A strange thing happened to me last week (Tuesday 5th December). I was made aware of a Internal Audit meeting concerning the discovery of asbestos in Paddington Cemetery. I had raised the issue sometime ago after the council stopped new burials in the cemetery and would only reopen graves to intern the “next of kin”. The reopening takes place using a special contractor. The contractors are in breathing masks and white overalls. They remove the old soil and replace it with new uncontaminated soil for the burial.
I requested a copy of the report as the person who raised concerns in June. Originally I had asked for an independent report as I feared that the report would not be transparent and there could be seen as a cover-up, unless it was open to local residents and the relatives (bereaved) of the people who are buried in the area of concern. An independent investigation would allow the public to witness the impartiality of the report and the seriousness of the situation.
However this requested was turned down by the CEO Instead the CEO decided to have an internal audit report which would exclude the press and the public .The reasons given for the secrecy of the report was because there was information relating to financial affairs of a particular person or companies.”
The Head of Legal informed me via officers that I would not be allowed to have a copy of the report. I challenged this and finally received an email from legal services stating “All members are entitled to ‘inspect’ reports with certain categories of exempt information, rather than receive a copy. If you would like to come to the Civic Centre prior the meeting to inspect the report physically in this instance.” Why do senior officer think its necessary to act in this bizarre way to stop me getting information. This was done even though in the terms of reference for the report, it states the reason for the internal audit report is “ following concerns raised by Cllr John Duffy in an email dated 10th November” so the decision to exclude me from having a copy is strange to say the least.
Anyway I went to the Civic centre at 4pm,2hrs before the meeting was due to take place to read the report .I was met by 2 (male ) members of legal services with the report. I was informed. I was allowed to read the report only under their supervision, but could not remove it or photograph it. I am bound by the secrecy imposed on me by the Head of legal , which means if I am approached by any member of the public , who has a relative buried on the Hill ,I have to tell them they are not allowed to know what happen or how the asbestos got there….. Now that is what you call transparency Brent Style.
At the meeting I ask the Chair of the Audit committee to overturn the Head of Legal decision not to allow me a copy of the report. He did this and his decision was supported by the other members of the committee which included Councillors Choudry, Nerva, Davidson and Perrin. However, even though I was then given a copy , I am still not allow to share the information contained within it.
I informed the chair of the meeting I will not make public anything I have read in the report after he released the report to me. I intent to honour that , with one exception .Officers were wrong and misleading to say the reasons given for the secrecy of the report was because there was information relating to financial affairs of a particular person or companies.” There is no such information in the report and all names have redacted and the names of the companies involved have been disguised, therefore there is no information, which should be kept from the public.
Whereas I am committed not to discuss the contents of the report I will reiterate things I raised in my previous emails. The act of placing the contaminated waste in Paddington Cemetery was deliberate (any ordinary member of the public could spot the difference between a delivery of soil and a delivery of builders rubble) it was not an accident. The cost to the council will be well over a million pounds in lost revenue and I have further concerns about the way the public have been treated since the asbestos was discovered in May this year.
The whole thing is a farce and is right out of a Kafka novel .Why senior officers think that it is necessary to stop the local residents and the relatives of those buried knowing the truth so they can make plans for their future family burial arrangements is disgraceful..
As I said before this an attempt by senior officers to rely on the Cabinet, who will nod it through without question and ensure that the facts are kept from the public .
I will continue to seek an independent investigation for the sake of the relatives.