Council chiefs claim they have 'significant sympathy' for bullied Edinburgh whistleblower forced to take them to court
Council bosses say they ‘have always maintained significant sympathy’ for a bullied and abused whistleblower – despite dragging him through the courts when he demanded to see the report into his case.
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In June, an Edinburgh City Council employee – whose family were targeted with vile abuse after he blew the whistle on ‘institutional corruption’ within the council – won a lengthy legal battle against the local authority.
Council employee John Travers, 66, his wife and their son, were victimised by anonymous trolls and harassed at work after Mr Travers 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.
Mr Travers was hauled before a council disciplinary hearing, but he was also abused online and personal information about his family and medical history were posted online.
His wife also worked for the council and some of her line managers were closely connected to those implicated in Mr Travers’ 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.
The Travers’ 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.
Furthermore, trolls targeted the family in their home, by ordering items to their address.
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.
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.
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, 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 in June Sheriff Noble 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.
Now, in a report about the legal settlement, sent to councillors ahead of their full council meeting on Thursday, local authority bosses say they have ‘always maintained significant sympathy’ for Mr Travers and his family – despite the ordeal they put him through.
The report reads: “At the outset it is worth confirming that both chief executive and the monitoring officer have always maintained significant sympathy for Mr Travers and his family for what they have been through.
“The outcomes of the PwC report were very concerning and, as members will be aware, resulted in a formal section 5 report to council in June 2016 citing maladministration.
“The actions of certain ex-council officers as detailed in the PwC report were unacceptable.
“The council takes this opportunity to again reiterate that it takes whistleblowing seriously and seeks to encourage whistleblowers to come forward and will protect them appropriately when they do so.
“The council’s position, verified by extensive external legal advice, was that it could not accede to what Mr Travers wanted without placing the council at significant risk of being in breach of its data protection obligations and other obligations.
“The council accepts the Sheriff’s judgement that the full unredacted PwC Report should now be provided to Mr Travers.”
The report concludes: “There is no doubt that in this case the council found itself in an invidious position.
“There was genuine sympathy for what Mr Travers and his family had been through over a number of years.
“However, unfortunately in this particular situation, the council was unable to provide Mr Travers with what he had requested because: (i) it did not have sufficient evidence of an obligation to do so; and (more importantly) (ii) it would have placed the Council at significant legal risk in relation to data protection obligations if it had acceded to what he wanted.
“The council’s position was informed by specialist external legal advice (independently from two different firms), and advice from its appointed QC.
“The council’s defence of Mr Travers’ action was undertaken in good faith and on the basis of advice of having reasonably good prospects of success in court.”