When news happens, text LT and your photos and videos to 80360. Or contact us by email or phone.
MP seeks probe into Lancashire County Council emails row
BLACKBURN MP Jack Straw has called for an inquiry into the ‘outrageous’ accessing of former Lancashire leader Geoff Driver’s emails by county officials without his permission.
Senior Tory Coun Driver, who only found out about it on Friday, condemned the move as ‘scandalous and outrageous’.
Mr Straw said: “I share Mr Driver’s outrage.”
Burnley Liberal Democrat MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “This is outrageous, unacceptable and possibly unlawful. It is the sort of thing the Soviet Union did.”
County Labour leader Jenny Mein was not involved.
The issue relates to the investigation of suspended county chief executive Phil Halsall over contract tendering. Coun Driver has contacted fellow county councillors saying he questioned officers ‘regarding poor governance’ and asked about the ‘secret accessing’ of their emails.
He was ‘horrified’ to learn it had happened four times, including acting chief executive Jo Turton authorising the reading of his own ‘to obtain information that, so far, has not been made available through any other means’.
Coun Driver said he would have granted permission, adding: “They have never asked me for any information. The secret accessing of members' e-mails is a scandalous and outrageous infringement of our privacy and goes to the very heart of our democracy. There may be occasions when it is appropriate to access members' e-mails but I am far from convinced that it should be authorised by officers.”
He said: “It should be a last resort. I have consulted lawyers and their preliminary finding is that it is unlawful.”
Mr Straw said: “There may be occasions when accessing councillors’ emails is appropriate but only following proper procedures and not at the behest of the chief executive.
“There needs to be an inquiry into what exactly happened.”
Mr Birtwistle said: “If Coun Mein knew nothing about it, is she going to discipline the officers who authorised it?”
A county spokesman said: “The council strongly refutes Coun Driver's claims. It is unfortunate that he has chosen to raise suspicion over four cases in which access to councillors' emails by our employees was permitted, despite having already been informed those permissions were for the routine purpose of providing access to councillors' secretaries.
“The only other request to access a councillor's email account relates to the ongoing process of collating information to enable a full and fair investigation into serious concerns that have been raised about the award of a contract to run the council's fleet services earlier this year, together with related issues.
“Only e-mails relevant to that process will be reviewed and made available to the independent person who will be charged with leading the investigation. Clearly it is a serious matter and we have been careful to follow the appropriate procedures throughout.”
Comments are closed on this article.