Misdirection by Corporate Lead [1]

Date: 1 August 2016
Our Ref: CX/253539  > the letter to the CEO was about 248789
Your Ref: blank

Dear Mr Dawson

Thank you for your letter to Martin Swales, Chief Executive dated 8 July 2016, requesting matters related to your previous complaint to be raised as a new complaint, I manage the process and staff that support customer complaints and compliments. Your letter has therefore been forwarded to me to consider and respond.

Having considered the contents of your letter and the final decision by the Local Government Ombudsman, I am now in a position to respond.

There is no evidence to suggest that there has been deliberate misinformation provided by Council officers to the Local Government Ombudsman, – misinformation is deliberate by its very nature!  Neither do I have evidence to question the content of the Ombudsman’s investigation. My several years of experience is that an investigator works with a complainant during the investigation to consider the initial complaint and relevant subsequent points raised. It is your responsibility to provide the investigator with information to fully investigate your complaint, it is our responsibility to respond to that investigation. I can find no evidence that the Council did not fully comply with the investigator’s questions throughout the process.

  • why did they tell the Inspector that the extra width was not material when the Council had admitted that it was material;
  • why did they tell the Inspector that a drawing (8296/1B) was an approved one from 1966 when it was from 1997 and not approved;
  • why did they tell the Inspector that a gable end drawing on 8296/14 was not to scale when it clearly drawn to a scale of 1:100;
  • why did they say the same gable end could be the road end when it was the river end;
  • why did they say there were to be openings at both ends of the shed when you could have viewed it before extension and seen that there is no opening at the road end;

if they did not intend to deceive the Inspector.

I understand your frustration in what is a complex matter, which has been the subject of extensive investigation by the Council and the Local Government Ombudsman, involving information spanning two decades. The footings were laid in 2001 but not measured, complaint 248789 was closed and reopened as 253539 in 2014 and the Ombudsman misled in 2015. Whilst I know that you remain dissatisfied with the outcome, I consider the Local Government Ombudsman’s decision final and must now draw a close to this matter. See no evidence, above.

I refer you to an email sent on 9 December 2015 from Customer Advocacy (CA), regarding the repeated contacts to the Council concerning issues you had raised in your original complaint regarding the boat repair shed built by UK Docks.

I took the letter to a solicitor along with a binder full of the said repeated contacts and he hinted that it was not really a planning issue but a case of criminal fraud but the police were unlikely to act  because they would say it was a planning matter and civil action was out of the question so his advice was to say that the Council had given misinformation etc. to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Since the Ombudsman’s final decision on your complaint on 15 April 2015, you have sent further emails/letters to Council officers, Elected Members and Members of Parliament, reiterating aspects of the complaint, – the first draft of the LGO’s bore so little resemblance to the complaint, summarised above, it was clear that the Inspector had been misinformed by South Tyneside Council so I wrote to my MP about it in March 2015. There was one letter to the MP for Berwick copied to the Chief Executive between then and the 9th December about the existing development. I wrote to the Planning Officer, Gary Simmonette, about the second phase of the development to which he did not respond. Mrs Hayley Johnson has  a) run two separate issues into one and b) covering for her mistake having told the MP for Berwick that there was nothing wrong with UK Docks development.
• Letter to MP Trevelyan dated 1 June 2015 advising her of your complaint, but not advising the MP it had been Investigated by the Council and Local Government Ombudsman, – the letter 1-Jun was the letter from the MP Trevelyan to the CEO responding to a letter I had written to MP Lewell-Buck in March. Mrs Johnson ought to have got her facts straight before she made allegations about anyone else.
• Email 4 December 2015 to Gary Simmonette and the Planning Team cc’d to Dave and Julie Routledge; Emma Lewell-Buck MP; George Mansbridge; Melanie Todd; Cllr Audrey McMillan; Cllr John Wood; Cllr John Anglin, referencing the original boat shed dimensions, which had been addressed through the complaints procedure, alongside your objections to a new planning application.
The approved drawings gave lie to what the Council had told the Local Government Ombudsman and I wished to advise Gary Simmonette of his mistake in covering up the fact that the cover had been built without permission before he made things worse for the Council but to no avail. Mrs Johnson does concede that it is a new planning application but the objection was that the first one was completed without planning permision. •  Email 1 February 2016 regarding the February committee meeting, making reference to misinformation and/or misrepresentation by the Council in supplying information to the Local Government Ombudsman.
See the list of misrepresentations given to the Inspector. There are more but they are quite involved and the 5 given are quite enough to be getting on with. One was particularly offensive as it they words onto my mouth that I never said and another was put in to change the sequence of events to put the Principal Planning Officer’s replies in a better light.
• Letter 8 July 2016 to the Chief Executive and the Ombudsman,   What letter!

If the facts are checked one will see that the Corporate Lead’s action and her justification for it, below, are unreasonable. If the Case Officer had not originally misrepresented the plans to the meeting in November ’13 there would have been no need to raise the original complaint – 248789. If the Council had not tried to cover this up there would have been no need for a ‘persistent complainant’.

I enclose a copy of our policy on dealing with unreasonable and persistent complainants. In my view, your behaviour is a disproportionate use of resources and unreasonable because you have:
• submitted repeated complaints, essentially regarding the same issue, after our complaints process has been exhausted, The issue is not exhausted until the Council answer the question about planned height of the shed which we believe to be 12.7m and what the approved drawings indicate.
• attempted to have the complaint reconsidered in ways that are incompatible with our adopted complaints procedure, or with good practice, – pure hypocrisy:
• adopted a ‘scattergun’ approach: pursuing a complaint or complaints with the authority and, at the same time, with a Member of Parliament/a councillor/independent auditor/the Standards Board/local police/solicitors, while an appropriate avenue is available via the Local Government Ombudsman, I had not written to the local police, independent auditors or the Standards Board which she was implying.
If I think that the Council is acting improperly on any issue I believe I am entitled to write to my MP – it is up to the MP whether he or she takes up my case.
I wrote to my ward Councillors because they, apart from the Chairman of the Planning Committee(Cllr Wood), attended the meeting where we were told the shed was ‘legal’.
I wrote: “Are you suggesting that the Councillors should not be told that they were misinformed by a Principal Planning Officer of the Council?
I included members of the Residents Group Committee as well because I had to relay the ‘facts’ to a meeting with them a few hours after the same meeting where we were told the shed was ‘legal’. I did not believe what I had been told by the Officer and it took me 2 months and numerous emails to prove that shed was not ‘legal’ or should I say compliant. It appears she wishes that members of the Residents Group should remain ignorant of the fact that the shed was not compliant and built without planning permission?”
• refused to accept the decision of the Council or Local Government Ombudsman, by arguing points of detail. The Council have based their decisions on drawings provided by UK Docks. These were not authorised and one of them was incomplete because there were vital details missing. I based my arguments on documents provided by their Agents in pursuance of ST/1146/13/COND  and approved by the Planning Manager which I considered more valid.

I now consider this matter closed. – she does not wish to talk about a Senior Planning Officer giving misinformation to the Ombudsman! Should you continue to repeat historic complaint issues in your contacts, we will consider imposing formal restrictions – she did and gave a shield for the Executive to hide behind! on your contact with the Council. Should you continue to repeat this same complaint already investigated by the Council or the Ombudsman, including historical plans or perceived misinformation, we will not acknowledge, or respond to those communication.

We will however, ensure that any separate complaints you raise, – they do not because they conflate a complaint about way they handle a complaint with the complaint itself! including any that may arise from a new planning application, are dealt with appropriately and that you receive a response where necessary.

Yours sincerely,
Hayley Johnson
Corporate Lead Strategy and Performance

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