Martin Hannan: Report must stay secret for fair trial

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THIS IS not going to make me popular in certain places, but I have no doubt that the decision by council officials not to publish the Deloitte report into the Edinburgh property repairs scandal is the correct one – at the moment.

It is not because I think the details should remain secret for ever – far from it, as I believe that the full report and all internal council reports must be published in time. No, it’s because of two rather old-fashioned principles to which I hold dear: that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty, and that any such investigatory report should remain confidential until those named in it are given the chance to defend themselves.

Of course, there is no reason why the council could not publish some of the findings with names and details redacted. After all, the reported cost of £1.5 million for this report means that the public have the right to see at least some of what they have paid for.

An executive summary, perhaps, just laying out the facts of how much money is involved, and how the public will be compensated for their losses. But nothing that names individuals or methods – that will undoubtedly form part of the criminal inquiry which simply cannot be compromised.

Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie correctly points out that with so many people having been defrauded or had their money stolen – there is no other word for it – that as much information as possible should be made public.

Like me, Cardownie will know some of the people involved, and indeed, some of the people who are suspended. I suspect we are both shocked by names on that list.

Like me, a lot of councillors will have their suspicions about what went on and will want to see all the details made public – eventually.

It would be a travesty, however, if any of the people allegedly involved in this grand conspiracy – again, there can be no other word for it – were to walk free because some information reached the public domain that allowed accused people to walk free on grounds that they couldn’t get a fair trial.

That latter point is deadly serious. This has been without doubt the most publicised scandal in the history of Edinburgh’s local authority, thanks largely to the Evening News which started the ball rolling and kept it going with a string of exclusives.

The Lord Advocate of Scotland doesn’t actually call me often for advice – in fact, he’s never done so, much to my puzzlement – but were he to read this column I would suggest to him that the eventual criminal trials in this matter should be held well furth of this city.

For I have not spoken to a single person in Edinburgh who does not think that serious evil has been done to many, many citizens. The chances of a genuinely fair trial in the city must be about nil, and it would again be very upsetting if accused people were able to walk free from court by saying “my human rights were breached because the jury was so obviously biased”.

There can be no mistakes with the prosecution of those alleged to have been involved. That’s why the Deloitte report must remain under wraps. For the present . . .

Sad loss to the city

I CAN’T let the death of Bill Purves go unmentioned. His passing just over a week ago has robbed Edinburgh of one of those characters that make this city what it is – replete with magic.

The first thing to note about this fine man was that he was blind from teenaged years. Bill just carried on making music regardless.

With his shock of silvery hair and great white beard, Bill was a kenspeckle folk musician of genuine quality, a real multi-instrumentalist who could play the banjo, accordion, mandolin and fiddle. I’ll always remember him from sessions which, shall we say, were not dry, in Sandy Bell’s, the Hebrides, the West End Hotel, the Royal Oak and elsewhere – you can see that I’ve always kept the best of company in the most welcoming of hostelries.

It has to be said that Bill was not in the Connolly class with his jokes, though I liked his one about going on a parachute jump and knowing that he would be ready to hit the ground when the dog’s lead went slack...

He could also take a joke – well, he let me sing with him.

I do know that many thousands of visitors to Edinburgh appreciated his music if they were lucky enough to hear him in a session, either by himself or with the various groups he played in.

I also remember him winning his three-year long landmark discrimination case when he was refused entry to some restaurant because he had a guide dog. He was one of the first to win compensation under the Disability Discrimination Act, and it is often forgotten that when he was awarded only £350 by the sheriff, Bill went back to court with the Disability Rights Commission in 2003 and won an increase in compensation to £1000 plus expenses. There were a few toasts drunk to his health and his courage that week.

Many condolences to Bill’s family, and let me tell them that this city is a much poorer place for his absence.