The trial of Monika Juneja, until last week a Guildford Borough councillor, who yesterday (May 11) pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to pretending to be a barrister, deception and forgery, has made the national news.
Jules Cranwell was one of those that made the original complaint to Guildford Borough Council (GBC) and then, dissatisfied with the outcome of their enquiry, referred the complaint to Surrey Police.
A member of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, Mr Cranwell wished to make it clear that he is speaking not on the group’s behalf but only in his capacity as a private citizen who fought to bring the case to light.
What made you first suspect Monika Juneja was not a properly qualified barrister and when?
I and my friend Mr. Robertson, a solicitor, had a meeting with Cllrs Monika Juneja, Stephen Mansbridge and Mr. Mistry [head of legal and democratic services at GBC] on November 26th 2013, to discuss Ms. Juneja’s conflicting roles as lead councillor for planning and as a director of Surrey Connects, a private company with a remit to encourage business incubation in Guildford. During this meeting Ms. Juneja claimed to be a barrister with Gray’s Inn chambers.
After the meeting Mr. Robertson and I both commented that we did not find it credible that she was a barrister. I had worked for a leading law firm for many years and, as a solicitor, Mr. Robertson had regular interaction with barristers. We both agreed that Ms. Juneja self-evidently did not possess the advocacy skills required of either a lawyer or barrister as she did not make well structured arguments, or have the required eloquence. Very soon after this meeting, a correspondent confirmed with the bar council that she was not, as claimed, a barrister.
Were you alone in making the original complaint to GBC?
No I was not alone in making the complaints. I’m aware that at least four other residents, one of them a was Chris Tailby CBE, a retired barrister, also lodged complaints to Mr. Mistry.
I complained as a private citizen, as I believed the council’s code of conduct, and the Nolan principles for conduct in public office had been breached. My involvement with the green belt movement had nothing to do with my reasons for bringing this matter to light. Our reward was to be accused variously by Cllrs Mansbridge and/or Juneja of conducting a witch-hunt, having racist motives, and to be threatened with legal action.
What was your reaction to the Robin Hooper investigation findings? (Robin Hooper was a consultant and former chief executive of other local authorities brought in by GBC to investigate the complaint against Monika Juneja.)
I thought it a very poor show, I presented Mr. Hooper with much of the same evidence as gathered by the police. He concluded that, although he acknowledged that she was not, as claimed, a barrister, she had done nothing wrong. Instead he implied criticism of my motivation for making the complaint. The investigation was not re-opened, even when the Bar Standards Board, correcting earlier advice, informed GBC that it was, in fact, a criminal offence to pass oneself of as a barrister and that their correction had, “implications for the investigation”.
No censure was indicated, although it was by now known that Ms. Juneja had lied to the electorate, her colleagues and the public. Until charged by the police she remained the lead councillor for planning. She remained as a councillor and the deputy leader of the Conservative group until the end of her term.
What was your impression of the Surrey police investigating officers?
The investigating officers were at all times highly professional, impartial, patient, and highly diligent. I saw, throughout, not a hint of bias.
What is your reaction to Juneja’s guilty pleas?
Disappointed, because a full trial will not now take place. If it had, I believe it would have shone a spotlight on the conduct of others involved in this matter.
What do you think about the statements, made in court, by Stephen Mansbridge of green belt activist harassment?
Before answering that, I would comment that I found the unstinting support for Ms. Juneja, from Cllr. Mansbridge, and the GBC managing director, Ms. Sturgeon (written the day before the election) unconscionable, there was no hint of criticism.
Mansbridge claimed Ms. Juneja was appointed to the lead planning role, based on her experience of planning matters only. She was also appointed lead councillor for governance, with seemingly no checks on her bona fides, which now seems somewhat ironic. He now knows her experience of planning was fraudulently gained, based on forged credentials, but made no comment on this.
From the references read out by her barrister, it became clear that her experience was almost wholly negotiating S106 payments from developers. Such payments are made to councils as a condition for obtaining planning permissions. This is hardly suitable experience for someone entrusted with the unbiased development of the local plan, and perhaps explains why the local plan is so biased towards massive development. Neither of them appears to appreciate the import of Ms. Juneja having lied throughout her political career, to the voting public, and her colleagues.
As to harassment, abuse and threats, claimed by Mr. Mansbridge, I have seen no evidence of such. I have seen justified complaints of poor performance by both individuals. I have seen and made complaints over the conduct and suitability of the individuals, but no evidence of personal attacks, as claimed, and I challenge Mr. Mansbridge to publish the lever-arch file he claims to have with examples of such.
Green belt campaigners were not the ones on trial here, and it is risible for Stephen Mansbridge to try to deflect culpability in this way. Then again, Mr. Mansbridge has stated as his philosophy, “why complain, if you’re not a victim”.