Friday, 23 September 2016

Slippery Standards meeting on Butt complaint

Cllr Muhammed Butt

I was unable to attend last night's Brent Standard's Committee Meeting last night as I was chairing a school governing body meeting elsewhere. It appears I missed a fascinating event. I am grateful to Cllr John Warren for providing the following first-hand account. Any views expressed are his own as I was not present.
I had a fascinating evening at last night’s Standards Committee..... it was 50 extraordinary minutes. The only item to discuss was the Penn report on Cllr. Butt - whether he had breached the members' code of conduct in his role in the " Tayo Oladapo " saga?

When I entered the meeting I thought I was in the wrong place, as the public gallery was packed. Why were there so many people here? On closer examination it was more like a Council meeting - not a packed public gallery you understand, but the number of Councilors in attendance.

Cllr.Allie was in the Chair.... as the meeting moved on he contributed very little. I was going to challenge Cllr.Kabir as not being an objective Committee member. I was going to refer to her e-mail to Labour members telling them to " rally round their leader." However, the redoubtable Cllr.Mahmood substituted for her.

I did challenge Cllr.Allie, however, on the grounds that he had been involved twice previously with Cllr.Butt in potential changes in political allegiance...and so was too close to him to be objective. The only response I got from Cllr.Allie was a series of scowls.

The meeting progressed with officers going through Mr. Penn’s report. It seemed that only Cllr. Collier and myself were engaging in this report, although Cllr. Collier was heckled for his efforts. From my position it looked like  Cllr. Wilhemina Mitchell-Murray was the main cheerleader.

In my experience Committee chairs take the lead. Not this chair! The report revolved around the meeting of Cllr. Butt and the Labour party official on 2/3/16.

Why did Cllr. Butt specifically ask her to make enquiries about Tao - after all he had all the Council resources available for others to take on this task?

Why did he not follow up on this enquiry- seemingly not being pro-active in finding out what the official had found out? As we know she found out that Tao had died five weeks earlier.

Why did this party official put her career on the line by making her statement?

Eventually, Cllr.Mahmood's contribution was to read verbatim the Penn recommendations. These stated that Cllr.Butt was not in breach of the code of conduct. In doing so, Cllr.Mahmood informed us that he had not read the whole report on which he was about to vote.

Oh yes, I forgot that Cllr.Krupa Sheth was also part of this committee.

The inevitable outcome was that the Penn recommendations were agreed. When it is one person' s word against another with no independent witnesses it is difficult to argue otherwise.

I found the whole exercise an experience I do not wish to repeat, and left with a feeling of sadness that a young Councillor - who died ridiculously too soon - had figured in an unwanted part of Brent Council history.



Anonymous said...

I too was sadly unable to attend this meeting and I was initially very sad that this was the case but reading this report makes me feel that I missed nothing other than the members of the committee conducting a "non-meeting" with their heads buried in the sand so that they couldn't see what they didn't want to see and so didn't have to deal with the real matter in hand. All this does is make the people of the area more angry and dissatisfied and feel that this council is corrupt(morally at least), counting the days down to the next election and in the meantime prepared to take things outside and to the media. Even those who thought that Councillor Butt was a saviour when he first became Leader of the Council now completely distrust him and his close colleagues. In the words of one of them "It gets more like Tower Hamlets every day". In the meantime we still await answers.

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group said...

I am a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group not resident in LB Brent. What stands out for me about Cllr Tayo Oladapo himself is that in August 2012 he attended a packed meeting organised by Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group regarding LB Brent's poor relationship with LB Brent residents in social housing. I believe he genuinely did attempt to engage with people affected by Brent Council's contempt for locals.

By contrast, Brent Council's [delayed] response to the death of Cllr Oladapo -- and how councils in general respond to changes in the circumstances of councillors, such as relocation out of borough and even out of the UK --contrasts very unhealthily with the standards councils expect of council tenants and housing benefit claimants regarding changes of circumstance.

Alan Wheatley

Philip Grant said...


Firstly, I should apologise for my absence from the Standards Committee meeting last Thursday evening. Although the Monitoring Officer (or the Chair) had not invited me to attend, I felt that I should do so as the person who had referred the Evening Standard article to her for a Standards investigation. Unfortunately, I was delayed, and only arrived at the Civic Centre in time for the Audit Committee meeting at 7pm, where there was also a matter which I was interested in.

Having read Cllr. Warren’s report of the meeting, it was perhaps as well that I did not attend! If Cllr. Collier was heckled (a Labour councillor has also reported ‘booing and heckling’), for carrying out his duties as a member of the committee, what reception would I have received as the person who made the complaint? Mr Penn’s report shows that there were already some strong feelings about this, with Cllr. McLennan telling him that ‘she thought the complaint against Councillor Butt to be completely ludicrous and insulting to him’, while Cllr. Kabir said it was the leak of the information which should have been investigated, as it had ‘brought the Group, Labour Party and Muhammed into disrepute.’

I should, perhaps, remind readers what my complaint actually said, referring to the Evening Standard article and the leaked email which it was based on:
‘Cllr. Muhammed Butt’s actions in apparently misleading the Council and fellow councillors over the death of Cllr. Oladapo, IF TRUE, are breaches of the general conduct principles of honesty, integrity, openness and leadership.’

The purpose of Standards Committee, as set out in the Council’s Constitution, is:
‘To promote high standards of conduct by councillors, to receive allegations that councillors may have failed to comply with the Council’s code of conduct and hold hearings into allegations of misconduct.’

This was the first time in two and a half years that Standards Committee had actually had any misconduct allegations referred to it, so it is not surprising that some members wanted to consider the Independent Investigator’s report properly. If some councillors in the public gallery were heckling a colleague on the committee, the Chair should have reminded them that the Members’ Code of Conduct includes the obligation: ‘You must treat others with respect.’

The Independent Investigator’s report said:
‘My finding is that there is no evidence to support this complaint, and that therefore there was no breach by Councillor Butt of the general conduct principles of honesty, integrity, openness and leadership.’
Standards Committee were entitled to accept that finding, and they did.

However, that finding appears to be based mainly on there being no clear proof that Cllr. Butt KNEW that Cllr. Oladapo had died:
‘Councilor Butt did tell [XX] that he believed Councillor Oladapo might be dead but this appears to have been simply expressing an unsubstantiated possibility. This is very different from knowing that someone had died …. My conclusion is that there is no evidence to support the allegation that Councillor Butt knew that Councillor Oladapo had died before he was advised of this by Mark Walker on 7 March 2016.’

This view is reinforced by the finding of the Labour Party’s own internal investigation, as recorded at the end of Mr Penn’s report:
‘ … it was impossible to prove [XX]'s allegations were true beyond doubt, although there is no reason to believe that she doubted the truth of her allegations.’


Philip Grant said...

PART 2:-

Cllr. Butt has been cleared by this Standards Investigation, but he should not regard this as a “victory”. I freely admit that I am not an “Independent Investigator” in this matter, but there is plenty of evidence gathered by Richard Penn, and included in his report, which shows that the Council Leader needs to improve his behaviour if he wants to avoid any future allegations of misconduct.

The “Honesty” principle in the Members’ Code of Conduct requires not only that ‘you should be truthful in your council work’, but also that you should ‘avoid creating situations where your honesty may be called into question’.
The evidence set out in the Penn Report shows an inconsistency in Cllr. Butt’s statements which could lead to his honesty being questioned.

At the Council pre-meeting on 17 February, according to Carolyn Downs:
‘the Leader referred to Cllr Oladapo’s further absence saying that he had not heard from Cllr Oladapo or his family, but that he had become aware that Cllr Oladapo was no longer at the Royal Free Hospital. Cllr Butt said that he understood that Cllr Oladapo’s health had deteriorated and that his mother had taken Cllr Oladapo to Nigeria to die.’
When the Chief Executive said that they should let Cllr Oladapo’s membership of the Council lapse, Cllr. Butt and the others present at the meeting:
‘considered that this would appear inappropriately harsh for a dying man ….’

Cllr. Butt painted a different picture of Cllr. Oladapo’s condition at the time in his written submission to Richard Penn, saying of the Council meeting on 22 February:
‘At the full council meeting in February apologies for absence for Tayo were given and for his absence due to ill health were tabled. This was done in absolute good faith either that he was recovering somewhere here in the UK or that he had flown out with his mother to recover at the family home in Nigeria.’

Cllr. Butt admitted to Mr Penn that when he asked [XX], on 2 March, to make enquiries about Cllr. Oladapo, he thought that he might be dead.

Mr Penn also records in his report, at the end of his interview with Cllr. Butt:
‘XX claims that on 2 March Councillor Butt had told her that he believed that Councillor Oladapo had been dead for over a month. Councillor Butt told me that is totally untrue. The first time he had any information about Councillor Oladapo’s probable death was on 7 March when Mark Walker phoned him.’

Cllr. Butt had previously referred to this in his written statement, saying:
‘On Monday 7th March I received a phone call from Mark Walker the campaigns director for Brent from London Labour Region giving me condolences for one of my councillors who had passed away, I was shocked and asked him who had died as I was not aware anyone had passed away.’

There are other instances in the report’s evidence where Cllr. Butt could be considered not to have complied fully with the general conduct principles set out in the Members’ Code of Conduct. The last of those principles is:
‘Leadership – you should promote and support these principles by leadership, and by example, and should act in a way that secures or preserves public confidence.’

I hope that the Council Leader will now lead by example, and demonstrate high standards of conduct for his fellow councillors to follow.

I am sending a copy of this comment to Cllr. Butt, so that he has the opportunity to reply to it, if he wishes to do so.


Anonymous said...

Councillor Butt 'a saviour'? As Monty Python said "He's not the Messiah - he's a very naughty boy."

Anonymous said...

As a Labour Party member, I feel ashamed that Butt is leader.

He abuses his position to get manipulate people and its becoming sickening.

Hate to say it, but I hope Labour lose the elections in 2018. Problem is: the Labour Councillors are too weak to challenge him.

Cllr McQuintain (McLennan - Northwick Park) is a yes-woman that will not ask the tough questions.