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Friday, 25 March 2016

Exclusive! Have Labour Councillors Cost You £5 Million??

Senior  Labour councillors are alleged to have  ignored the advice of  a specialist EU Law Barrister and an Under of Secretary of State and to have then  apparently subjected  a manager to “very considerable” political pressure resulting in  cash strapped Thanet Council (TDC)  breaking  EU laws and  having to  pay out, to date,  £4.6 million damages.

The massive damages bill, which has not been finally settled, results  from TDCs   decision to ban the export of live farm animals from the council owned Port of Ramsgate following the death of 47 sheep at the facility in September 2012.

The livestock exporters appealed TDCs decision to ban their trade from Ramsgate and in December 2013 the High Court ruled, in a 34 page long Judgment,  that the council had “committed an unjustifiable breach of Article 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (TEFU) and “breached a fundamental element of the rules governing free trade in the EU”   which, in the opinion of High Court judge  Mr Justice Birrs, made TDC “liable to pay damages to the claimant (1)”.

Following the judgment, TDC employed Barrister Philip Woolfe of Monkton Chambers, a specialist in EU law, to negotiate a damages settlement with the livestock exporters. As of March 2016 damages paid to date stood at an astronomic £4.6 million, but it is likely that the final bill will be much higher (2).

The 2013 High Court Judgment, recently obtained by former Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, reveals that at the time the ban on live exports was imposed, TDC   already knew that this action was very likely to be unlawful and could result in damages being claimed.
 
According to Mr Justice Birrs “TDC obtained an opinion from counsel” (3) about the banning of live exports from Ramsgate more than one year before the decision was made. The opinion, dated 23 June 2011, stated that “If TDC refused to permit exporters from exporting livestock from the port on either of these grounds it would be at risk of judicial review and possibly at risk of a claim for damages for failure to comply with its statutory duties under the 1847 Act and under Articles 34-36 TFEU” (4).
 
Mr Justice Birrs also points out that in August 2011 TDC was provided with a copy of letter to former South Thanet MP, Laura Sandys from Mike Penning MP, the then Under Secretary of State for Transport,  which  “made clear that the Department of Transport’s view was that no local authority had  any specific power to prevent lives animal exports (5). The judge concludes that “It is quite clear that by the summer of 2011 TDC knew that …it had no right to ban the livestock trade” (6).
 
Said Driver “This is totally unbelievable! Despite having had clear advice from a  Barrister specialising  in EU law  and a Government Under Secretary of State that TDC  had no legal right to ban live exports,  senior council officers and Labour Cabinet memebers, nevertheless decided to stop the trade  knowing that it was highly likely that  TDC would face a claim for damages.  I’m sure that many people will share my view that this action was massively  reckless and placed the council and its taxpayers at great financial risk”.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Birrs, goes on to make a remarkable and extremely worrying inference  that the decision to ignore the advice received by TDC may have been because “very considerable pressure was placed on” Mark Seed the senior manager then responsible for Ramsgate Port and that this  pressure may have been  exerted by the then Labour Leader of TDC, Clive Hart  and the Labour Deputy Leader, Allan Poole ( 7 ) .

Mr Justice Birrs also notes that no records were kept by TDC about the decision making process which resulted in the closures of the port  to live animal exports and that “TDC did not take any legal advice specifically focused on this ban (8)”  which, considering that all previous legal advice received by TDC  indicated it did not have the power to ban the trade, would have been essential in the circumstances.

Despite Mr Justice Birrs’ extremely serious allegations about legal and Government  advice being ignored; political pressure being brought to bear on an officer by senior Labour Party politicians; the failure to secure legal advice in the immediate run up to banning of live exports, those Labour politicians involved seek to deny any culpability for the loss to Thanet  council taxpayers of £4.6 million resulting from a decision which they were responsible for taking.

Statements issued between 2012-15 (see graphic) by Allan Poole, Clive Hart and serving Labour Party councillors Michelle Fenner and Iris Johnston appear to suggest they and the council followed  EU law and sought legal advice at all times in relation to the banning of live exports. Mr Justice Birrs,  on the other hand, presents convincing evidence which suggests that they did not. More recently, in letters to the Isle of Thanet Gazette and in an article published on the  Kent Online website, Clive Hart, Allan Poole and Iris Johnston identify Mr Seed as being solely responsible for closing the port to live exports, making no mention of  Mr Justice Birrs' extremely serious  allegation  that Clive Hart and Allan Poole may have placed “considerable pressure” on  Mr Seed during the decision making process.
 
Said Driver “misrepresenting the facts, misleading the public and blaming others so as to avoid accountability for your actions is the way of a coward and  is morally and politically corrupt. It is my opinion that the Thanet Council Labour Group should now fess-up and publically admit that its decision to ban live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate  was badly managed  and that an unreserved apology should be made to the residents  of Thanet for making a bad decision which has cost  every man, woman and child living the District £33 each.

I also call on Labour Councillor  Michelle Fenner who was directly involved in taking the decision to ban live  exports from the Port of Ramsgate and who acted as the Labour Party spokesperson on this issue to do the honourable thing and resign as a councillor for failing to present a full and truthful  explanation  to local people about how these events were managed.
 
Notes

  1. See Para 192 of Judgement
  2. See Isle of Thanet Gazette http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Thanet-council-continues-count-cost-Live-Animal/story-28980407-detail/story.html The phrase “to date” suggests that a final settlement has not yet been reached and that negotiations continue.
  3. See Para 93 of Judgment
  4. See Para 93 of Judgment
  5. See Para 95 of the Judgment
  6. See Para 97 of the Judgment
  7. See Paras 149 and 150 of the Judgment
  8. See paras 152 and 156 of the Judgement

9 comments:

  1. Put them in the stocks. These millions lost could have been paying for street cleaners and many other cuts to statutory services inflicted by TDC!

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  2. Yes Ian. But maybe Riveroak will have a cause of action against TDC too if their application to Planning Inspectorate fails.

    Kerching

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  3. Methinks Mr. Driver Protesteth too much. As I recall, Mr. Driver was leading the campaign to stop the live exports and was, himself, pressing TDC to ban the trade. As for poor little Mark Seed being placed under pressure, I'm afraid I don't buy that. It is the job of officers of the council to correctly apply the rules and laws and to prevent councillors from dragging the council into murky waters. It is not the job of councillors to prevent officers from making a hash of things. Officers of the council, including the former Chief Executive and legal officer, must be held accountable for this colossal mistake. The council should be pursuing former employees for compensation.

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  4. There are no legal grounds for Riveroak to sue TDC. They have approached TDC and been rejected. Although threats of legal action were made, they did nothing because there is nothing they could do. Now, they are trying to bypass TDC by going directly to government. If that fails, the only people they could sue would be the government. Good luck with that one.

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  5. The way the Manston Section 106 agreement was set up at TDC 2001 et seq does look decidedly iffy. Riveroak seem to be using the 106 as foundational to their application to Planning Inspectorate. If they are left hanging if the 106 is kicked out from beneath them doesn't a cause of action emerge for Riveroak to sue TDC ?


    When you add up East Kent Maritime Trust, Ramsgate harbour exports, Ferry company collapse etc Is it KCC subsidising Turner Centre ?

    Now Pfizer gone and Cummins manufacture going (in spite of was it seven million grant aid assisted area funds via TDC ?)

    Highest COPD rates in UK. Awful patterns of illness with one fifth of population classified as long term disabled.

    Something has gone wrong TDC.

    TDC are in denial.

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  6. Why wouldn't pressure be brought to bear on Mark Seed? Labour were the ruling party so he reports to them? But other than that well said Ian: TDC are an expensive liability and UKIP have gone quiet on their promise to end animnal exports and Cllr Larkins in the national press now criticizing Moslems

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  7. Yes Anon 12 14. Plus a long history, trying to be brought to bear, to kick the Section 106 agreement chair out from under Riveroak who if left thus dangling may sue TDC too.

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  8. The 106 is a voluntary agreement. It applies only to the owners of the site, so Riveroak would have no recourse to law because it doesn't apply to them.

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  9. Well said Richard at 14:49 not just a do-nothing council but actively damaging the area

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