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Commons slams Tower Hamlets’ legal officer for ‘bias’ towards mayor

PUBLISHED: 18:39 17 January 2013 | UPDATED: 19:00 17 January 2013

Tower Hamlets’ legal officer Isabella Freeman

Tower Hamlets’ legal officer Isabella Freeman

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The town hall legal officer who monitors Tower Hamlets councillors’ standards of behaviour in public life in London’s East End has been slammed in Parliament for bias towards members of the Mayor’s cabinet.

Public funds have been spent investigating complaints against Opposition group leaders lodged by Lutfur Rahman supporters on the council—but not when complaints are levelled against his own cabinet members, MPs heard.

The practice came to light in a 90-minute Commons ‘localism’ debate yesterday (Weds) on local government standards.

The debate was called by Bromley & Chislehurst MP Robert Neill because the Government’s bid to remove top-heavy, excessive standards regimes was being flouted by some town halls.

He criticised Tower Hamlets’ legal officer Isabella Freeman for not being open and transparent.

“She regularly investigates complaints lodged by a member of the mayor’s cabinet,” he told MPs.

“But complaints against those supporting the mayor have not been taken forward for investigation.

“She is in dispute with the authority—her employer—in an ongoing industrial tribunal case.

“But she still carries out her functions even though they involve councillors who may be witnesses to those proceedings.”

Tower Hamlets has reached “the extraordinary stage” of elected members from several parties having passed a resolution (at a council meeting behind closed doors last summer) to have disciplinary steps taken against the monitoring officer herself, he pointed out.

“We might have thought she would have withdrawn from the meeting,” Mr Neill added. “Instead, she insisted on remaining and noted what was being said—which hardly gives the impression of an unbiased, open and transparent approach.”

Mr Neill, a former candidate for Tower Hamlets council when he lived in Blackwall, referred to Freedom of Information requests revealing that £18,000 of public money was spent investigating complaints against both the leaders of the Conservative and Labour opposition groups.

“But no such complaints have been taken forward in the same way against the group that supports the mayor,” he added.

“Councillors also raised complaints about a highly partisan council publication, East End Life.

“She responded that everything the mayor put in that publication was in order and also advised that he was not obliged to answer certain questions from councillors about his functions because that might infringe his human rights.

“That, frankly, brings standards into serious disrepute.”

The condemnation was part of a Commons debate on local authorities flouting “the wishes of Parliament.”


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