Edinburgh council whistleblower calls on QC to apologise over comments in report

A whistleblower whose wife was sent pornography as part of a campaign of harassment and abuse is demanding an apology from the top lawyer who conducted a review of council culture because of her comments on their case.

By Ian Swanson
Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 6:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th December 2021, 6:12 pm

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Council employee John Travers and his wife Deirdre were victimised by anonymous trolls and harassed at work after Mr Travers raised concerns about an alleged misuse of public funds in 2002.

Now he says QC Susanne Tanner, author of a report on whistleblowing and the organisational culture of the council, has added considerably to the stresses and strains his family has gone through by contradicting the findings of a previous report which said the pornography sent to Mrs Travers came from a council email address.

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Susanne Tanner's report will be debated by councillors on Thursday

And he has written to her, complaining of inaccuracies, saying their faith that they would receive fair treatment had been misplaced, and calling for an apology.

The report, published last Friday, is due to be debated by councillors on Thursday.

In his letter, Mr Travers said he was writing “with reluctance and at some considerable distress” to correct her comments.

He said: “I would point out that my wife and I were very reluctant to give evidence to your inquiry because it has added to the enormous stresses that we have been under for nearly 20 years. Indeed, we only came forward because we were advised to do so by our QC Andrew Smith who felt it was important for us to contribute.

“Also, you will be aware that we came back after being interviewed to meet you for approximately two hours to review the element of the report that referred to us. You will remember that we pointed out several inaccuracies in your ‘case study’ within the report. It is disappointing that you have chosen to correct some but not all of the inaccuracies.”

A PwC report commissioned by the council in 2015 said the pornographic material sent to Mrs Travers’ work computer came from an internal council email address.

But Ms Tanner’s report said: “PwC later confirmed that they did not consider that this was sent from within the council network but rather was likely to be a network breach by the perpetrators unknown.”

Mr Travers said in his letter: “We were deeply shocked by this conclusion which is not supported by the PwC report. That report, I would remind you, did accept that pornographic material was sent from a council email address and drew no conclusion about it originating from outside the council.

"Indeed, in the interview conducted by Magnus Aitken as part of the PwC Inquiry, Magnus showed one of the emails to former council leader Donald Anderson who witnessed the fact that it came from an Education service email address. This does raise questions about which version of the PwC Report you have been shown, and how many versions of the report may exist.”

And he concluded: "I would be grateful if you issue a clarification regarding your report and I would ask for an apology for adding considerably to the stresses and strains my family has been through, particularly my wife who has understandably been especially upset as a result of this. We gave evidence to the inquiry in good faith and it is deeply disappointing to find that our faith in fair treatment was misplaced."

Meanwhile, the management committee of Cameron House community centre, where Mrs Travers is a community learning and development worker, has also challenged Ms Tanner's report.

Committee chair Moira O'Neill has written to council chief executive highlighting comments in the report which said a link between the whistleblowing case and a series of problems with defects at the centre had "never been evidenced or proven".

It was alleged complaints about a botched building project were not dealt with, e-mails were doctored and a council employee posed as a member of the public to gain under-cover access to the centre.

Ms O'Neill said: "The conclusions reached [by the Tanner report] are contrary to the evidence which the management committee has provided to the council. The committee has also written and provided evidence to two previous chief executives to raise concerns at the treatment of the management committee, Deirdre Travers and the links to the John Travers whistleblowing case."

She said the evidence included an email sent during the commissioning process for the centre to discredit Mrs Travers; tampering with her personal records in connection with the construction process; health and safety concerns which she raised about defects being ignored by senior staff who were involved in the whistleblowing case; and harassment and threats directed at Mrs Travers by senior staff involved in the whistleblowing case.

Ms O'Neill pointed out to Mr Kerr that Ms Tanner's terms of reference said her review would not "determine the merits of individual whistleblowing reports, complaints or concerns of wrongdoing".

And she asked Mr Kerr to confirm the council had provided the inquiry team with the evidence from the management committee.

Ms Tanner’s report made 50 recommendations on improving the council’s culture, which it said had been “historically extremely problematic” but concluded “considerable strides” had been made.

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