Friday 14 March 2014

Email Fraud: Will the new broom reach into some murky corners?

Guest blogger Meg Howarth continues to press for answers in 'The Case of the Fraudulent Emails'. It should be straightforward but...

New brooms generally sweep clean, so it's to be hoped that Brent police's freshly appointed borough commander, Chief Superintendent Michael Gallagher, has already put his officers to work on a thorough investigation into this affair (WM 13 March). Brent Council may technically be the 'victim' of this email scam but it's local residents whose addresses were stolen and abused (alongside some out-of-borough suspect comments). It's they who are the real victims. 

It shouldn't be forgotten, either, that it's Brent's incompetence that allowed its IT planning system to be spoofed in this way. While the council may have now got its online act together, some of its constituents are awaiting an answer to the question: who stole their addresses in an apparent attempt to aid developer Andrew Gillick's change-of-use planning application for Kensal Rise Library? Would matters have been cleared up sooner if the council originally passed all of its information to Action Fraud (WM 27 Feb, also 4 & 6 Feb)? Residents, not procedures, must now come first.

Given the on/off, toing and froing over this business - from no inquiry on 31 January to a change of police mind, the involvement of Kensington and Chelsea police, and finally Brent - the sad reality is that it seems as if the sifting of what police have termed the 'complex' evidence of apparent fraud has fallen to the local force. If its investigation can't be completed before Mr Gillick's latest planning application - submitted on 7 March - goes before Brent's planning committee, the developer's application must be put on hold pending the outcome of its inquiry. This is in everyone's interests, including that of the applicant himself. 

To date, the council has argued that under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 it

'has a responsibility and obligation to consider any valid planning application that is put forward from any individual(s). It must consider each on its merits in accordance with its statutory obligations'. 

As a member of Brent's Planning and Regeneration team has admitted, attempting to influence a planning decision (itself a criminal offence) through fake emails is 'not mentioned in the [1990] Act'. Bizarrely, instead of drawing what most would see as the obvious conclusion - putting an application on hold until an active police inquiry is complete - the officer concludes: 

'...consequently the LPA [local planning authority, in this case Brent] could not decide to decline any application that was submitted to it for consideration, providing that it met the validation requirements that apply to all planning application submissions'...!

Why not? Isn't an active police inquiry sufficient reason - just as someone might be suspended from a job while an  investigation into his/her conduct is underway? If Andrew Gillick is exonerated, his planning application can then be considered free from this long shadow. 

Footnote: Michael Gallagher began work as Brent's police boss on 3 March. A one-time member of Scotland Yard's Specialist Crime directorate, his previous posting was in Lewisham. Prior to that he was deployed in Lambeth.

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