Edinburgh council chiefs under fire over 'sinister' attempt to keep whistleblower debate behind closed doors
Council chiefs have come under fire over "sinister” attempts to keep the public and press from hearing details of its failed legal case against a whistleblower who was subjected to years of harassment after speaking up about alleged institutional corruption.
A full meeting of the council was due to debate a report on the recent court action the local authority lost against John Travers over his right to see the full findings of an investigation into his case by accountants PwC.
But officials told councillors the report should be discussed in private because it named Mr Travers and it contained the court judgement as an appendix.
When it was pointed out Mr Travers’ name had been in the public domain for some time, officials said the report also contained employment information that it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act to publish.
Opposition councillors said the court judgement was already widely available.
Tory group leader Iain Whyte said: “I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t publish the court judgement unless of course it's to – in the short term – avoid embarrassment to the council.”
Council leader Adam McVey said it was for the court to publish the judgement rather than the council – but then it emerged the court had published it that morning and officials said it could be published by the council after all.
Tory councillor John McLellan said the reasons for keeping the item on a private B agenda seemed to change “with every hour that passes”.
He said: “These are spurious arguments and they're arguments being advanced by the same team that has spent the last five years fighting a court action to prevent the people involved in this case getting hold of a report to which the court has ruled they are entitled.”
Mr Travers and his family suffered years of harassment and abuse, which included his wife's email being bombarded with pornographic material sent from an internal council address, after he raised concerns about alleged misspending of £400,000 by the council's arms-length company Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership in 2002.
Arguing for the debate to be held in public, Tory councillor Jim Campbell said the council had to be open and honest about the case.
"The longer we hide from the truth and the longer we hide the truth from those that elect us the worse it is for our reputation and the more damaging it is for our culture,” he said.
After the decision to publish the court judgement, officials stuck to their advice the rest of the report should remain private, saying that even if it were to be redacted the whole document would have to be gone through before it could be made public.
Councillors then backed a proposal from Lord Provost Frank Ross that the debate should be postponed until next month’s council meeting.
Tory councillor Cameron Rose said afterwards: “We have been given excuse after excuse as reason for not being open. As each one is knocked down another is put forward.
“For five years the council resisted a commitment it had made to provide the whistleblower with the enquiry report.
“Today was supposed to be examining why this secretive approach – which was rejected by the court was maintained for five long years.
“The argument for not letting councillors talk about a public court judgement, already in the public domain, will be seen as farce. And perhaps sinister.
“The SNP/Labour administration should be utterly ashamed of their approach to this whole disgraceful episode and utterly embarrassed by the shambles over which they presided today.“
Depute council leader Cammy Day said the administration had taken “clear and consistent” advice from the council’s legal team.
“We shouldn’t be playing petty politics with issues like this,” he said.
"I’m pleased the courts have now released the documents and a full and open debate can be had in due course to bring this matter to a conclusion.”