Hamper-gate inquiry reveals “no wrongdoing”

AN INVESTIGATION into the  circumstances surrounding two donated hampers has uncovered “no wrongdoing” by controversial Conservative councillor Joy Redsell.

The councils legal department conducted an in-depth inquiry where both councillors and officers made sworn submissions as to what happened.

To re-cap: Just before Christmas 2010, the Tilbury-based Redeemed Church of Christ donated three hampers (Total value £75) to the three local councillors (Lynn Worrall, Bukky Okunade and Steve Liddiard).

The hampers were delivered to the council offices in New Road, Grays.

Cllrs Worrall and Liddiard decided to donate the hampers to the Mayor’s charity and filled in the appropriate paperwork. (Cllr Okunade kept hers and declared as appropriate).

In a report seen by YT, the circumstances of what happened to the hampers from there are detailed. It appears that a number of officers have had their identity protected but the same concession has not been afforded to cllr Redsell.

In a sworn statement, witness A states that: “Councillor Redsell had been helping myself and Mayor, Anne Cheale with her charities, in particular several raffles. Councillor Redsell told me that the Mayor had agreed that she could use these two hampers as part of a raffle at the Civic Dinner.”

In the report, witness A continues: “I do recall of hearing a conversation taking place between the Mayor and Cllr Redsell discussing replacing some items from the two baskets with better items and the Mayor agreeing with this course of action.”

However when the investigating officers spoke to the then Mayor, cllr Anne Cheale: “The former Mayor…indicated she could not confirm that this conversation had taken place.”

witness B said that cllr Joy Redsell entered the members service area with the two hampers and informed those present that the hampers were “not of a quality appropriate” for a Civic Dinner raffle.

The witness believes that this event was 30 minutes prior to a full council meeting. The date was possibly Tuesday March 1st.

According to witness B the goods were then offered to various members.

YT has attempted to check the veracity of this incident with Conservative councillors who were named as being there at the time. They either have no recollection, have not answered the question or not returned the phone call.

Witness B made their feelings known at the time and later in an exit interview days before they left the employment of Thurrock Council.

In the report it states: “The concerns (from witness B) were around the removal of items from the two hampers and their distribution in a group office which the former officer thought inappropriate.

“At this stage it appears that the matter was not progressed as it was confirmed that the two hampers had been reconstituted and this has been confirmed by that same officer,

Witness B stated: “I thought the matter had been closed when Councillor Redsell had gathered up the items and replaced those that were missing and made up two new food baskets to be raffled for the Mayor’s charities.”

The report goes on to state: “However the former officer clearly believes this course of action to have been inappropriate and / or insensitive although he does accept that Councillor Redsell informed him that she was replacing the basic contents to provide luxury hampers instead so they could be raffled and this would be out of her own pocket.”

Witness B recalls returning to work next day and seeing them “spread around the office”

A statement was taken from a Witness C who made reference to what had been stated by witnesses A and B.

The witness stated: “When Cllr Redsell saw the original hampers she commented that they needed something done with them and offered to do so; as she is very good with hampers I thought she intended to repackage them”

The report goes on to say: “This officer also confirms distribution of items in another group’s offices, that witness B had stated to her that Councillor Redsell “had redone the hampers” and offered the unwanted stuff for distribution. It is clear from both these officers that there was very little interest in the items and that they, “were rounded up and put in a cupboard in the Mayor’s kitchen.”

The report states that at this juncture, the mayor was apprised of the circumstances. In light of this, cllr Redsell “Decided, so as not to upset anyone, to simply keep the hampers as they were with the original foodstuffs, replaced items for those which had been taken, and rewrapped them and added some nice ribbons to make them look a little more attractive.”

The hampers were part of the raffle at the Mayor’s Civic Dinner and were donated to St Luke’s hospice.

The report concludes that:

1.At no stage has any party suggested or evidence been adduced that Councillor Redsell was acting other than with the intent of raising monies for the charities concerned although the appropriateness or sensitivity of her actions have been questioned especially by the former officer… although that former officer also confirms her intent to provide luxury hampers for the raffle at out of her own pocket.

2.The evidence on the balance of probabilities appears to support that Cllr Redsell was acting in the belief that she had due authority to replace some items with better items to achieve a successful raffle of the 2 hampers – although the matter could have been progressed more appropriately but no inappropriate motive has been suggested and in the light of the evidence no offence would be made out.

Conservative leader Phil Anderson has welcomed the reports findings:

He said:  “I’m pleased that this report has been released in full, and that it is unambiguous that no wrong-doing has taken place. The picture it paints is an encouraging one, of councillors from all sides of the political spectrum working together behind the scenes to raise money for good causes in Thurrock. This is a side of politics that people don’t always get to hear about. It represents the best aspects of local politics, and it shows that the cynics are often wrong in their assumptions.

“With council officers having done a thorough and professional job in their investigation and councillors having been vindicated as a result, the only people left with any questions to answer are those who started these malicious and damaging rumours in the first place. Their use of facts was highly selective, and seems deliberately intended to smear individuals who were giving of their own time and resources to raise money for charity. As always, the identity and motives of those behind the original rumours remains unclear.”

The report confirms that every single item that was taken out of the hampers was put back in.

 

 

 

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