The Independent Investigator's report into the circumstances surrounding the death of Cllr Tayo Oladapo will be presented to full Council on Monday. A separate report concerning a complaint against Cllr Muhammed Butt will be presented at a later date.
Richard Penn's conclusions and recommendations: (LINK)
In addition to this review of the events and the process I have been appointed by the Council’s Monitoring Officer to investigate a Members’ Code of Conduct complaint about the conduct of Councillor Muhammed Butt. Councillor Butt is the Leader of the Council and Leader of the majority Labour Group. In broad terms, it is alleged that Councillor Butt apparently misled the Council over the death of former Councillor Oladapo. I have been asked to investigate a number of issues and prepare a separate standards investigation report which will be considered by the Council’s Standards Committee.Inevitably, this general review will overlap with the standards investigation and therefore the two reports are bound to contain some of the same information. However, they are intended to serve distinct purposes and will be reported accordingly.
Richard Penn's conclusions and recommendations: (LINK)
My review of the key events from the perspectives of the Council officials involved is set out in paragraphs 2.1 to 2.17 above.
My review has established:
1. the information and facts known and understood by key officers and members of the Council throughout the relevant period and how this was formally reported at meetings of Full Council. It is clear that the reports presented to meetings of the Full Council from March 2015 to September 2015 and that led to approval of continued absence on the grounds of ill-health relied heavily on information that was provided by the Leader and other councillors who were in regular contact with Councillor Olapado including through visiting him in hospital. The real problem occurred at the beginning of 2016 when Councillor Oladapo left hospital and then suffered a relapse after the organ transplant. From that point on his whereabouts and situation were unknown so the information that was used in the report to the Full Council in February 2016 was based on hearsay and assumptions that were the only basis on which the recommendations for continued leave of absence could be made in good faith.
2. whether further or better information could reasonably have been obtained about former Councillor Oladapo prior to the meeting of Full Council on 22 February 2016; The report to Full Council on 18 January 2016 had requested approval for further absence by Councillor Oladapo following an organ transplant, but the week before the Council meeting the Council Leader had told her that Councillor Oladapo had been readmitted to hospital. At the pre meeting before the next Council meeting on 22 February 2016 the Leader referred to Councillor Oladapo’s further absence saying that he had not heard from Councillor Oladapo or his family but that he had become aware that Councillor Oladapo was no longer at the Royal Free Hospital. Councillor Butt said that he understood that Councillor Oladapo’s health had deteriorated and that his mother had taken Councillr Oladapo to die. The Chief Executive advised that she considered that the Council should now let Councillor Oladapo’s membership of the Council lapse and that a further report should not be submitted to the Council. The Chief Executive accepted the consensus view that this was inappropriate and reported to the Full Council meeting on 22 February 2016 that Councillor Oladapo was still unable to attend meetings due to his ill- health. The Council approved the recommendation that Councillor Oladapo’s absence from meetings be approved on the basis of his ongoing ill-health subject to review if required at the Annual Council meeting in May 2016. The report was approved on this basis. The Chief Executive said that the report was written on the understanding that Councillor Oladapo’s ill health was ongoing but in fact there had been a deterioration in his health which resulted in his return to hospital, and by the time of the Council meeting in February it was believed that he had returned to his family in Nigeria to pass away. This was not, however, confirmed and so would have been inappropriate to put in a public report. The Chief Executive’s view is that the Full Council considered and approved Councillor Oladapo’s ongoing absence in good faith based on what was known on that date and what was said in the report.
My conclusion is that these were very difficult and unusual circumstances – a young councillor but seriously ill and hospitalised, living on his own with no partner and no family members living in the UK and who were seemingly unresponsive to requests for information and uncommunicative about their relative’s situation. In my view no further or better information could reasonably have been obtained by the Council about former Councillor Oladapo’s situation before the Council meeting in February 2016.
3. what, if anything, the Council could have done differently or better at the time;
Given all the circumstances as set out in my review it is difficult to see what the Council could have done differently or better at the time. There was clearly uncertainty and a lack of reliable information about Councillor Oladapo’s whereabouts or situation in early 2016 and the Chief Executive had advised at the pre meeting for the February Council that she considered that the Council should now let Councillor Oladapo’s membership of the Council lapse and that a further report should not be submitted to the Council. However, the mood of the meeting was not to allow Councillor Oladapo’s membership of the Council to lapse.
4. what, if any, lessons the Council should take from this experience; and
In my view the particular circumstances in this case were unique and it is unlikely that the Council will ever have to deal with a similar case in the future. Each case should be dealt with on its facts and it is not necessary to devise a detailed procedure in an attempt to deal with any eventuality that might occur in an increasingly diverse and complicated world, based on what were a fairly unique set of circumstances. However, my review has identified some issues that warrant further consideration as set out in the next paragraph.
5. what, if any, improvements the Council should implement.
i. the checks and balances to identify members at risk of breaching the six months rule already in place (as described in paragraph 2.15 of this Report) seem appropriate and proportionate.
ii. the Council’s current procedure for dealing with proposals for extension of absence also seems appropriate and should continue, but reports recommending extensions should be presented to Council only following consultation between the Chief Executive, the Monitoring Officer, the Head of Member and Executive Services and the relevant Group Whip. Councillors understandably rely on the content of those reports in agreeing to the continued absence of a colleague so they need to be able to rely on the integrity of any such report. it is crucially important, given the recent experience, that the most reliable information is obtained by officers and provided in the report. In most cases this will be quite straightforward but there will be cases in the future when additional effort by officers is required to establish the facts so far as possible.
iii. those members who are potentially likely to breach the six months rule because of their non-attendance should be given written notice of this by Members Services as soon as it becomes known through the various checks and balances.
iv. any report recommending extension of absence, and in particular the recommendation itself, should make clear whether the member’s absence is being approved indefinitely, until a specific date only or perhaps contingent on the member being required to take some action, for example providing further information.
v. consideration should be given as to whether every member of the Council should sit on a sub committee or committee as well as Full Council to improve the potential for attendance and thereby avoid the possibility of breaching the six months rule. This could also obviate the current practice of using the substitution arrangements to enable members to avoid breaching the six months rule.
vi. consideration should be given to whether councillors should be required to provide medical certificates just as Council staff are required to do to prove the reason for absence on ill health.
vii. consideration should be given as to whether the same approach should be used both in cases of terminal illness and in cases of continuing ill health.
viii. consideration should be given to how cases in which childbirth, both pre and following the actual birth, is the cause for extended absence should be dealt with, and whether this applies to members who are partners in such circumstances.
ix. consideration should be given to other reasons for potential extension of absence including the illness of a partner or family member, and work commitments involving periods abroad
x. consideration should be given to the way in which ‘apologies for absence’ are managed. Currently there is no requirement for the member concerned to tender their apologies directly or personally as these can be tendered on their behalf by another member or an officer.