setting policy and scrutinising the actions of the staff employed to serve the public.

Councillors should be allowed to see details of an 'old boys' network' of male colleagues in Sean Bell’s circle (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Councillors should be allowed to see details of an 'old boys' network' of male colleagues in Sean Bell’s circle (Picture: Neil Hanna)

Maybe it was unrealistic to expect that councillors of all persuasions would share a desire to find out what goes on in the name of the council of which they are members.

Proof that it’s idealistic hokum came in spades last week as the SNP-Labour administration twisted and turned to avoid revealing more about what went on during the late social worker Sean Bell’s 20-year reign of abuse and manipulation.

As predicted last week, the administration tried to set aside an investigation into misuse of funds in 2011 without seeing the reports of the time. Those documents revealed disciplinary action was recommended against Bell but was not carried out because his record at the time was clean.

The recent report by Susanne Tanner QC didn’t pick that up and it might never have been addressed had Conservative group leader Iain Whyte not insisted on seeing the 2011 papers, and the administration only agreed all councillors could see documents after a Conservative amendment was tabled.

But the coalition resisted allowing councillors to see details of an “old boys’ network” of male colleagues in Bell’s circle who all started around the same time and apparently covered for each other, and which Ms Tanner said could be made available.

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This was duly supplied to chief executive Andrew Kerr, but councillors have not seen it. The officers are to produce recommendations, which councillors will be asked to approve without seeing the full background detail. They won’t see it because last week the administration, with the support of the Greens and Lib Dems, voted not to, because those named might not have done anything wrong.

Maybe so, but they might have known what was happening and that would suggest guilt by association. The names might not mean anything to me, but I would like to know how many people were in the ring, the levels at which they operated, who their line managers were, and to confirm the title is justified.

But it appears the other parties do not share this curiosity and are leaving the officers to it. Yet this whole sordid affair lasted 20 years because officers were left to it, and the story of the Sean Bell affair is of apparently brilliant staff not doing the right thing and, in at least one notable case, destroying the mental health of those who did.

What happened – and according to whistle-blowers is still happening ─ is as a direct result of people looking the other way, and last week the administration tried not to look at all.

It’s fine for me because I’m standing down, but people who rely on the council for their living or for care aren’t so lucky. Councillors are elected to represent and protect these people, not the “system” or the reputations of those whose actions have once again dragged the name of Edinburgh Council into the gutter.

To all those councillors who lack that curiosity to find out what officers have done in their name, why not come and join me as an ex-councillor, because you’ll be as much use to your voters as you are now.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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