A DIRECTOR of a charitable firm who was subjected to a Coventry council “witch hunt” says he is taking legal action after a damning ombudsman’s ruling against the authority.
As exclusively revealed in the Coventry Observer last month, the ombudsman accepted the director’s claims and found the council had conducted a long “unreasonable campaign” against the not-for-profit housing firm which supports disabled people.
Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin – who investigates complaints against councils – delivered a rare finding of “maladministration with injustice” and ordered Coventry City Council to apologise for conducting multiple inappropriate investigations. Martin Reeves apologised as chief executive.
But the director concerned, John Kavanagh, of city firm Open Doors, has today revealed his identity, pledged to take legal action and also pursue his complaints with the police.
Previously a Coventry council officer himself, he says the council has continued to sweep the matter under the carpet, with no-one taking account for their actions.
He told the Observer: “Subsequent to the failure of the council to scrutinise the witch hunt, we’re taking appropriate legal action as well as asking the police to investigate possible misconduct in public office.
“The ombudsman found serious wrongdoing. For an apology to be meaningful, it needs to state what happened, why it happened, who was responsible, what has happened to them, and what measures are put in place to ensure it does not happen again. This is standard practice in my experience of working in, and with, local authorities.”
Open Doors, based in Far Gosford Street, city centre, 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. Several safeguarding investigations followed.
Mr Kavanagh, who had to resign his previous position, accuses the council of a cover-up in failing to adequately address the issues in public – in recent councillors’ scrutiny meetings and public documents, incuding an annual safeguarding report.
The ombudsman ruled the safeguarding investigations were inappropriate and not relevant to the council’s reasonable concerns about the tenants’ escalating debts. She ruled it was hard to understand why they took place, and stated any potential criminal allegatons should be reported to the police.
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.
Mr Kavanagh says the council not only wasted a huge amount of officers’ time but had damaged his health and reputation, as third parties were contacted regarding the safeguarding investigations, as the ombudsman acknowledged.
A council spokesman said the council had implemented the Local Government Ombudsman’s recommendations, which were to issue apologies.
He added the ombudman’s ruling was “referenced” in the council’s annual complaints report which went before its health scrutiny board in November, with matters since followed up, and to cabinet member Alison Gingell.
Names of those concerned had been kept confidential in line with the ombudsman’s report’s request to “protect the identities of those involved”, the council added.