#FoI request ~ Departure of Bill Norman ~ “Vexatious” verdict overturned. What now?

26th June 2014 – UPDATE – Wirral Council have capitulated, and have now withdrawn ALL their ‘vexatious’ refusals targetted against me.  Not content with this however, monitoring officer Surjit Tour, head of the legal “team” has made a veiled threat on the WhatDoTheyKnow website.

14th January 2014

The original FoI request is here:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/unscrutinised_machinations_permi

A response came in after a very long time, claiming that my request had been “vexatious” and refusing to supply the information.  It was the second time Wirral Council had tried this on.  The ICO overturning of this outlandish verdict is discussed here.

The council eventually supplied a very small amount of information.  But the overwhelming majority, they claim, is protected by Section 40(2) – an exemption relating to personal privacy.  I’ve appealed against this and provided my reasons.

Now, a further updating message has arrived from the Information Commissioner’s Office:

My notes are in red:

Case reference number FS50527079

Dear Mr Cardin

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)

Your FOI request to Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council dated 17 October 2012 for varied information pertaining to ‘Mr Norman’

Further to your letter of 3 January 2013, I write to inform you that I have now started to investigate the council’s revised response to your request. Please note, that this investigation has been given a new case reference number, as it represents a new complaint/line of investigation. This case (FS50527079) therefore supersedes FS50502035. I am sending you this short letter to confirm what I will be investigating.

What happens now

The council must provide us with its full and final arguments in support of its position. Once I receive its arguments, I will consider its reply before either contacting you to discuss the matter further or preparing a decision notice. Further information is available on the Information Commissioner’s website:

http://www.ico.org.uk/complaints/~/media/documents/library/Freedom_of_Information/Practical_application/how_we_deal_with_complaints_guidance_for_complainants.ashx

The request

On 17 October 2012 (15 months ago) you wrote to the council and requested information of the following description:

“Please provide all information you have which is connected to the
departure of Mr Norman. This will relate to meetings, hearings,
discussions, reports (including the report of Mr Richard Penn, the
external investigator), and may be stored in the form of recorded
minutes, verbatim and non-verbatim notes, emails, letters, memos,
aide memoirs, documents, whether electronically or manually stored.

Please confirm and provide full details of the existence of any
payments made to Mr Norman in relation to his departure. This will
include precise amounts, the method of payment and the budget from
which the payment was / is to be derived.

Please confirm details of the existence of any “compromise
agreement” or “confidentiality agreement” or “compromise
contract”or “confidentiality contract” agreed and signed by Mr
Coleman (typo by me – should read “Mr Norman”) in relation

to this departure or to his involvement in
abuse or malpractice. This will include confirmation and
description of any ‘gagging clauses’ and whether a positive /
neutral / negative reference was provided regarding potential
future employment.

In light of the [strangely] recent discovery by Wirral’s NOW
EX-Chief Internal Auditor David Garry that “compromise contracts”
were NOT being recorded but were being arranged behind closed
doors, beyond any councillor scrutiny and beyond view of the
public:

http://democracy.wirral.gov.uk/documents

…please describe the exact process that was followed and supply the
documents, reports, aide memoirs, notes, etc. that were created and
recorded as part of the NEW process. Please take a deep breath
before you do this, and ponder your overriding duty to act not out
of self-interest, but fairly and impartially in the unbending
service of us the public.

Please provide the names and addresses of all organisations /
bodies involved in providing legal advice to Mr Norman. Please also
provide details of meetings which occurred including times, dates
and matters discussed.

Please confirm the details of any disciplinary charges either
planned or levelled against Mr Norman in relation to any failures /
malpractice / abuse which may or may not have brought about his
departure from the Council.

If Mr Norman was provided with a “clean bill of health” regarding
his time served at the council, please provide a copy of this /
these document(s).

Please redact documents as you see fit, and remove any personally
sensitive information in accordance with the requirements of the
Data Protection Act.”

Please be mindful that as Mr Norman was the “Director of Law” and
fulfilling that role, and paid / rewarded in line
with that role as part of these as yet secret arrangements, I am
making you aware that case law within this area, combined with the
legitimate and compelling public interest demands a far greater
degree of openness.

As yet, I can find no evidence either in the press or on the
Council website that this departure has received ANY democratic
scrutiny by elected officials. Please confirm which meetings took
place. Presumably there will have been at least one gathering
called to scrutinise the so-called “compromise contract” that was
drawn up and agreed.

Please also confirm whether the July suspension of Mr Norman and
his two colleagues was carried out correctly i.e. it followed to
the letter the guidance laid out within the Local Government Act
2000 and was mindful of the extra protection that is afforded to
Directors of Law and Finance.

If Mr Michael Frater, local gov troubleshooter [now departed] made
an error in suspending the two officers Norman and Coleman, and
this has “blown up in his face” and potentially caused a situation
in which we may find ourselves today i.e. shot in the foot;
compromised; picking up the pieces, and paying off officers who
have had their employment rights breached, then please confirm it
if true, and release all the documents which relate to it”

You requested an internal review on 14 December 2012.

The council responded on 7 June 2013 and refused your request on the basis that it was vexatious under section 14(1) of the FOIA.

You subsequently complained to us, after which the council revised its position. The council disclosed some information within the scope of your request, but refused the remainder under section 40(2).

The scope of the case

We received your initial complaint on the 19 June 2013.

The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether the council handled your request in accordance with the FOIA. Specifically, I will look at whether the council is entitled to rely on section 40(2) of the FOIA as a basis for withholding information.

Please contact me within the next 10 working days, that is, by 28 January 2014 if there are matters other than these that you believe should be addressed. This will help avoid any unnecessary delay in investigating your complaint. If I do not hear from you by this date, my investigation will focus only upon the matters identified above.

You can contact me at casework@ico.org.uk. Please reply directly to this email address without changing any of the details in the subject box. This will ensure that the correspondence is allocated to the correct case.

Yours sincerely

Daniel Perry

Case Officer – Complaints Resolution

Direct Dial: 01625 545 214

You should be aware that the Information Commissioner often receives requests for copies of the letters we send and receive when dealing with complaints. Please indicate whether any of the information you provide in connection with this matter is confidential, or for any other reason should not be disclosed to anyone who requests it. You should provide a good reason why this information should not be disclosed to anyone else and explain this to us clearly and fully.

15th January 2015

My response:

From: Paul C
Sent: 15 January 2014 23:42
To: ‘casework@ico.org.uk’
Subject: RE: ICO Case FS50527079[Ref. FS50527079]

Dear Mr Perry,

Please be familiar with and aware of the following section from my original request, which relates to the manner in which the departure of Mr Norman MAY have come about:

Please be mindful that as Mr Norman was the “Director of Law” and
fulfilling that role, and paid / rewarded in line
with that role as part of these as yet secret arrangements, I am
making you aware that case law within this area, combined with the
legitimate and compelling public interest demands a far greater
degree of openness.

As yet, I can find no evidence either in the press or on the
Council website that this departure has received ANY democratic
scrutiny by elected officials. Please confirm which meetings took
place. Presumably there will have been at least one gathering
called to scrutinise the so-called “compromise contract” that was
drawn up and agreed.

Please also confirm whether the July suspension of Mr Norman and
his two colleagues was carried out correctly i.e. it followed to
the letter the guidance laid out within the Local Government Act
2000 and was mindful of the extra protection that is afforded to
Directors of Law and Finance.

If Mr Michael Frater, local gov troubleshooter [now departed] made
an error in suspending the two officers Norman and Coleman, and
this has “blown up in his face” and potentially caused a situation
in which we may find ourselves today i.e. shot in the foot;
compromised; picking up the pieces, and paying off officers who
have had their employment rights breached, then please confirm it
if true, and release all the documents which relate to it”

I’d be extremely grateful if you could carry out your investigations with these issues at the forefront,

Many thanks,

Paul Cardin

About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
This entry was posted in FoI Requests, General. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to #FoI request ~ Departure of Bill Norman ~ “Vexatious” verdict overturned. What now?

  1. ALAN M DRANSFIELD says:

    This is yet another example of misfeasance and neglect of the ICO and Wirral PA. They purposely procrastanate in the hope the FOIA requester will get fed up.
    Well done Paul for sticking to your guns mate.
    Be careful though, they could bring in Section 14.1 Vexatious??!!

    • Wirral In It Together says:

      They’ve done ‘vexatious’ once on this request. Surely not again !?

      But there would be a peculiar synchronicity if they did:

      14th January ’14 Section 14.

  2. Jonathan Hardaker says:

    Dogged & determined “YES” Vexatious “NO” well done Paul you may get to the truth one day or it might be a Wirralgate situation where to use an old Yorkshire motto ” Hear all see all say nowt ,eat all sup all pay nowt” which is what Wirral council are all about anyway. Good luck with your request the truth is out there somewhere.

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