23rd Sep, 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Coventry council accused of hiding documents in multi-million pound 'witch-hunt' case

Les Reid 15th Dec, 2016

A CHARITABLE housing firm pursuing potentially multi-million pound damages against Coventry City Council for conducting a ‘witch-hunt’ against it alleges the council is now withholding information sought for court proceedings.

The High Court action by Coventry-based Open Doors, which houses disabled people, follows a Local Government Ombudsman’s ruling that the council had conducted a long-running ‘unreasonable campaign’ against it, in a damning finding of ‘maladministration with injustice’.

Open Doors Housing and Support Limited, Far Gosford Street, Coventry city centre, and its director John Kavanagh, allege harassment by the council and Misfeasance in Public Office.

The council has denied the claim, and has said it would not be appropriate to comment while the proceedings were ongoing.

We reported in July that a High Court judge had dismissed the council’s application that the not-for-profit housing firm should pay £75,000 as security against the council’s legal costs.

Now Open Doors has lodged a further High Court claim as part of the ongoing action, in an attempt to force the council to disclose more details of its wrongdoings against it.

The civil procedure rules oblige both parties to disclose potential relevant evidence in advance of a full hearing – such as private emails and letters.

Mr Kavanagh claimed that, although no party was permitted to comment on details of what had been disclosed so far, the council’s disclosure to date was ‘woefully inadequate’.

He further contended: “The reluctance to provide full disclosure by the council is because it will implicate senior officers within the council, including chief executive Martin Reeves.”

The council declined to comment to the Observer concerning these claims.

The council was ordered by the ombudsman to apologise to Open Doors in 2014 following the ‘maladministration with injustice’ ruling. It was the latest of several ombudsman’s rulings against the council in favour of the company. Mr Reeves wrote an apology letter to Open Doors.

Former council assistant director Simon Brake, now the director of primary care for Coventry & Rugby NHS and Coventry City Council, was given responsibility to respond to the ombudsman.

The allegations before the High Court partly concern how the council responded to the ombudsman during its investigations.

Open Doors claims it was ‘ostracised’ after it raised concerns about the council in 2006 at what the housing firm 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 paid by the council, which also grant-funded the firm to provide services.

Several safeguarding investigations followed, involving many council officers, which the ombudsman ruled were inappropriate, adding it was ‘hard to understand’ why they had taken place.

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