Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Misfeasance in Public Office...Oh Dear, Sunderland Council...another cover-up?

Further allegations are surfacing of yet another cover-up by Sunderland City Council officials with regard to their Decriminalised Parking Enforcement (DPE) regime.
The silence from the internal investigation is deafening. Whispers coming from within the Civic Centre is that there is expected to be a whitewash.
NCP are confident that 'the Council will do the necessary.'
Let us hope that Paul Davies, Head of the Internal Audit, is doing what is required for the people of Sunderland.

However, one point which they could not have legislated for is for a 'whistleblower' with substantive evidence.
One of our 'whistleblowers' is a former Senior NCP Parking Attendant and has given evidence to a solicitor in advance of any Police investigation. The PA is fully aware that the evidence indicates serious criminal malpractice and is preparing to go to the press as the Council attempts more cover-ups.
Lines being corrected and overpainted.
Traffic Regulation Orders being 'revised.'
Signs being erected and moved.

...and now, it transpires that PCNs (over 600) were issued on 'Lower Roker Promenade and Marine Walk' from February 2003 to June 2004 ....without ANY TRO being in place for the double yellows. The PA confirms that this was 'happy hunting ground' as there were many tourists, fishermen and transient visitors and they could hit the same patch repeatedly due to the fact that many errant motorists were just leaving the vehicle for a walk along the promenade.
It is alleged that Sunderland Council offical, Earl Belshaw, told NCP to stop issuing but not to tell anyone that there was no TRO in place otherwise the cat would have been out of the bag and motorists would have demanded their money back.
NCP were told to issue warning notices (for which they get paid £1 each from the Council) but anyone getting repeated warnings would realise that there was no TRO in place...so quietly NCP backed away.

But the problem is that Sunderland City Council again did not refund the money, nor did they come clean when they were forced to with the Taxi Rank and Blue Badge Holder refunds.
The Council officials did not mention this and it is not known yet whether the Internal Investigation has had this evidence laid before it.

Northumbria Police are on the fringes ready to be called in. As the evidence grows the position of some Sunderland Council officials looks very serious indeed.

502 (from Archibold's) Misfeasance in Public Office:
"If a person suffers loss or damage as a result of administrative action known to be unlawful by those persons taking it, and those persons knew or were recklessly indifferent that the claimant would suffer loss, this is a tortious wrong. Proceedings may be taken either against a public body or against an individual official."

A copy of the letter sent to the Director is copied below:

Phil Barrett,
Director of Development and Regeneration
City of Sunderland
Civic Centre
21st November 2005

Dear Mr. Barrett,

We have been supplied with evidence indicating officers of Sunderland City Council were aware of yet another instance where PCNs had been issued unlawfully but officers of the council again chose not to make this public.

Can you confirm that on or around June 2004 Sunderland City Council became aware that it had been unlawfully issuing Penalty Charge Notices in the area known as 'Lower Promenade Roker and Marine Walk?'

Can you confirm the date it was realised that there was no valid TRO in place and how the matter was brought to the attention of Sunderland City Council's Parking Services?

Can you confirm that Sunderland City Council officer, Earl Belshaw, informed NCP of this and that NCP operatives were advised not to bring this to anyone's attention?

How many PCNs were issued in this area and why was there no offer to refund the money?

If the evidence is correct have you or your officers made this information available to the inquiry being conducted by Paul Davies, Head of the Internal Audit?

Can you please supply a copy of the instruction (FoI request if necessary) from Earl Belshaw to NCP regarding the 'Lower Promenade Roker and Marine Walk' situation?

Can you please advise as to when the rest of the outstanding answers to questions raised to date will be forthcoming?

Yours sincerely,

Neil Herron
12 Frederick Street

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