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Thursday, January 13, 2005
 

Coleen Gill


This is the judgement of the Adjudication Panel in the Case of Coleen Gill.

The essence of the case is that Coleen Gill was asked by Mrs "A" who was the mother of two children to get involved in a case. The case was one in which the Social Workers thought that Mrs "A" was being involved in a form of Munchhausen's by proxy.

Coleen Gill

a) Attended a case conference with Mrs "A", without declaring she was a councillor
b) Sent copies of the case papers to the local MP David Davis MP

The conclusion of the Adjudication Panel is as follows (taken from the PDF with the report in it). I have tried to include the main sections only and then comment:
================== From the PDF, comments in Italics =======================

1.1.1 The allegation was that the Respondent became involved in a child
protection case and in doing so had failed to comply with the East Riding of
Yorkshire Council’s Code of Conduct by:
1.1.1.1 Acting in a manner which compromised the impartiality of those
working for the authority;
1.1.1.3 Using her position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for
another person an advantage or disadvantage;
1.1.1.4 Bringing her office and authority into disrepute.

There were four allegations, given that she was given permission to pass papers to the MP that of revealing confidential information was dropped

4.1.3 The Case Tribunal find that the two social workers who conducted the core
assessment meeting on 17 March 2003 were inhibited by the Respondent in their
approach to the meeting. They did not know the Respondent’s identity, but they
were deceived by the omission of the Respondent to declare her office. They
would have approached the meeting in a different manner if they had been
apprised of the whole truth. However, the Case Tribunal would not have expected
such knowledge to affect the way in which the meeting was conducted which
should be the same whoever is present.

This covers one of the key two issues. The officers should not have behaved differently were they to have known she was a councillor. However, she is considered to have deceived them by not indicating that she was. I think this is one key area of dispute in the conclusion. Should Councillors really be branded with the word "Councillor" on their head so that people always know they are councillors. If that is the case then Councillors cannot do mystery customer work where they find out what happens to people when Councillors are not watching what is going on.

4.1.4 Whilst the Respondent claims to have acted for the family as a unit, it is clear from the evidence that the effect of her involvement was to promote the views of Mrs “A” without regard to the interests of the children and her disagreement with
the view of the majority of professional officers.

This is another area of question. The presumption is that she was acting improperly by putting forward that information she had. To some extent any comment will inherent have only part of the story. In terms of acting as an unpaid advocate, a common role for politicians, then inherently all of this work would be inherently partial and theoretically against the code of conduct. The judgement ignores the question of what a councillor is doing as an advocate which is different to when a councillor is making a formal decision. If a councillor puts forward information which it is felt is being ignored inherently it is likely to be one-sided.

4.1.5 A representative at one level must not abuse their position to facilitate the
involvement of representatives at another level. In this case, the Respondent used
her position as a councillor and information available to her in that capacity to
attempt to bring about the involvement of Parliamentary representatives in a
matter which was being dealt with in accordance with national and local
guidelines. That was an abuse of her position. The Respondent should have
operated within the guidelines and sought a local examination of any complaint.

This is one of the more ludicrous parts of the judgement. A Councillor is not allowed to escalate an issue to an MP or MEP without exhausting the local procedures. Pull the other one

5.1.2 This was supported by the fact that it did not influence the decision of the officers involved, which was acknowledged within the reference, and evidence obtained.

I highlight "did not influence the decision".

5.2.3 The Respondent had every right to question, on behalf of a constituent, the
manner in which matters were proceeding but, by her actions of ignoring
protocols within the authority and by placing a partisan, unverified view of the
situation before the M.P., Mr. Davis, (with a copy to the Prime Minister and his
wife), the ESO considered that she intended to use indirect pressure in favour of
Mrs. “A”, which was intended, or was likely, to compromise the impartiality of the
officers who were involved.

It is almost certain that any advocacy is likely to be partisan and unverified to some extent

5.2.15 Officers of the Social Services Department of East Riding of Yorkshire Council
have, throughout, been at pains to emphasise that their responsibility was
towards the children of the “A” family and not towards Mrs. “A”.

This is an issue with the law.

5.2.16 The ESO considered that the Respondent, in the manner that she operated, had
been persuaded by Mrs “A’s” arguments and she was working on behalf of Mrs.
“A”, with the belief that her actions, in favour of their mother, would assist the
children. The Respondent did not seem to have understood that the Child
Protection Committee was extremely concerned that the cause of the children’s
difficulties was, in fact, their mother and she did not enquire about that
Committee’s view of the situation.

5.2.19 In addition, by including in the information sent to the Member of Parliament, a letter of complaint about a Social Services Manager, the ESO considered that the Respondent was also improperly using her position to confer on, or secure for, that member of staff, a disadvantage. Again, in this set of circumstances, the Respondent could have addressed the matter through internal procedures within her authority, but she chose not to do so. The ESO also considered that by her actions and her intention, the Respondent used her position for the purpose of conferring or securing a disadvantage on those staff who were working on the child protection process.

This concludes that you can never complain about anyone unless you have exhausted the internal procedures.

5.2.22 The Respondent was initially operating in her official capacity when she decided to assist Mrs “A” following the initial approach to her. She contacted Social Services Managers, asked if she could attend a Child Protection Case Conference along with Mrs “A”, and was advised of the dangers of confusing, within that situation, her role as a councillor with that of a “friend”. The Director of Social Services clearly informed the Respondent that, in his opinion, she should not become directly involved as a “friend” to Mrs. “A”, because he felt that she would not,in the circumstances, be able to divest herself of her role as a councillor.

5.2.24 In addition, by ignoring and by-passing internal protocols and procedures, by
which she could have addressed her concerns relative to her perceived treatment
of a constituent, and, instead, referring her concerns to the Member of
Parliament, with copies to the Prime Minister and his wife, the ESO considered
that the Respondent brought her authority into disrepute.

5.3 Case Tribunal Decision
5.3.1 The Case Tribunal accept the ESO’s submissions and find that the Respondent had
breached the Code of Conduct as alleged, save in relation to the disclosure of
confidential information (as to which see paragraph 5.3.3 below). The rationale is
contained in the commentary on the findings of fact contained in paragraph 4
above. The Respondent was, throughout her dealings with the “A” family, acting
as a councillor and she abused her position.

5.3.2 This abuse compromised the impartiality of the officers professionally involved
with the “A” family, had the effect of improperly conferring on or securing an
advantage for Mrs ”A” and brought both the Respondent’s office and her authority
into disrepute.

Even though the decision was not changed???

5.3.4 The evidence is that by her involvement in the matter, the Respondent acted only in the interests of Mrs “A”. The Council’s interest was primarily in the children of the “A” family and the welfare of the children was paramount. The Respondent acted in a way, which was opposed to and incompatible with the interests of the Council in the discharge of their child protection function.

6.1.3 By practising a deception at the core assessment meeting, when she deliberately
did not announce that she was a councillor, the Respondent placed herself in a
position where her honesty and integrity could be questioned.

Clearly all councillors should have a flashing light on their head to indicate they are councillors (with the colour indicating the party) so noone is left in any doubt.

6.1.7 A member should not be criticised for questioning, on behalf of a constituent,
procedures of the authority or for properly bringing matters to the attention of a
Member of Parliament. The Respondent, in the circumstances, however, not only
disregarded suitable advice given to her by a senior officer of the Council but also
acted in defiance of that advice when she became directly involved by her
attendance at the core assessment meeting. In addition, after having, in her
words, “come up against a brick wall”, she referred sensitive and confidential
matters to an external source, without first exhausting methods of addressing her
concerns through officers of the council.

She didn't do what she was told by officers of the authority.

6.3.3 The Case Tribunal have weighed all these factors, the seriousness of the issue,
the Respondent’s honest if erroneous belief and her apparent failure to appreciate
the gravity of the issue, which gives rise to the possibility of her acting in the
same way again, and the apparent contributory factor of lack of training. Taking
the whole of the evidence in the round, the Case Tribunal have decided that the
Respondent be disqualified for a period of one year from 16 December 2004 from
being or becoming a member of the relevant authority or any other authority
within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2000.

 
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