Walsh the Silent

Since sending the list of questions to Cllr Walsh the other evening, he has been silent. This tactic is a well used one in Argyll & Bute and one Cllr Walsh is a master of. Earlier today he had received the list of demands that are now part of an on line petition, see link below. The list of demands went to Cllr David O’Neill of Cosla and Kevin Stewart MSP, minister for local government.

I sent Cllr Walsh the following this evening.

From: Breslin, Michael
Sent: 28 October 2016 17:21
To: Freeman, George; #All Councillors
Cc: Sneddon, Cleland; Hendry, Douglas; Milne, Pippa; sally.loudon@cosla.gov.uk; gordon@argyllmedia.co.uk; editor@obantimes.co.uk; editor@helensburghadvertiser.co.uk; Campbeltown Courier (Editorial) (editor@campbeltowncourier.co.uk); news@buteman.com; lesley@feistyproductions.co.uk; mghannan@btopenworld.com; Russell MW (Michael), MSP (Michael.Russell.msp@parliament.scot)
Subject: RE: Councillor Mike Breslin hails victory in landmark free speech case [NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED]

As it’s after 5, I guess that the silence from Cllr Walsh suggests he isn’t going to reply. This, of course, is a classic Argyll & Bute Council reaction.

Let me explain what I and many others think:

  • That I have asked so many questions about issues that are sensitive to some people, there was and probably still is a wish to see the back of me.
  • That the 2 complaints against me were connected.
  • That the 2 complaints were coordinated by a group of officers and a group of elected members in order to silence me or force me out of the council. This may or may not be the case but it does look that way.

At the moment, we have no proof of this conspiracy but that is why a number of people have today written to Kevin Stewart MSP, minister for local government, asking for the setting up of an enquiry into this affair. This follows on from similar calls from elsewhere.

The petition can be read at the link below and, of course, signed by those who support an independent enquiry.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/investigate-complaint-against-councillor-breslin

 

Aftermath again

Last night I wrote to all councillors with the 4 complainants and the press all copied in. I asked Cllr Walsh the following questions since he has ignored my suggestion last week that he should resign. The complainants have said no elected member was involved but we all know very little happens in Kilmory without senior councillors knowing about it:

From: Breslin, Michael
Sent: 26 October 2016 19:51
To: Freeman, George; #All Councillors
Cc: Sneddon, Cleland (Cleland.Sneddon@argyll-bute.gov.uk); Hendry, Douglas; Milne, Pippa; ‘sally.loudon@cosla.gov.uk’; gordon@argyllmedia.co.uk; editor@obantimes.co.uk; editor@helensburghadvertiser.co.uk; Campbeltown Courier (Editorial) (editor@campbeltowncourier.co.uk); news@buteman.com; ‘lesley@feistyproductions.co.uk’; ‘mghannan@btopenworld.com’; Russell MW (Michael), MSP (Michael.Russell.msp@parliament.scot)
Subject: RE: Councillor Mike Breslin hails victory in landmark free speech case [NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED]

Good evening all.

I note that Cllr Walsh has adopted his usual head in the sand technique and not replied to my proposal that he should resign. The complainants have stated, via Mr Sneddon, that this was their complaint and he stated:  I want to be clear that no elected member of the council was a party to the either the decision to submit a complaint or the terms of that complaint.  Officers did not require formal approval from the council to exercise their rights and submit a complaint and no elected member was required or asked to approve the complaint. 

Let me now address the following questions directly to Cllr Walsh:

  • Were you aware of the fact that the complaint was being prepared by the officers prior to its submission? Yes or no.
  • Did you see the final version of the complaint and/or any earlier versions of it? Yes or no.
  • Do you agree with the complainants that you were not a party to the complaint or the terms of that complaint? Yes or no.
  • If the answers to 1,2 and 3 are no, no and yes, can you confirm that you knew absolutely nothing of the complaint prior to its submission? Yes or no.
  • If yes to 4, when did you become aware of the complaint and what was your reaction to it?
  • When you became aware of it, did you agree or disagree with it? Yes or no.
  • You were interviewed by the investigating officer when they were carrying out their flawed investigation. I have told the commissioner that I was astounded that you were interviewed because the commissioner knew full well that you have made me the subject of a vendetta since before the 2012 election. Will you now please tell us what you told the investigating officer?
  • Were you at any time aware of the 4 separate attempts to resolve it prior to the hearing? Yes or no.
  • If yes to 8, what was your advice to the 4 complainants?
  • Can you tell us all now what your thoughts are on the fact that not one of the complaints that I “disrespected” the four complainants has been upheld? Please feel free to be frank Cllr Walsh.
  • Can you tell us please what involvement the complainants, or other officers, had in the earlier complaint submitted by yourself, Cllr E Morton and Cllr Scoullar?
  • Why do you think that the 4 complainants submitted their complaint when they knew that the earlier one covering one of the topics had not been concluded?
  • Did any of the 4 complainants have any input whatsoever to the earlier complaint submitted by you and your two amigos? Yes or now.
  • If yes to 13, what input please?
  • In the earlier complaint submitted by you, was this discussed and/or approved by your wider amigos in the administration?
  • If yes to 15, is there a minute of this meeting and can I have it?

I have already asked the four complainants for the following and were you or any other councillor in attendance at the meetings I have made the subject access request about? My questions to them were: I wish to see the following please which I assume you will treat as a subject access request:

  1. Dates and time of all meetings when the subject of the complaint against me was discussed.
  2. Names of all attendees.
  3. Minutes of all of these meetings.
  4. Any external advice sought about this complaint to any person or body whatsoever, verbal or written.

I look forward to hearing from you by return. The press, copied in, also await your reply.

Thank you

Today, The National did another piece on the issue and I circulated this to councillors and the complainants as follows:

From: Breslin, Michael
Sent: 27 October 2016 09:18
To: #All Councillors
Cc: Sneddon, Cleland; Hendry, Douglas; Milne, Pippa; sally.loudon@cosla.gov.uk
Subject: The National today

Here is the link to today’s National:

http://www.thenational.scot/news/msp-calls-for-inquiry-into-breslin-furore.24037

This is now the 4th piece on my case and I suspect there will be more. When will this council, Cosla and the council leader start to understand that when questions are asked, the best bet is to answer them rather than evade them. Evasion makes most journalists even more interested.

We now know that when Cllr Walsh states “To assist with your understanding…” he really means “I won’t answer your questions..”

Regards

Written Judgement

I today received the written judgement from last week’s hearing. This can be found at the link below. I have sent it out to all councillors this afternoon.

161026-final-written-decision-la-ab-1758

I have also sent councillors the email in question which found its way to For Argyll. This is what I said to them today (in blue) with the email of 29 December 2014 below this in red. I need say no more.

Afternoon all. Further to the written judgement sent earlier, below and attached is the email sent to Charles on 29 December 2014.

The mistake I made, which I acknowledged very quickly, was attributing the decision on competence to Charles. The decision was made by the Provost but on the advice of Charles. I cannot recall any chair ever ignoring the advice of a law officer and suspect you won’t recall such either.

The email in question was forwarded to a number of councillors and 2 non councillors for information. The commissioner knew who these people were but did not bother to ask any of them if they had sent it to For Argyll or if they had sent it to someone else who might have. You will note in the decision that they accepted that I didn’t send it to For Argyll.

The advice given by Charles was of significant public interest hence me saying that his response should be made public. I do not consider that my email to Charles was critical but the hearing panel disagreed.

You now have the full story. It is correct that I expressed regret at the hearing about some of the unfair flak Charles got in For Argyll and that remains the case. The fact is, though, that the flak only came about due to the actions of others, not me, so it’s hard to see how I am blamed for this.

That is why I will be considering an appeal in the coming week.

The email sent to Charles Reppke on 29 December 2014 was as follows, with the attachment below that again.

From: Breslin, Michael
Sent: 29 December 2014 18:04
To: Reppke, Charles
Subject: P&R: Castle Toward

I assume it will be the 5th before you read this Charles so Happy New Year to you.

I have a couple of questions in relation to the above please:

  • The motion which was agreed and put forward by Cllr E Morton was altered from the original paper version given to members on the day. I was working on my amendment and didn’t hear what was, apparently, said. I have checked with others present and only one recalls that Ellen said the wording was a mistake and that instead of it saying interest would be deferred, she changed it to repayments would be deferred. You will know that there is a material difference  between what was written and what I am told was said. Can you confirm please if she did say that the word repayments should replace the word interest?
  • If you do confirm that this was the case, can you explain why my proposed amendment on the same subject in June 14, Castle Toward, was deemed incompetent by you on the grounds that it didn’t mention the potential problem of a state aid challenge? You will recall that I immediately offered to add wording to the effect that state aid rules could not be breached but you ruled that my amendment had to be considered using the words offered, ie it could not be altered. If that was the case in June, why was the changed wording allowed to be competent in December?
  • Given the fact that it was crystal clear to anyone who had read the papers that a loan of £1m would not be acceptable, why was the motion deemed competent? You will again recall that I personally made the affordability issue clear on at least 2 occasions. I attach an email to all councillors that explains why this was not a feasible option under any circumstances. Your reply is awaited with interest Charles.

I should perhaps make clear now that your response will be made public and I hope to receive this no later than Wednesday 7 January. I might add that I am willing to take independent external legal advice, if necessary, and to challenge any decision if I feel I have grounds to do so.

The attachment was an email sent to all councillors on 24 December 2014:

Morning everyone, I want to leave you all before your Christmas break with some information on the effect of the vote last Thursday.

The figures I have prepared are my own, not SCCDC’s nor their advisers, and are illustrative only. In particular no consequential changes to interest payments or the balance sheet have been factored in. Lastly, the assumptions made on the way any loan might be structured are just that, assumptions, but I think they are reasonable ones.

What was agreed was a loan of £1m with payments deferred for 3 years. My assumptions on the loan are as follows and are somewhat better than the indicative loan terms outlined on page 407 of the papers:

  • The interest that would accrue in years 1 to 3 is added to the initial loan and compounded, ie interest is added each year and then interest on that new total is applied. The amount of capital to be repaid at the start of year 4 becomes £1,157,625 on this basis.
  • The loan is at a fixed rate of 5%.
  • The term is 25 years.

On page 391 of the papers for the P&R committee was a 10 year cash flow forecast for the proposed business. For ease of comparison, I have simply added the loan repayments using the above assumptions to the cash flow for that 10 year period. The information pasted below summarises the effect on the net cash position over those 10 years but bear in mind what I have said in my second paragraph above. The bright yellow highlighting shows the loan repayments and the darker highlighting the net cash position.

cash-flow

You will see that the forecast is now radically and terminally altered and it would only get worse for the 18 years remaining on the 25 year loan, if that was what was agreed. In my view, as I said several times on Thursday last week, it kills the project stone dead.

However, that was what was agreed and the consequences will have to be lived with. But I have some questions for the leader and depute leader:

  • What advice from officers was sought prior to the meeting on the advisability of proposing a motion with a £1m loan on offer, specifically:
    1. What were the risks to the council in offering  such a loan, especially when the paper already said that “the business case contains serious risk and uncertainty”.
    2. Was any work done on the consequences of loan repayments on the cash flow forecast submitted by SCCDC and were any figures shown to you?
    3. Why did the motion propose a £1m loan when, on page 407 of the papers, SCCDC had already made clear that “the repayments would be unaffordable”?
  • If no advice was asked of officers on the above, why not?
  • Was any of the advice that may have been provided to you discussed with all members of the administration?
  • Were they all fully aware of the likely effect on the community buyout?

I am sure we would all appreciate detailed replies to each of these questions as soon as possible please.

 

 

 

 

Witnesses, today’s press

Some of the evidence given to try and explain the context to what were, without doubt, testing relationships was given here. In particular I drew your attention to the personal statement I provided the commissioner, reproduced again at the link below. I suggest you read this, if you’ve not already done so, and then read some of the witness statements below.

case-papers-297-to-305

A number of people gave witness statements and/or affidavits, for which I am very grateful. These were all lodged with the Standards Commissioners but they would not consider them until after they had reached their conclusion. But they were lodged and are a matter of public record now. These are all brief and are as follows:

The first one is mostly from a group of parents of children who were at Rothesay Joint Campus with some additonal material from me. It relates directly to part of what I had put in my personal statement at the link above:

statement-by-parents-from-rothesay-joint-campus

This one, from Calum McMillan, was worded to counter the word uttered by Mr Sillars who was prosecuting the case for the commissioner. Mr Sillars said I had a “personal” interest in Calum’s case, whatever that was meant to mean:

affidavit-of-mr-calum-mcmillan

The next 2 are from Cllrs Isobel Strong and Robert MacIntyre and cover Cllrs Bruce Marshall, Gordon Blair and Anne Horn:

affidavit-of-cllr-i-strong     affidavit-of-cllr-r-macintyre

This one is from Michael Russell MSP:

statement-from-michael-russell-msp

The next one is from Alan Stewart and appended to it is the detail of the loan offer to South Cowal Community Development Company:

statement-of-alan-stewart-plus-loan-offer-detail

This is from Cllr Dance who confirms that threats of being referred to the Standards Commissioner were made to her:

statement-by-councillor-vivien-dance

Dr Christopher Mason provided the following statement:

councillor-michael-breslin-statement-by-cmm-171016

Mrs Heather Grier provided the following, as confirmation that the issue of care workers and the dire wages and conditions had been raised with Mr Sneddon quite separately from me:

statement-by-heather-grier

 

To bring you up to date, there was a 3rd article in The National today about my case which can be read at the link below. You will note that the “serious questions” posed by the journalist have not exactly been answered.

http://www.thenational.scot/news/council-officials-face-serious-questions-following-standards-commissions-rejection-of-14-of-15-complaints-against-councillor-michael-breslin.23893

 

 

Victory

I was found not guilty on 5 of the 6 alleged breaches of the code yesterday. Rather than repeat things, here is what Cllr Freeman from Helensburgh sent to all councillors followed by my reply. I copied in the 4 complainants and the press.

If there is still anyone wanting to support the crowdfunder, it closes on the 25th. Details of the case summary are here and the crowd funder details are here.

George’s email:

From: Freeman, George
Sent: 20 October 2016 10:15
To: #All Councillors
Subject: Councillor Mike Breslin hails victory in landmark free speech case [NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED]
Importance: High

Classification: NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED

http://www.thenational.scot/politics/councillor-mike-breslin-hails-victory-in-landmark-free-speech-case.23795

IMPORTANT

All councillors will be well aware of the complaints that were lodged with the Standards Commission against Cllr Michael Breslin that he has been vigorously fighting for some time now.  This ended up at a final hearing in Edinburgh yesterday.

I have been passed the link above that will take you to a report on the result in The National.  Although full details have not yet been published by the Commission, you will note that 5 of the 6 complaints have been thrown out.  My understanding is that one minor complaint was upheld which has resulted in a rap across the knuckles / warning / censure or however the Commission want to put it.

Anyone who understands this ruling will realise that it has major implications for all councillors and on what we can now say and do and will be welcomed by all fair minded people who believe in free speech.  This will remove a great deal of the fear that councillors operated under up until now.  Whereas many councillors were concerned about speaking out on issues, to a great extent, that fear has now been removed by the clarification that the case against Cllr Breslin has provided for all councillors.  A good day for democracy.

Regards,

George Freeman

My reply:

Thanks George. I am more than happy that you got in before me. I am copying in the 4 complainants so that they know nothing is being said behind their backs.

This, as The National states, is a landmark ruling. The enhanced protection given to an elected politician is founded in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and in subsequent case law. Most of the case law has been well known for years so quite why this complaint was issued by the then 4 most senior officers is a mystery. I would have thought our award winning legal department might have advised extreme caution, but there you go.

Every public body in the UK was given clear guidance by the UK Ministry of Justice in 2006 that it is every public body’s duty to take into account rights under ECHR in their “day-to-day” work. That is the case whatever the public body is doing, even when it is complaining about a councillor. However, you all need to know that the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, Mr Bill Thomson, also ignored ECHR in my view.

I have written to him today making clear that I consider he ignored ECHR throughout the investigation and in his reports. Worse, when my solicitor sent him a detailed ECHR argument in June this year, Mr Thomson wrote back the same day rejecting the argument without saying why. I have said to Mr Thomson today I consider that he and his staff were negligent in ignoring ECHR and I have said I will be pursuing compensation and an apology.

The press statement attributed to this council in the article in The National is rather mean spirited, focussing on the one breach of the code. As George said, it was minor but it’s also not easily understood so I await the written judgement because I will, most likely, appeal this to the Sheriff Principal.

Mr Thomson considered 15 potential breaches of the code in the complaint that was made. He dismissed 9 of them and found a breach, in his view, in 6 instances. Yesterday only one of these was found to be a breach. That’s a success rate of 1 out of 15 or just under 7%.

I will circulate the written judgement when I get it. ECHR does not mean you can say what you like but it does mean we are all free to ask questions, even hard questions, of officers when the need arises. This is very well expressed in The National’s article.

I made it very clear to the commissioners that while 4 officers put their names to the complaint, it was probably at the behest of Cllr Walsh and perhaps others. I also said it was inconceivable that even if Cllr Walsh wasn’t behind it, it would never have been sent without his approval. I think this is an eminently sound reason for Cllr Walsh to resign forthwith.

Thanks to those of you who supported me in this. I very much appreciate it.

I will be writing separately to the four complainants in due course.

Regards

Case Papers ?

It had been clear to me that the potted history of Castle Toward given to the Standards Commissioner told far from the full story. How could a potted history do so you might ask but if you truncate something, it’s all the more important to ensure its accuracy.

Knowing I would call Dr Christopher Mason as a witness if it came to a hearing, I let him see the potted history I referred to. This had to be on a confidential basis because, at that time, none of the case papers could be made public. He, of course, agreed to this but he then replied with his version of events, in the form of a witness statement,  and asked that this was  provided to the Standards Commissioner. I did this on, I think, 19 April this year.

As far as I can see no heed was paid to his because the potted history the commissioner had received was never altered. Nor was Dr Mason contacted. The reason this is important is because the commissioner and his staff appear to have taken everything they were told by the complainants at face value. No testing appears to have been carried out nor any triangulation to check the veracity of what had been said. Dr Mason’s testimony (that is what it was remember) cast doubt over the story the commissioner had been told and, therefore, on the reliability of those who told it. Who told it is unknown. You can make up your own mind.

Matters then went downhill because Dr Mason then recognised that the same alleged misleading narrative about Castle Toward had been given by the council to the commissioner in 2013 when Dr Mason had made a complaint against Cllr Walsh. As a result, at a later date, Dr Mason made a complaint against the commissioner for accepting what he considered to be a misleading account on 2 separate occasions. This has never been resolved because the Standards Commissioner doesn’t have a complaints procedure! Yes folks, this is indeed the case.

There is a lot of reading in the files below but for a summary, open the first document and read paragraphs 1 to 20. That sums matters up from Dr Mason’s angle. He is more than happy that his witness statement is made public. After all, it does seem to have been ignored in its entirety.

art-complaint-agst-breslin-appx-1-150416

art-complaint-agst-breslin-appx-2-150416

art-complaint-agst-breslin-appx-3-150416

art-complaint-agst-breslin-appx-4-150416

 

Crowdfunder

My crowdfunder has done well but has run out of steam in the last while. It’s due to end by 25 October and it has raised just over £4k as of today’s date. I don’t know my exact costs off hand but they will exceed £10k by now.

I’d like to publicly thank everyone for their support, of any kind.

If you know of anyone who might wish to support a campaign to ensure councillors can function properly for their communities and the people who live in them, please ask them to consider a donation. This can be done at:

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/democracy-in-argyll-bute

Thank you