The Art of Misdirection

Since the revelation that fraud had occurred in the handling of money intended for Waltham Forest’s poorest areas the Council’s most senior legal Officer, Terry Osbourne, has issued a statement saying

..it appears to me that there may have been an error in the minutes produced in relation to the discussion at the committee

Whilst Ms Osbourne admits that the word ‘fraud’ was written by the committee clerk in their notebook she goes on to say that

I am satisfied that this word cannot be attributed to Ray (Head of Audit) in the way it appears in the minutes

The Truth Will Out team will happily suspend disbelief when a magician says he’ll saw a woman in half. That’s entertainment. But when Ms Osbourne says the minutes probably do not accurately reflect what was said, it’s not entertaining; its bordering on criminal.

The key word for us is probably. As a lawyer, is Ms Osbourne covering hers and the Councils back in case there is a challenge? Why would Waltham Forest Guardian print a quote from the Head of Audit as if one of their reporters had attended the meeting?

The key to magic is misdirection, fooling the audience into looking in the wrong direction.

Even stalwart anti-fraud campaigner, Nick Tiratsoo, says he has been assured that members of the committee do not recall hearing the word ‘fraud’ used as it is recorded in the minutes and that it was a transcription error.

This episode led us to consider on what other occasions misdirection has or is being used.

This time last year the Liberal Democrats self-destructed after the de-selection of prominent senior councillors. At the time The Scarlet Pimpernel said that a certain Mr Saeed Diwan had been selected as part of a fair process.

Recently the Liberal Democrats delivered a Focus team calendar in Chapel End ward. No mention of Mr Diwan who, less than a year ago, apparently said he was best placed to be a Chapel End Councillor because the ward is diverse and that he funded the Hoe Street Lib Dem shop! Mr Diwan and his conies contributed to the ousting of long serving Liberal Democrats who, according to the figures, would have been returned as Councillors, albeit on a reduced majority.

So what of the present? Well, it’s the Lib Dems who continue to misdirect the residents of Walthamstow.

Defunct ex-councillors, Khan, Meiszner, Smith, Wheatley and Woollcott still, almost a year after the local elections, purport to be Councillors of the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

The Truth Will Out team have drawn this deception to the the Council’s Director of Governance & Law, Terry Osbourne.

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6 thoughts on “The Art of Misdirection

  1. The evidence, as far as I know it, is as follows.

    The word “fraud” is in both the minute taker’s notes, and the printed minutes (which the WF Guardian quoted), see here at 44:
    http://www1.walthamforest.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=494&MId=2338&Ver=4

    On the other hand, according to Ms Osborne, the Head of Audit, Fraud and Risk denies using the word; and I have been personally advised through other channels that some of the councillors attending the meeting concur.

    If anyone has any further information, then please do contact me at NTiratsoo@aol.com.

    In a sense, however, this episode is a sideshow. If Ms Osborne is correct in her findings, it is an extraordinary indictment of LBWF’s attitude to the accuracy of information that it places in the public domain. Fraud is a criminal offence, and the appearance of the word in these minutes should have immediately set alarm bells ringing.

    However, the central issue is that the Council is still unable to adequately account for a large amount of the NRF/BNI monies – that is state with reasonable confidence how and why the sums were allocated, and what goods and services they then bought. This is particularly true for the period 2004-08, which is the subject of eleven inquiries, but it may be equally true of the period 2008-11 which so far has received very little attention (and that, by the way, is an interesting example of exactly the deflection of attention which you discuss in this post).

    And this is very much not a victimless crime. To take one example, if the large sums of NRF/BNI money earmarked for ‘youth at risk’ had been spent purposefully, instead of disappearing into coffers unknown, would the ‘guns and gangs’ problem that we have today in South Leytonstone be as pronounced as it is?

    What’s for sure is that until the Council starts answering questions truthfully instead of avoiding them, its reputation will always be suspect, a fact that is obviously not lost these days in Whitehall.

    • Thank you for your comment Nick.

      The trouble here is that senior bods within the Council, and I include Councillors, seem to be intent on misdirection by blaming the minute taker. You know yourself that before minutes are published they must have the approval of the chair of the committee.

      Therefore, by definition the minutes were accurate and the Head of Audit admitted fraud had been committed in the administration of BNI.

  2. The point that you make is perfectly fair.
    I sometimes wonder if the opposition is really interested in opposing.
    However, to say any more requires evidence, so if anybody has it, please let me know.

  3. More information about this episode is trickling out.
    I now have a copy of the verbatim, hand-written notes of A&G meeting, and it appears that the words ‘fraudulently’ and ‘fraud’ are both recorded. Indeed, one Councillor appears to have said:
    ”2-5m spent badly, with little controls
    Fraudulently managed…
    Suspicious that things not right”.
    I have asked the Councillor in question about this, and await a reply.
    In another development, I have obtained the notes of the earlier Procurement Scrutiny Panel, which also discussed Mr. Gard’s take the BNI, and found that two very senior officers assured those present that Members were unaware of the mismanagement of procurement and contracts that were such a feature of the programme, because they did not involve themselves in these kind of details.
    I have reminded them that in an e-mail exchange of early 2007, Councillor Loakes assured me that he was personally involved in a significant tranche of BNI projects (“‘I only gave my approval following the production of the appropriate paperwork for each project and detailed discussion with officers”); and requested that the final record of the meeting reflects this fact.

    • Nick – Once again thank you for keeping up the pressure on the Council.
      We too have spoken with officers further down the chain who are deeply unhappy that senior Officers and Councillors are allowing them to be made scapegoats.
      We all need to be vigilant and keep Councillors and senior officers under constant scrutiny. Something the opposition Party’s are clearly not doing!

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