Opinion: There Are Lessons To Learn From The Juneja Case – The Council Must Admit It
By Martin Giles
When a councillor admits she is a criminal it is a serious business but at last the court case has been completed, a sentence has now been passed and after some proper reflection we all need to move on.
Guildford Borough Council (GBC) has admitted that it has suffered reputational damage over the Juneja affair. Good. It is stating the obvious, though perhaps it is the first sign that the seriousness of what has happened is understood.
But it is not enough. In the governance review it is stated: “The offences related to the former councillor’s personal and professional working life…” This is a view that has been accepted by the chairman of the council’s governance committee, Gordon Jackson, (Con, Pirbright), and stated by a former council leader, Tony Rooth (Con, Pilgrims).
They are wrong. They don’t seem to get it. Monika Juneja used her bogus status in election material and could have duped Burpham voters. Some there, who supported Monika before she admitted her guilt, now feel betrayed.
And wasn’t the Conservative selection committee who chose Juneja as a suitable candidate to be a borough councillor influenced by her claimed status as a barrister? It is hard to believe otherwise. If any of us had been on that committee we are likely to have been swayed by the claimed qualifications we now know were completely bogus.
It did not end there. Juneja gave her occupation of “barrister” on the council’s own website. She misled all of us.
Eventually suspicions culminated in an official complaint and the council properly appointed an independent investigator, Dr Robin Hooper, but the investigation was flawed. Although he knew to ask Juneja for evidence of her legal qualifications he did not bother to verify it, something he would not have needed police powers to do.
He did not get to the truth and he did not even refer the matter to the police himself, when a prima facie case of law breaking, in the form of a letter from the director of the Bar Standards Board, was clear.
Meanwhile the Surrey Advertiser had been faced with threats of legal action and a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission from Juneja, determined to continue her bare-faced deception.
It is to the Surrey Advertiser’s credit, and particularly the credit of their reporter Andre Langlois, that they stood by their story even though, at that time, the extent of her crimes was not fully realised.
We are right to expect our councillors to be honest and not to cheat. We are right to demand high standards of probity and we are right to expect professional capability from our council officers and those they appoint.
But in this case there was failure. One councillor lied and cheated and the council’s systems were unable to discover it. It was left to a few tenacious citizens, led by Jules Cranwell, to take their complaint to the police when no wrongdoing was found and reconfirmed by the council’s investigator.
The police investigation was efficient and professional. Accusations of partiality, of victimisation, even of connivance were not backed up with any evidence. It seems they were just a desperate smoke screen by Juneja and her shrinking band of supporters.
But this was not the crime of the century carried out by a mastermind. Detectives quickly established the truth through tangible and incontrovertible evidence of forgery, deception and pretence even if Juneja continued to deny it, Canute like, with her hand held up against the tide, further deceiving those who trusted her.
As she starts her 200 hours of community service we can draw a line, hopefully, under her wrongdoing.
She should withdraw completely now from the political scene, including the raising of any petitions. Not to do so would indicate that she does not fully acknowledge the seriousness of the crimes she has committed.
The GBC Conservative group can count themselves lucky that the court case came after the recent elections and that the result was not in the minds of the voters. It has already suspended Juneja as a member and will presumably now expel her.
There are always lessons to learn from events: the council must not believe it did all it should have done, it did not. There must be no complacency, like the rest of us the council is fallible and it got things wrong. A little humility would not go amiss.
The council should now admit that the investigation failed and consider the implications: how can the same mistakes be avoided in future?
The GBC Conservative group and others should review their candidate selection procedures in particular status and qualification checks. The Tories should also make clear its stance on the petition, organised by Monika Juneja, seeking a referendum for an elected mayor for Guildford.
Then we can all put this whole sorry affair behind us and get on with the serious business of planning our town’s future in accordance with the wishes of what most of us want.
Well we almost can. There is actually another, bigger lesson Guildford Borough Council needs to learn. It needs to really live up to the requirement for openness and transparency contained in the Nolan code.
At The Guildford Dragon NEWS we do not share the general contempt of councillors expressed in some quarters. We see at first hand the hard work many of them do on our behalf for scant reward.
But, and it is a big but, the councillors must all always remember that they are answerable to us. Legitimate enquiries must be answered, fair criticism accepted and any delusions that they are are on a different plane, that they somehow know better than the rest of us, firmly rejected.
In the week that we commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta they must remember that they are our representatives not our rulers.