Edinburgh's depute council leader slated after 'Miss Marple' jibe at councillor concerned about whistleblowing
Labour depute city council leader Cammy Day has been slated by colleagues after he described senior SNP councillor Alison Dickie as “Miss Marple” over her support for a whistleblower who was subjected to a vile campaign of harassment and abuse after raising concerns about alleged misuse of £400,000 of council cash.
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The case of John Travers – which helped spark a wide-ranging inquiry into the authority’s organisational culture – was being debated at the full council meeting when councillor Day made his jibe at education vice-convener Alison Dickie.
He said the Tories’ “own Inspector Morse from the right-wing branch and the SNP's own Miss Marple” had been conducting their own investigations.
But the council also heard a suggestion the police watchdog could be called in to look at Police Scotland’s investigation into the allegations made by Mr Travers.
Councillor Dickie, who is off sick and was not at the meeting, recently wrote a full-page article in the Evening News voicing her concerns about the Travers case and the council’s response to whistleblowers.
Tory councillor John McLellan said: “Given the content of her article, to belittle what she said and the concerns she has raised as being that of a television detective is quite extraordinary and does councillor Day no service whatsoever.
“This is not stand-up comedy, this whole saga going back 19 years and the current inquiries are dealing with some of the most serious imaginable issues this council has ever had to face. To trivialise them in that way I find deeply, deeply shocking.”
The SNP’s Neil Gardiner called on councillor Day to withdraw his remark. “It is totally unbecoming of the deputy leader of the council to refer an SNP colleague as Miss Marple. I might not always agree with councillor Dickie but it comes from the heart her involvement in this case and the issues to do with child protection and these matters.
“Councillor Dickie is not well and is not here to answer or refute that. It is really beneath someone with role of deputy leader of the council to raise that kind of comment.”
And Labour’s Lezley Marion Cameron thanked councillor Gardiner for speaking up for councillor Dickie in her absence. She said: "I’ve known her to be hard-working, diligent, cares passionately about her brief and is a hard working local councillor.”
Mr Travers and his family suffered years of harassment – including his wife's email being bombarded with pornographic material sent from an internal council address – after he raised concerns about the alleged mis-spending of £400,000 by arms-length council company Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership.
Accountancy firm PwC were commissioned to investigate his treatment, but the council refused for five years to give him a copy of the full report until June this year when a court ordered it to be handed over.
Tory councillor Cameron Rose – an ex-police inspector – claimed the refusal to give him the report had inhibited a full police inquiry into the allegations, but also quoted a statement circulated to councillors by chief executive Andrew Kerr from Edinburgh police commander Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, saying the police investigation had not been hindered. It continued: “Police Scotland did have access to the full unredacted version and were therefore able to conduct the investigation, concluded it accordingly and found no evidence of criminality.”
However, Councillor Rose said he had been present when Mr Travers went to the police with the edited version of the PwC report he had been given and was told to come back when he had the full report.
And he continued: “At no stage in the past 19 years has Mr Travers been interviewed by police about the whistleblowing allegations of fraud, nor about the allegations of illegal harassment, matters recommended for referral to the police in the PwC report. Much of the evidence is held by Mr Travers, not the council.”
Councillor McLellan suggested the issue could be one for the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.
He said: “The combination of the statement supplied to the chief executive from Supt Scott and Cllr Rose’s detailed account of the meeting he had with the police and the Travers seems to me to open up a prima facie case for the involvement of the PIRC and some very serious questions need to be asked about the conduct of the inquiry which Supt Scott says was conducted. I think that's something of enormous concern for us.”
He also said council officials had failed to explain why the council had resisted for so long giving Mr Travers the full report.
"We’ve been told the council's legal advice was that GDPR rules meant the council could not give the Travers the full report. We also now know that advice was also that should a court order require the council to hand over that report, the court order would allow that to happen.
“What we have never had explained is why it was the council chose to fight against the request for a court order. The council by its own actions prolonged the ordeal for the Travers, whom they now accept have been very badly treated.”
The council agreed a proposal from the SNP-Labour administration to empower the chief executive to engage with Mr Travers to address "any detriment caused to him and his family not covered by previous settlements" including the possibility of "a full and final settlement, if appropriate".