POLICE are to be called in to probe allegations of fraud at an arms-length council company and the “despicable” harassment of the whistleblower who raised the concerns.
The move comes after the city council drafted in a team of specialist investigators from PWC, who examined claims of a ten-year campaign of intimidation against John Travers and others close to him.
Words cannot describe just how despicably he and his family have been treated by departments that should have thanked him.Donald Anderson
This included tampering with personnel records, torrents of pornography being sent to employees and anonymous online abuse.
Their report vindicates the actions taken by Mr Travers, who alleged that nearly £400,000 of public funds had been misspent at the Edinburgh Lifelong Learning Partnership (ELLP).
While the PWC investigators did not find evidence of fraud, they have also not ruled it out. The report is now set to be handed to the police.
The city council’s chief executive will also now issue a full apology to Mr Travers for the way he was treated. Former city leader Donald Anderson said today that the treatment of the whistleblower had amounted to “an act of violence”.
He said: “If the action by council departments had been to arrange for Mr Travers to be taken out in the street and beaten to a pulp, the outcome would undoubtedly have been less traumatic to him and his family.
“Instead, they sought to destroy his reputation, take away his livelihood and tear apart his family life.
“Words cannot describe just how despicably he and his family have been treated by departments that should have thanked him – and indeed had a duty to protect him, for drawing such important matters to their attention.”
The whistleblower’s allegations related to ELLP and work carried out in City Connect, its IT and social inclusion project.
The Evening News understands the PWC team concluded that harassment of Mr Travers and his associates had taken place.
However, they were unable to establish who was responsible.
In late 2002, Mr Travers circulated a series of anonymous e-mails around the council, including to Mr Anderson, alleging mismanagement in ELLP and City Connect.
The company secretary was Mike Rosendale, then head of the community education department.
A 2007 report on the allegations, written by former monitoring officer Jim Inch, concluded that, while council procedures were not followed, there was no evidence to substantiate allegations of misconduct on the part of council employees.
Raising the allegations led to a disciplinary hearing against Mr Travers, which Mr Anderson has described as being based on a “tissue of untruths”. However, he later won £5000 compensation after an employment tribunal ruled that the council had failed in its duty to protect him. The tribunal ruled 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.
We told last week how council employees were set to escape disciplinary action because they told investigators they “couldn’t remember” what they had done.
News that the police have been called in to investigate the alleged fraud and harassment was today welcomed by political figures.
Former MSP Jim Eadie, who raised the matter in the Scottish Parliament and tabled a series of questions for Deputy First Minister John Swinney, said: “This is a very significant development and not one that surprises me.
“This is a vindication of the very brave stance taken by my former constituent in bringing these important matters to light.
“People in Edinburgh owe him a huge debt of gratitude for the very honourable role he has played throughout.”
He added: “Obviously, we will have to wait for the outcome of the police investigation.
“But I and others who have raised concerns over a period of time feel vindicated by this position.”
Councillor Jeremy Balfour, also a Conservative MSP for Lothian, has called on the council to make the PWC report available to all elected members at the City Chambers.
He said: “Except for the party group leaders and Jo Mowat, no other councillor has been able to see the full report that has been produced and I think it makes it very difficult for councillors to come to a judgment when we are being denied access to a report which, I think, we should be allowed to receive.”
A city council spokesman said: “As a result of PWC’s investigations the chief executive will be issuing an apology to the whistleblower.
“The behaviour of former employees is completely unacceptable and the council has already taken positive steps to address the findings of these historical events.
“The council will be passing the report to Police Scotland and will co-operate fully with their inquiries.”
Mr Travers remains unable to comment on the case.
Police Scotland said last night they had yet to receive the PWC report.