A notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed that Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) independent investigator into the complaint against former councillor Monika Juneja, kept no records of the “people he engaged with” and that he, not the council, retained the case file after the investigation ended.
The notice, published in August 2014, was brought to the attention of The Guildford Dragon NEWS by Ben Paton, who stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate in a by-election last November. Mr Paton has been a vociferous critic of the Conservative led GBC and the Draft Local Plan.
Information was sought on the method of selection of Dr Robin Hooper and who he had met, when and for how long, during his investigation. The identity of the person who complained to the ICO is not known.
The commissioner’s office determined that GBC had, on a balance of probabilities, disclosed all the relevant information that it held and had complied with the Freedom of Information Act but within the notice it stated:
“The council has explained that Dr Hooper was appointed by its Monitoring Officer and that the terms of reference were agreed verbally in a telephone conversation. The council explained that such practice was not unusual where the issue is urgent and the objective of the engagement is relatively straightforward.
“Dr Hooper confirmed that he did not keep records of the people he engaged with as part of his investigation. The council confirmed to the Commissioner that it did not require Dr Hooper to keep such records as there was no business or statutory requirement for him to do so.
“The council’s originally (sic) response to this part of the request stated that the information was not held because the relevant investigation file was held by Dr Hooper.
“The Commissioner is mindful that, not unreasonably, the complainant considers that the council should have retained this information. The code of practice issued under section 46 of the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] contains recommendations for public authorities as to good practice in relation to record keeping and the establishment of audit trails in order to explain or justify decisions is identified as desirable practice.”
Dr Hooper was already known to GBC prior to his appointment as independent investigator as he had previously carried out the review of its management structure in 2013. This preceded the departure of David Hill, its former Chief Executive.
The Guildford Dragon asked council officers at GBC yesterday (Jun 29) to respond and say whether any council practices will be changed in light of the investigation, which found no wrongdoing by Juneja, and the subsequent court case in which she pleaded guilty to forgery, deception and pretending to be a barrister. The officers have also been asked to confirm the investigation file’s whereabouts now.