The persecution of Patrick Heesom.

soughton hallThe ancient door groaned as I pushed my way into the Adjudication Panel hearing on 3rd October. The lions rampant & the up on their hind legs unicorns tapestries gazing down on the participants must have wondered what had hit the serenity of the former Bishops house. I walked into a blazing row. It was not just the unicorns on their hind legs, this too was almost the position of the two barristers, Michael Murphy and the prim G Hughes, the Ombudsman’s man. I had missed what had caused the fur to fly but Mr M felt a question posed by Mr H was not fair or full enough for Cllr Heesom to answer. Patrick is not on trial for fiddling expenses, selling planning consents to developers or even chasing staff round the filing cabinets. No! He’s on trial for really serious stuff. The main charges against him are for bullying and being disrespectful to Mrs Lewis, the former Housing Director, same again to an agency HR female, suggesting a poorly performing housing officer she should be sacked and doing something, I’m not sure what over a council house exchange in his ward. But, there is more. Wait for it! Being overheard by the Democratic & Governance Manager Peter Evens, that in an empty room, Cllr Heesom alleged “ Mrs Lewis’s performance was shit.” OH yes, S-H-I-T. He is alleged to have used the word “shambolic” at some other occasion too!

The “shit” evidence came in the form of a hand written, uncorroborated and undated note which Peter Evans wrote when passing the Executive room door way some time after another memorable occasion in the Heesom saga, that featured frequently “Visioning Day”on 7th November 2008. This time Patrick apparently humiliated Mrs Lewis to such an extent that she pressed the Chief Executive to ask the Public Services Ombudsman to start an investigation into him, Thus commenced a huge trawl into his performance going back years which allowed the Ombudsman’s team to cobble together the most amazing charges mostly based on uncorroborated evidence. Roll up any officer with a grudge or had been challenged by this experienced cllr. This is your chance for revenge. Nothing is too trivial to be ignored as councillor codes of conduct are so “catch-all”, any goes as the chance of making something stick so high. So, nothing to lose! This is how it works in Wales.

As Head of Governance and Democratic Services, Peter Evans, is the deputy Monitoring Officer and even though most folk thought he should not have signed the collective corporate complaint against Cllr Heesom, he chose to do so, as did his boss at the time, the Monitoring Officer. Barry Davies was off and running last July having given his damaging evidence against Patrick too. Doubtless, he was pleased to get out before the truth finally came out as to what went on behind the scenes that led to Cllr Heesom’s removal from the Executive in March 09. So, back to the crime under cross examination. Peter heard what he heard when passing an office, noted it down and handed this gem to his bosses who added to the other grave charges against Patrick. Patrick denied this comment and as Mr Evans was unable to say who, if any one was in the room or was Patrick speaking into a mirror or was he even repeated what someone had told him, its all rather vague. This note is typical of the sort of trivial detail that has been dredged up by the Ombudsman’s investigators. Interestingly, when the “shit note” was under examination, Peter Evans fortunately was not the duty Monitoring Officer to the tribunal. Two lawyers take it in turn to oversee the daily machinations of the Adjudication panel so it worked out well for Mr Evans. He did not have to witness the cross examination of this spectacular evidence or Cllr Heesom’s explanation as to why it was even submitted.

What if Cllr Heesom had made the remark? He was in his Executive office and frankly, although crude, it was an accurate description of the former Director’s incompetence on housing issues. This should have been very clear now to the Panel. On the “balance of probabilities” level of proof guess who the Panel will believe?

Back to the ongoing spat between the lawyers. Patrick’s man Murphy tried valiantly to make his objection but the Chair Judge, Hywel James would have none of it. Murphy to the Judge, “ Sir, may I go on, you stopped me”. Judge, (rattily), words something like “don’t bother to say anything you’ve looked at the document”. This constant brusqueness bordering on dis-ingenuity and his frequent questioning of the cllr, worried me. Furthermore. I wondered why the Ombudsman’s barrister was employed to cross examine, so enthusiastic was the Chair to get involved. Maybe clarification was necessary, but so often?

In all my considerable experience of Tribunals, High Court Judicial Reviews, magistrates and crown courts, in the Court Of Human Rights in Strasbourg, I’ve never witnessed such questionable behaviour from this newly appointed judge towards a fellow lawyer! His attitude to the Ombudsman barrister however, is as different as chalk and cheese.

Sadly, he of the Pork Pie Club, the other Panel lawyer, also asks questions but far less of them and much more subtle. When Mr Peter Davies pops his head up from note taking, I wait in trepidation. His questions, as is with his body language, appear hostile. Happy to be corrected but from the public gallery, its all there to see. The smirking, the shifty grin, the folded arms that gives a certain message? I was party to introducing a human awareness course when I/C Training in Merseyside. Reading body language is always productive. Seems to me that when Panellist Davies asks a question of the quarry, its a mailed fist in the velvet glove!

A few cllrs are now turning up to listen. Without prompting, the opinion is that the judge favours the Ombudsman’s man and it shows. They are also bemused over the petty level of evidence. To them its normal thrust and parry of politics and the word on the block is, any elected member could be in the dock for all that is being put forward to bring Heesom down. They are clear in their verdict. Patrick has done nothing wrong and this is a witch hunt.

The man is living on a knife edge. He will be bankrupted if he is found guilty as of course he will be. There has to be an excuse for the huge cost of this enquiry. Cllr Heesom’s life has been on hold since March 09. His life has been shredded. He cannot sleep. When will it all end?

All Flintshire councillors should take time out to watch the Judge and his team at work. Welsh Government hang your heads over the legislation that allows the persecution of an elected member by highly paid lawyers who clearly have their own agenda.

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