September 26th, 2016

Coventry council forced to apologise for ‘witch hunt’

Coventry council forced to apologise for ‘witch hunt’ Coventry council forced to apologise for ‘witch hunt’
Martin Reeves
Updated: 4:49 pm, May 07, 2015

A DAMNING report has ruled Coventry Council conducted an ‘unreasonable campaign’ against a charitable firm which supports vulnerable people, the Observer can reveal.

Local government ombudsman Dr Jane Martin delivered a rare finding of ‘maladministration with injustice’ and ordered the authority to apologise for conducting inappropriate investigations against the not-for-profit company, which we have chosen not to name.

Council chief executive Martin Reeves’ apology letter accepts the council had subjected the small company to mistreatment.

The charitable firm, which provides supported housing for people with disabilities, had claimed there was a witch hunt over several years.

It claims it was ostracised after it raised concerns about the council in 2006 at what it perceived as poor treatment of vulnerable people.

It alleges this escalated into a full blown witch hunt in 2009 after the company restructured and increased rents paid via housing benefit.

One of its directors, who had to resign his previous position, now accuses the council of a cover-up in failing to adequately address the issues in recent councillors’ public meetings and public documents, and an annual safeguarding report.

He believes no-one has taken full responsibility since Dr Reeves issued the private apology in May. The company is seeking legal advice.

The city-based organisation was from 2009 the subject of council safeguarding investigations.

The ombudsman ruled they were inappropriate and not relevant to the council’s reasonable concerns about the tenants’ escalating debts.

The ombudsman ruled the company had nothing to gain from putting its tenants in a position where they could not pay their rents.

The council later accepted they had wrongly restricted Housing Benefit claims, settled them in full, and apologised for delays.

Two previous ombudman’s rulings concerning the organisation had also found against the council.

The director at the centre of the latest allegations said the council had damaged his health and reputation.

He also alleges it wasted a huge amount of council officers’ time and resources, which should have been spent on properly protecting vulnerable people.

He said: “Shockingly in the very week that little Daniel Pelka had his arm broken, the council was holding its sixteenth meeting and fifth investigation attended by up to a dozen council officers into council-referred allegations against our organisation considered examplary by neighbouring authorities, and we had worked with the council for many years.

“The council hid information and attacked our professional integrity with misguided accusations of abuse against vulnerable people who we’ve spent our lives supporting.

“I’ve been accused of the most awful things and as a result have had several emergency hospital admissions.”

The safeguarding allegations were also spread to third party organisations causing damage, the ombudsman ruled.

Among them were Warwickshire County Council and the Care Quality Commission, who the ombudsman ruled should receive letters from the council to set the record straight.

A council spokeman said the council had implemented the the ombudsman’s recommendations to the ombudman’s satisfaction.

He added: “The ombudsman’s report was not published in order to protect the interests of the individuals involved. The council is therefore unable to comment further.”

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