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latest update 12 February 2010

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Wirral Council accused of major cover-up

Liverpool Daily Post - by Liam Murphy

WIRRAL Council allowed a “co-ordinated cover-up and serious malpractice” over a special charging policy for vulnerable people, a committee meeting heard last night.

A special meeting of the authority’s audit committee was held to receive a report into allegations by whistleblower Martin Moreton.

A former employee of adult social services, Mr Moreton told the committee he had been bullied out of his job after raising concerns about the so-called Special Charging Policy, which was applied at council-run establishments for vulnerable people.

After praising Mr Moreton for his honesty and integrity, Cllr Simon Mountney demanded an external investigation and said some residents had been left in such penury by the over-charging that they were forced to get their clothes from charity shops – because their benefits had been largely stripped from them. The long-awaited report to the committee admitted the charges were unlawful. The report said 15 vulnerable people were overcharged a total of £116,000 – with the sums ranging from “a few hundred pounds to over £15,000” – although Mr Moreton insisted the figures were much higher.

The “special charging policy” was applied at Bermuda Road, Curlew Way, and Edgehill Road between 1997 and 2006 but not elsewhere.

The meeting finally decided that although members were agreed the overcharging was illegal from 2003, there was insufficient evidence that it had been unlawful since being implemented in 1997 – and called for more information about when and how the overcharging became an issue.

In an impassioned speech at the end of the meeting, Mr Moreton described how despite being “paid off” with £45,000 by the council to finally leave his job, this had followed him being bullied, isolated, and put under such stress he became ill and had to be hospitalised. He said: “I regret losing my job, regret that this council made me ill and the appalling stress caused to me and particularly my wife – but I would do it again to prevent such an appalling abuse of power.”

Members of the public gave him a standing ovation.

A call for an investigation by Merseyside Police had been rebuffed after the director of law said there “was no suggestion of criminal activity”.

An internal email read out by Cllr Mountney, which he said referred to the “special charging policy”, talked about their “cover being blown” and acknowledged “unfairness in the system” and then putting the issue to cabinet in “downtime” to get agreement.

The council agreed to send a letter to Mr Moreton from the chief executive to apologise for the way he had been treated. Members called for the report on the charging policy to be completed by the end of October.


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

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