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latest update 12 February 2010

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Call for a police inquiry rejected as Wirral Council is accused of a major cover-up

Wirral Globe - by Craig Manning

A call for a police investigation into allegations of a cover-up and serious malpractice following an inquiry into systematic overcharging of people in Wirral Council care was rejected last night.

Feelings ran high as a previously anonymous "whistleblower" broke cover to tell councillors on the scrutiny committee that the authority had all-but ruined his life.

A special meeting of the committee had been called to study an internal audit report on a so-called "special charging policy."

The audit ruled people in “supported living” accommodation from 2003 were overcharged and the policy unlawful.

The overcharging only came to light when former employee Martin Morton blew the whistle and raised the alarm in the Wirral Globe.

Mr Morton addressed the committee and said that he had been bullied out of his job after voicing his concerns.

He said: "It was a systemic failure of vulnerable people and nearly did for me. It was completely unacceptable.

"I regret losing my job, regret that this council made me ill through the appalling stress to me and particularly my wife.

"But I would do it again. I don't want to go to an early grave knowing that the council got away with an appalling abuse of power."

Mr Morton said he was paid £45,000 by the council to "go away and keep quiet."

The stress placed upon him had been so great he had to be hospitalised.

At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting at Wallasey Town Hall, committee members agreed that although overcharging was illegal from 2003, there was insufficient evidence to suggest it was unlawful since its first implementation in 1997.

The committee has called for a further investigation about when overcharging became an issue, and will meet to consider this at the end of the year.

Conservatives pressed for a police inquiry but this was rejected by the Director of Law as there was no evidence to suggest criminal activity.

Cllr Leah Fraser, who called for police to become involved, told the committee: “If the charging was unfair, it’s then unlawful.

"And if it’s unlawful it follows then that it’s illegal. You’ve wrongly taken money from people. I believe there is a matter for the police here.”

The audit report said the “special charging policy” was applied at three care homes in Wirral – but nowhere else in the borough. The policy was applied at Bermuda Road, Curlew Way and Edgehill Road, all in Moreton, between 1997 and 2006.

Until April, 2003, the report said, the charges levied were, "on balance," probably reasonable and lawful.

It stated people were overcharged a total of £116,000, with sums ranging from a few hundred pounds to more than £15,000.

A committee minute which had been made in September of 1997 turned up in the last fortnight of the auditors' review and, they wrote, "changed everything" as it proved the charging policy had been officially sanctioned by elected members of the council.

This ruling has been disputed by the Conservative group who claim the minute only sanctioned what was still "unlawful" policy.

The council has agreed to send a letter of apology to Mr Morton for the way he had been treated.


© copyright . Reproduced under fair use for the dual purposes of comment and news reporting

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