Secrets of the dirty tricks department: Edinburgh Council sued over intimidation campaign
EDINBURGH Council bosses are being taken to court to force them to release a hushed-up report into fraud allegations and dirty tricks, the Evening News can reveal.
Whistleblower John Travers has served a writ on City Chambers to publish a independent report into his claims £400,000 of public funds had been misspent at an arm’s-length firm.
Mr Travers and others close to him were the victims of a ten-year campaign of intimidation after he made the claims.
This included tampering with personnel records, hate mail, a barrage of “weaponised” pornography being sent to Mr Travers and his associates and anonymous online abuse.
Former council leader Donald Anderson has long backed disclosure of the report and said: “This is undoubtedly the most exceptional case I ever dealt with in 21 years on the council, and I am aghast that I may still be involved in it more than a decade after I left office.”
The city council drafted in a team of specialist investigators from accountancy giant PWC to examine the claims in 2016.
Their report vindicated the actions taken by Mr Travers and is understood to have concluded both he and his associates were harassed – but was unable to establish those responsible.
It also tracked vile hardcore pornographic images back to the council via an IP address but no individual has ever been identified as responsible.
As a result of their findings, the city council’s chief executive issued a full apology to Mr Travers for the “completely unacceptable” way he was treated.
Police were also called in and a spokesman confirmed this week that “inquiries are still ongoing”.
While the PWC investigators did not find evidence of fraud, they also did not rule it out.
Mr Anderson said: “The analogy that I would urge people to consider is regarding cases of sexual assault.
“Nobody would ever argue that you should simply sweep an allegation of sexual assault under the carpet and these allegations should be taken every bit as seriously.
“Be in no doubt that there were predators and this family was their prey.”
Mr Travers’ allegations related to Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership (ELLP) and work carried out on City Connect, its IT and social inclusion project.
In late 2002, he sent a series of anonymous e-mails around the council, including to then city leader Mr Anderson, alleging mismanagement in ELLP and City Connect.
Raising the allegations led to a disciplinary hearing against Mr Travers, but he later won £5,000 compensation after an employment tribunal ruled that the council had failed in its duty to protect him.
It said there had been “sufficient straws in the wind” to lead Mr Travers to believe “that all was not as it should be”.
The ELLP case has also been linked to a botched building project at Cameron House Community Centre.
The Prestonfield hub became mired in allegations of doctored emails, missing documents and the wasting of more than £146,000 of public money.
M Anderson said he believed senior officers had “conspired” to deflect attention from a legitimate complaint.
“Even if not one penny was taken, and we can’t discount that possibility, this is unequivocally an appalling case of corruption,” he added.
In a stinging rebuke, Mr Anderson said some sections of the council during his time in office were clearly “rotten from the core” and accused senior officers of setting up a “kangaroo court” for Mr Travers.
He did, however, praise the council for commissioning the “very thorough” PWC inquiry and said one lesson should be to separate the role of monitoring officer from the council.
Mr Anderson has been joined by another long-serving councillor in condemning the sorry saga calling for a just outcome.
A former leader of the Tories at City Chambers, Cllr Cameron Rose, said: “This sorry tale has gone on and on for well over a decade.
“The PWC enquiry was to investigate a murky series of events and should have led to a just result.
“It is certainly not clear to me why extreme secrecy should have been maintained around it in all the circumstances.
“I had expected the report to be an opportunity to come to a just outcome on many of the matters.”
The city council was served with the writ by top lawyer Andrew Smith QC acting on behalf of Mr Travers this month.
City council officials refused to discuss details of the case. A spokesman said: “The Council does not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”
As the one of the council’s sorriest sagas in living memory enters its 17th year, those at the centre of it are hoping news of legal proceedings against the council may finally lead to a just conclusion.
Late 2002 – Mr Travers sends a series of anonymous emails around the council, including to then city leader Donald Anderson, alleging mismanagement in ELLP and City Connect, including £400,000 fraud.
2004 – A disciplinary hearing begins against Mr Travers which involves an attempt to sack him.
2005 – A woman associate of Mr Travers is sent porn and reports it to police. A man is interviewed under caution, but detectives decide there is insufficient evidence to charge him. No disciplinary action was taken against the man. The same year Mr Travers takes the council to a tribunal.
January 16, 2006 – The employment tribunal finds in favour of Mr Travers, and against the council for breaching his employment rights. He is awarded £5,000.
2007 – A report on Mr Travers’ allegations, written by the council’s former monitoring officer concluded that, while council procedures were not followed, there was no evidence to substantiate allegations of misconduct on the part of council employees
November 2015 – MSP Jim Eadie calls on the council to reopen its investigation into Mr Travers’ original allegations amid concerns over the original probe.
March 2016 – Former city leader Donald Anderson says officials “hunted down” Mr Travers “like a wild animal” as the investigation is reopened. Mr Eadie asks the finance secretary for assurances on public money spent through City Connect.
June 2016 – Leaked details of PWC report show investigators do not rule out fraud while council is to issue ‘full apology’ to Mr Travers.
September 2016 – Police launch investigation into Mr Travers’ allegations.
December 2018 – Mr Travers issues a writ to the council for the PWC report to be released.