Letter to Chester Chronicle 19-1-11 in reply to “We ARE paying for legal bills”. 13th January 2011.

I applaud Gareth Williams letter in which he raises two vitally important points. Why has the case against Cllr Patrick Heesom taken so long and why is the County Council, and as he properly points out that means US as local taxpayers, having to pick up the tab for legal fees? I cannot answer the first question but justice delayed is justice denied and since he was suspended from his Executive post in March 09, Cllr Heesom had had his special responsibility allowance removed even though nothing had been proved against him. The law of one is innocent until found guilty clearly has not been applied to Cllr Heesom who has borne the loss of good Executive remuneration with dignity & patience. I understand that he has not claimed travel and other financial entitlements for the some 23 months of his suspension. The introduction of the Public Service for Wales Ombudsman (PSWO) with his £3.5million annual budget must be one of WAG’s worst decisions as even the Labour minister who introduced the legislation on 2005 is on record of saying it is not working as had been envisaged. With that huge budget the taxpayer is entitled to ask questions of the MPs and AMs why the case that has now started only on 18th January in Ewloe has taken so long to bring to a Tribunal. Why should Cllr Heesom benefit from having his legal costs paid? To do less would be a further travesty of justice for Heesom to bear. Thankfully, Flintshire’s former Administration made a policy decision to allow an elected member to seek an “indemnity” from the Standards Committee to cover legal fees needed to protect any elected member faced with action resulting from a breach of Councillors Codes of Conduct allegation. Cllr Heesom’s legal team argued that facing the £3.5m might of the PSWO, who can employ the best legal brains to put the Ombudsman’s case against an elected member to a Tribunal which could mean disqualification for 5 years; then there must be “equality of arms” for the member to defend him or herself. Cllr Heesom was lucky in as much that his own Chief Executive and top bosses including the Head of Legal Services signed a joint complaint to complain of bullying behaviour by the councillor. Thus, the Indemnity policy kicked in for him. Last year, I was less fortunate. The PSWO himself chose to investigate me and it was the same official who signed the reports that recommended I should appear before the President of an Adjudication Panel for originally being inconsistent and then failing to co-operate with his enquiries. I have always said that I am innocent and that I have fallen foul of a system that is seriously flawed and is in need of a compete overhaul and soon! Codes of Conduct are so draconian that I am now under investigation again and this time for being judged as being disrespectful to the Leader of the County Council. My sin? Writing a reasonable letter seeking a document that I feel very confident that I am finally able to prove its legitimacy or otherwise. Because the Ombudsman himself chose to be my investigator and prosecutor I had to pay for my own legal defence, some £10K. I am now struggling to cope with an extra eye watering bill that was never explained to me and the firm seems intent on extracting from me. I too have now obtained an “Indemnity” from the Standards Committee for this latest investigation into my conduct and I must wait to see if the full Council approves it in February. I learnt a bitter and expensive lesson during my first encounter with the PSWO. I now know that in order to have any chance of defending myself I need to get legal advice early and not drift into the so easy to prove code breach of failing to co-operate with the Ombudsman’s enquiries. I feel traumatised by this whole new stress in my life and I feel very unhappy that the taxpayer may well pick up my legal fees as well. Elected members have less rights and protection that the people we serve and the lawyers who defended me in my first run-in with the PSWO pointed out that someone must take on this dreadfully unfair system as the whole ethos of the reason for county councillors is being undermined if not wrecked. I very much hope that Cllr Heesom and his legal team will provide the mechanism to call the Ombudsman’s system to account. As things stand it seems that the only winners are the PSWO and that travelling band of his appointed investigators and minions and bods that makes up the circus needed to allow an Adjudication Panel hearing to take place. (Is the description “circus” disrespectful). I’ll soon find out no doubt! If the public would like to see where your money is going, the Heesom hearing is taking place for several days in the Denbighshire Suite of St David’s Park Hotel Ewloe. (check the dates though) I popped over yesterday but as a potential witness, I was not allowed in. I consoled myself with a free coffee from a posh machine set up outside the suite and helped myself to a stem ginger cookie. Members who turned up for the afternoon session hoovered up the remains of the malt loaf. And will the public ever find out the cost of the investigations and hearings? My own attempts to require costs has been met with a stony rebuff. “Details of costs are not recorded”. Shocking! Another stem ginger cookie me lud?

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