Category Archives: » SPECIAL REPORTS:

WERE COUNCIL BOSSES SPOILING FOR A PUBLIC FIGHT WITH MARKETS WHISTLEBLOWER?

**** DEATH RIDDLE MARKETS BOSS PUT IN LINE OF FIRE BY SENIOR MANAGERS AND COUNCILLORS ****

The BRISTOLIAN has obtained a sensational letter from a Web ExclusiveMarkets Service whistleblower to the council’s former Monitoring Officer, Stephen McNamara sent in July 2012. The letter was also copied The Markets Fileto former strategic director Will Godfey and a handful of senior councillors responsible for financial oversight.

The letter is a formal complaint regarding suicide boss, Tony Harvey’s multiple failures in his treatment of a bona fide whistleblower and it particularly focuses on Harvey’s proposed ‘restructure’ of the markets service that he announced, in a remarkable coincidence, just days after the whistleblower came forward in 2012!

The letter explains that Harvey was undertaking this restructure of the department as a blatant means of getting the whistleblower out of their post while an investigation into serious financial irregularities in Harvey’s dodgy service had barely begun.

Remarkably, Harvey was refusing to suspend his dodgy restructure on the basis that “the [audit] investigation will not affect the review[/restructure]”. An absurd opinion. How could an investigation that would conclude with a considerable number of recommendations about the structure and practice of the department’s financial management not affect a review of the department’s structure and practice?

As The BRISTOLIAN has been told by a well-placed source, “Harvey’s restructure always looked like the act of some bent-as-hell management madman intent on sacking a whistleblower to cover up his own dodgy and incompetent management conduct rather than the cool-headed, well thought out professional restructure of a local authority department he was handsomely paid to produce.”

Stephen McNamara - another oafish decision someone else pays the price for?

Stephen McNamara – another oafish decision someone else pays the price for?

Indeed, the letter to McNamara highlights a number of major irregularities in Harvey’s restructure plan. Some proven accurate when the council later had to reach an out-of-court settlement with one of the whistleblowers due to the flaws in this very restructure.

The letter goes on to ask that Harvey’s restructure process be suspended until the financial investigation is complete and a proper, comprehensive restructure, including the recommendations from the investigation, could be produced. The whistleblower and his union even offered their wholesale help and support to such a process.

The conclusion of the letter is intriguing. Firstly it states:

You are entirely at liberty to continue on the course selected by Tony Harvey and I am at liberty to reach the conclusion that you’re not taking my complaints at all seriously and take them outside the organisation.

A clear indication that the whistleblower would make things public if necessary. They then go on to say,

My trade union representative and I are more than happy to discuss the issues raised in this letter with either yourself or Will [Godfrey] or another serious management representative that is not Tony Harvey.

A clear indication that the whistleblower was open to dialogue, discussion and negotiation. The letter concludes by saying,

I’m extremely persistent and deeply interested in the proper conduct of public affairs. I’m not going to go away and there’s certainly nobody in your authority capable of scaring me away. I’ve provided a number of reasonable ‘soft’ options worth pursuing in this letter. I would strongly encourage you to take one of them.

Alas, McNamara’s response was short, curt and dismissive. No discussion. No dialogue. No negotiation. Harvey’s dodgy process to remove a whistleblower from their job during a ‘live’ financial investigation would continue.

Unfortunately – for them – The BRISTOLIAN also does short, curt and dismissive. More effectively, many would say, than a jumped-up public sector lawyer like McNamara.

And so the die was cast. Senior council bosses proactively decided upon open conflict and a bruising public row rather than negotiation and compromise.

But did they bother to think through the implications of their decision? Did they consider the potential impact on their staff – such as Tony Harvey – on the frontline of any brutal and very public conflict? Did they consider their duty of care towards Tony Harvey?

Or was this another decision driven by sheer arrogance and the knowledge that someone else’s body could always be thrown in the way to deal with the consequences and to pay any price?

HORSEWORLD MANAGEMENT DITCHES VISITOR CENTRE…

Web ExclusiveA sad day for HorseWorld today, with news coming in on what was meant to be the last day of a “consultation” into the options open to the Whitchurch equine charity to secure its financial future: it seems that the VISITOR CENTRE WILL DEFINITELY CLOSE this Friday 28th February.

Sources tell us that embattled managing director Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen “didn’t even have the balls to do the deed himself”, preferring instead to send out a staff representative to spread the bad news to employees.

It is understood that today’s dark announcement confirms the decision to shutter the visitor centre made at a meeting last week of the charity’s trustees “in a SECRET LOCATION”. As one angry source told us:

[The trustees] usually meet at HorseWorld in the visitor centre cafe, but that’s a no-no for them now, of course, lest the staff actually get to meet the trustees who NEVER visit the place and, worse still, have a chance to influence their daft decision making…

As the GMB union’s Rowena Hayward – who has been acting for those facing redundancy – notes, staff “feel very pressurised, very stressed, very anxious…and VERY LET DOWN” about how the situation has been handled.

Meanwhile word reaches us that a wide variety of people connected with HorseWorld’s important animal welfare work – including staff, former volunteers and financial supporters – “have had SEVERE PRESSURE put on them, in various ways, to keep shtum and not whistle-blow these last couple of weeks.”

Taken together with recent efforts to prevent critical media coverage, it gives the impression of a coordinated effort to silence dissent in the lead up to today’s sad news – though ITV West was able to screen a news package on the threat to jobs, with papers including the Bristol Post and The Week In joining The BRISTOLIAN in shining a light on the running of the charity.

With the curious decision to close the visitor centre – and so lose a valuable point of contact with the public, and an important revenue stream – now rubber-stamped and announced, it seems likely that those who until now kept quiet will instead voice their concerns publicly.

One question remains:

Why are those at the sharp end of HorseWorld’s animal welfare work – both human and equine – the ones currently bearing the brunt of bad business decisions, and not those in senior management who actually made them?

HORSEWORLD LAWYERS REMOVE TANKS FROM BRISTOLIAN’S LAWN WHEN THEY REALISE THEY’RE SURROUNDED BY OUR ARTILLERY!

Web ExclusiveAn interesting email popped into our inbox on Friday – from Burges Salmon, the solicitors acting on behalf of the ailing senior management regime at troubled equine charity HorseWorld.

BEOFPantoHorseGateWe’ll spare you too much commentary – but suffice to say that since their earlier attempts to silence The BRISTOLIAN behind our backs (by FALSELY CLAIMING to our web hosts that we were publishing inaccurate and malicious stories about HorseWorld’s troubles), Burges Salmon appear to have figured out that unlike some ‘The Smiter’ doesn’t roll over at the first hint of trouble.

Curiously there is no specific response to the detailed, point-by-point rebuttal we sent them (and summarised online) – which shot down every last specious, inflated or misleading claim which they put to our previous web hosts. It’s almost as though they weren’t expecting us to stand up for our reports, our writers or our sources.

Well, here at The BRISTOLIAN we may have a reputation for being rough-around-the-edges, spiky and uncouth – BUT WE NEVER FABRICATE STORIES. It’s a lesson that certain other parties would be wise to learn…

BURGES SALMON
One Glass Wharf
Bristol BS2 0ZX
Tel: +44 (0) 117 939 2000
Fax: +44 (0) 117 939 4400
email@burges-salmon.com
www.burges-salmon.com
DX 7829 Bristol

“The Bristolian”
Box “Gurt Shush”
Hydra Bookshop
34 Old Market Street
Bristol
BS2 0EZ

By Email: bristoliannews@gmail.com

Our ref: 41135.1   Your ref:

21 February 2014

OPEN LETTER

Dear Sirs

Our client: HorseWorld Trust (“HorseWorld”)

We act for HorseWorld. We refer to your email to Burges Salmon dated 17 February 2014.

HorseWorld is a small local charity that relies on public support in order to keep doing the good work that it does in rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals that have been abandoned, neglected or ill-treated. HorseWorld also uses the horses in its care to work with children and young people who are disadvantaged and/or have special educational needs.

HorseWorld would rather not have instructed us in relation to your website “the Bristolian”. It did so as a last resort because many of the articles on the Bristolian concerning the charity go beyond what any individual or business (never mind a small local charity) should have to put up with. To date, over a period of many months, the charity has stood by and watched the Bristolian have a serious negative impact on its reputation.

If it is not your intention deliberately to damage the charity that has certainly been the effect. The purpose of this correspondence is to draw those effects to your attention and make you aware of the possible consequences.

Presumably in an effort to avoid the consequences of your actions, the Bristolian appears to operate on an anonymous basis, there is no individual or company that takes responsibility for it and it provides no right of reply before articles are published.

We were therefore instructed to contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and alert them to the material it was hosting at the Bristolian. The ISP reviewed your website, chose not to be connected with the Bristolian anymore and the website was taken offline.

We note that the Bristolian has now found a new ISP seemingly willing to host your content, as is your right, and the website is back online. You will be aware that your new chosen ISP appears also to operate on an anonymous basis which is presumably another tactic you use to avoid the consequences of publishing material which may be defamatory or untrue.

Of course, it is easy for a website such as yours to draw attention to itself by publishing on an anonymous basis, defamatory and untrue materiaL. The truth about a small local charity trying to continue its good work for horses and disadvantaged people may be much less attractive.

However, if you are interested in the truth, senior management at HorseWorld are willing to meet you at HorseWorld’s premises and show you around so you can see the positive charitable work HorseWorld does in the local community.

If you wish to accept this offer, please contact us and we can arrange a suitable time and date.
If the Bristolian ignores this letter and offer and continues to publish defamatory content about HorseWorld, then it may be forced to protect its reputation again. However, HorseWorld wishes to avoid further action if possible.

HorseWorld hopes that you have taken on board its concerns and that you review what the Bristolian has written about it. It hopes that you take the opportunity to visit HorseWorld and see the great work HorseWorld does in the local community and that the Bristolian takes a more considered and responsible approach towards local charities in the future.

Yours faithfully

BURGES SALMON LLP

A few points:

  • In TEN MONTHS of reporting on HorseWorld, this is the FIRST TIME the charity’s management or legal representatives have contacted The BRISTOLIAN – and this was only because we foiled their attempt to sabotage us by making exaggerated and inaccurate claims to our web hosts behind our backs.
  • If, as claimed originally in the letters to the web hosts, the charity’s senior management thought they had a real claim of defamation against The BRISTOLIAN, then what does it say about their PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCE that they “stood by and watched the Bristolian have a serious negative impact on its reputation” for nearly a year WITHOUT SO MUCH AS AN EMAIL, PHONECALL OR LETTER demanding corrections, retractions or apologies?
  • It’s simply not true to say that our “ISP reviewed [our] website [and] chose not to be connected with the Bristolian anymore and [so] the website was taken offline.” It was OUR suggestion to switch providers – to better enable us to defend against outrageous attempts at stifling a free press, and to spare a small community host from potential legal threats.
  • The failure to repeat any of the specific ERRONEOUS CLAIMS in the original letter to our previous web hosts – which we robustly rebutted – or to provide any of the supporting evidence we requested within the clear and unambiguous timeframe we indicated leads us to believe that Burges Salmon acknowledges that those claims of defamation were without proper foundation.
  • We reserve the right to pursue those who make defamatory, wildly inaccurate or outright untruthful claims without foundation about The BRISTOLIAN, its articles, authors or sources, whether directly to us, behind our backs to service or product providers, online, in print, verbally or telepathically.
  • Why would we want to take up the senior management team’s offer of a guided tour of HorseWorld? We already know about all “the positive charitable work HorseWorld does” – and a whole long more – from people there. As we keep saying, we are big supporters of the work done by HorseWorld, it’s underpaid staff and hard-working volunteers. Our articles have been QUESTIONING THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE, whom you now suggest we allow to schmooze us!
  • Whilst we remain happy to correct genuine errors, WE STAND BY OUR STORIES, OUR REPORTERS AND OUR SOURCES – and without evidence to the contrary, we will not surrender to what amounts to an attempt to censor a newspaper.

PANTO HORSE GATE: WILL PINOCCHIOWEN BE THREATENING TO SUE THE ‘WESTERN DAILY PRESS’ OR G.M.B. UNION NEXT?

BEOFPantoHorseGateWith HorseWorld’s senior management so concerned about public criticism of its decisions – decisions, it should be noted, that have cost the charity a lot of its money, and which currently threaten the livelihoods of dozens of hard-working staff – will it be widening its innovative ‘economic growth through legal threats’ strategy beyond The BRISTOLIAN and a student rag?

And if so, where does that leave Rowena Hayward, the GMB union official now representing around half of HorseWorld’s staff, whose letter published in the Western Daily Press on Saturday 15 February contains some stinging implied criticism of how the Pinocchiowen regime has managed the crisis at HorseWorld? Will she too be on the receiving end of a poorly drafted screed from Burges Salmon’s latest work experience? And how about Tim Dixon, the editor of the Bumpkinshire Post?

Will the threats ever end?

Union’s concerns over HorseWorld

The GMB is extremely concerned about the recent announcement from HorseWorld Trust with its intention to make 27* staff redundant out of a total of 56 workers. It does seem “odd” when it is closing its visitor centre, getting rid of two of its marketing, media staff and volunteer co-ordinator which actually enable the public to come along and help boost the trust’s coffers, to promote the work of the trust and ensure a proper volunteer structure is in place.

The trust has been running at a loss over the last five years or so leading to a net loss over that period of £2 million. Surely this can’t be down to bad management as, according to HorseWorld’s own website there are a number of very successful businessmen on the trust’s board.

The questions the GMB are asking include:

  • Why were HorseWorld accounts in deficit over the last five years?
  • What financial recovery plan is in place during the past five years?
  • How much is paid to the chief executive and the senior management team? Many of the 24 workers facing redundancy are on the minimum wage or just above
  • How much is the trust likely to save by making staff redundant, closing the visitor centre and leaving the buildings boarded up to go into disrepair?
  • The visitor accounts used to be kept separate. In 2012 this was changed and all areas of HorseWorld’s accounts were put together – why?
  • How does senior management and trustees propose to recoup income lost from the closures?
  • HorseWorld claims the only reason for the redundancy of just under 50 per cent of its staff is the rejection by Bath and North East Council of its plan to build houses on the existing visitor centre site and to seek planning permission to build a bigger visitor centre on green belt land. Yet as the charity has lost some £2 million in the last five years, the financial problems cannot be attributed solely to one decision by the local council.
  • If the board of trustees and the managing director are unable to run the trust with the current financial constraints, how will they be able to manage it in the future?
  • The GMB is unsure if some of the legacies left to the trust stipulate the land currently used by the visitor centred was bequeathed to the ‘horses’ rather than for domestic property usage.

The GMB is urging the public and supporters of HorseWorld to ask these questions and more to ascertain why 24 dedicated workers are being forced into redundancy.

The GMB is calling on the board of trustees to call a halt to this process until these questions are answered.

Rowena Hayward
Membership development officer, GMB

* We understand from contacting Ms Hayward that this first figure is a typo and that it should read ‘24’ – the most up-to-date number of jobs under threat.

PANTO HORSE GATE: THAT LAUGHABLE LAWYER’S ATTEMPT AT A THREATENING LETTER IN FULL!

BEOFPantoHorseGateFollowing on from our shock story EXPOSING the attempt to CENSOR The BRISTOLIAN, here is the full (“NOT FOR PUBLICATION”) text of the letter sent to The BRISTOLIAN‘s web hosts by city centre legal eagles Burges Salmon on behalf of HorseWorld Trust’s bosses in their risible (and inaccurate) attempt at gagging a newspaper…

Our response to some of the claims in it can be found at the bottom of the page…

 

BURGES SALMON
One Glass Wharf
Bristol BS2 0ZX
Tel: +44 (0) 117 939 2000
Fax: +44 (0) 117 939 4400
email@burges-salmon.com
www.burges-salmon.com
DX 7829 Bristol

For the attention of XXXXX

By Special Delivery Post and By Email:

XXXXX@XXXXXX

Our ref: 41135.1   Your ref:

14 February 2014

URGENT – NOT FOR PUBLICATION

Dear Sirs

Notice of hosting Defamatory and abusive content at <http://thebristolian.net/>

We act for Horseworld Trust (“Horseworld”), a charity based in Staunton Lane, Whitchurch, Bristol BS14 0QL.

Horseworld is a small UK charity caring primarily for horses ponies and donkeys. It rescues, rehabilitates and rehouse animals that have been abandoned, neglected of ill-treated. Horseworld is funded entirely through public donations and relies on public support.

1. PURPOSE OF THIS LETTER

1.1    We understand from DNS records that you are the host of the website http://thebristolian.net/ known as “the Bristolian”. The Bristolian is publishing unlawful defamatory material about Horseworld at this URL.

1.2 The purpose of this letter is to inform you of the unlawful material on the Bristolian and request that you remove or disable access to the website immediately in order to avoid any legal action being taken against you.

1.3 It is regrettable that a relatively small charity is being forced to take action but the Bristolian appears to be intent on a vexatious, abusive and defamatory campaign against Horseworld, its management, trustees and finances.

1.4 Given the public support required for a charity to operate, the continuing operation of the Bristolian is causing serious harm to the charity and it has left Horseworld with little chance but to pursue legal action to protect its reputation.

2 DEFAMATION

2.1 The material on the Bristolian’s website concerning Horseworld is voluminous. Just some examples of the defamatory material are below:

(i) Abusive comments about Horseworld’s management and trustees, in particular the Managing Director, Mr Mark Owen. Amongst other comments, Mr Owen is called an “incompetent twat”, a “crap boss”, a “dunderhead” and compared to the “back end of a panto horse”.

(ii) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen has “forbidden [staff] from doing the very work they’re employed to do: rescuing animals in need”.

(iii) Untrue allegations that the charity is “being ridden into the ground”.

(iv) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen forced staff and “demanded” that they write to Bath and North East Somerset Council in support of Horseworld planning application.

(v) Untrue allegations that senior individuals at Horseworld have lied and “didn’t seem able to tell the truth” and that trustees have “vested interests”.

(vi) Abusive user-generated content that is in some cases linked to other feeds that publish further abusive and defamatory content.

2.2 The above is just a flavour of the content of the Bristolian and we refer you to the website for more details.

2.3 A public vexatious and defamatory website such as the Bristolian has a serious impact on a small charity that relies on public support. As well as the website itself, the untrue allegations are picked up by other media and supporters of the charity.

2.4 Serious harm is being done to Horseworld by the website’s unlawful content and continued operation.

3 NEXT STEPS

3.1 The Bristolian is hosted by you and this letter gives you actual knowledge of the unlawful content that you are hosting.

3.2 Please therefore remove or disable access to the Bristolian immediately and remove its content from the public domain. Please confirm that this has been done by 5pm on Monday (17 February 2014).

3.3 If you fail to remove or disable access to the Bristolian by 5pm on Monday, then our client will hold you jointly liable as a publisher and Court proceedings are likely to follow.

3.4 This is a serious matter and we recommend that you seek independent legal advice.

3.5 In the meantime all rights are reserved.

We look forward to hearing from you by 5pm on Monday.

Yours faithfully

BURGES SALMON LLP

Firstly, let’s just cover the specific allegations in section 2.

(i) Abusive comments about Horseworld’s management and trustees, in particular the Managing Director, Mr Mark Owen. Amongst other comments, Mr Owen is called an “incompetent twat”, a “crap boss”, a “dunderhead” and compared to the “back end of a panto horse”.

Yes, we have called Mark Owen ”an incompetent twat” (“Well, insiders retort, it’s certainly unsustainable to retain this INCOMPETENT TWAT on £80,000 per year (plus 28k company car)” – see PINOCCHIOWEN’S LAST STAND? THE ‘CUNNING NEW PLAN’ OF HORSEWORLD BOSS, 17 December 2013) and a “crap boss” (headline, LONG FACES AT HORSEWORLD AS CRAP BOSS PREPARES TO SACK STAFF, 6 January 2014).

In our 20 November 2013 story HORSEWORLD PLANNING APPLICATION, TAKE TWO: A BIT OF A PANTOMIME? (OH NO IT’S NOT!) OH YES IT IS… we also said – in reference to the whole senior management team driving the development issue – “Apparently that will suddenly make them all financial geniuses and not the same dunderheads who created a massive black hole out of the generous donations and bequests from animal lovers keen to see abused donkeys, horses and other equine beasts rehomed.”

And yes, we did caption a photo of Mark Owen with the legend “management skills of the back end of a panto horse” – not once, but three times!

In context the first three are clearly fair comment – robustly articulated opinion, even. The fourth instance cited is based on Owen’s own adventures running for charity dressed as, umm, a pantomime horse, as publicised on HorseWorld’s own website and by the BBC!

However, we are happy to concede that we don’t know 100% his precise position within said costume. If it will make him happy, we will naturally make an appropriate correction, and amend the text to “management skills of the front end of a panto horse”.

(ii) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen has “forbidden [staff] from doing the very work they’re employed to do: rescuing animals in need”.

This simply isn’t an accurate quotation, despite the impression given by Burges Salmon in the letter.

We in fact said: “Meanwhile, while his new car’s engine purrs, HorseWorld staff complain they are forbidden by Owen – for financial reasons, of course – from doing the very work they’re employed to do: rescuing animals in need. That costs money, of course. Something that HorseWorld pleads it has none of” (CHARITY BOSS RIDES HORSE CHARITY INTO THE GROUND, 8 May, 2013). We have reported complaints by HorseWorld staff that financial constraints imposed under the management regime overseen by Mark Owen have prevented them from undertaking what they consider to be their primary work – animal welfare.

(iii) Untrue allegations that the charity is “being ridden into the ground”.

Again, an inaccurate quotation, which apparently refers to the TEN MONTH OLD HEADLINE referred to above! And clearly the very same financial situation that is leading Owen to threaten redundancies can be viewed as the charity being “ridden into the ground”. It’s certainly not a perfect clearance, is it?

(iv) Untrue allegations that Mr Owen forced staff and “demanded” that they write to Bath and North East Somerset Council in support of Horseworld planning application.

And yet again, an inaccurate quotation! (Did Lionel Hutz prepare this letter for Burges Salmon?)

What we actually said, in an article titled HORSEWORLD REVISITED: M.D. MARK OWEN & HIS MAGIC STAFF WRITE-ATHON (published on 21 October 2013), was that “ever the resourceful spiv, Owen hatched a cunning plan to win over the BANES Planning Development Committee, which meets this Wednesday (23 October) to consider his planning application… DEMANDING staff must write to the council with letters of support for his plan! No ifs, no buts, that letter had to be penned. Only they mustn’t say they’re connected to HorseWorld, lest they undermine their case.”

This story was based on information from reliable sources, whose word we had no reason to disbelieve given their accuracy on other matters. At no point since that article was published nearly four months has Mark Owen or anyone else at HorseWorld come to us with any concerns over its accuracy. In fact, our subsequent report, in which we analysed letters in favour of the HorseWorld management plan sent to BANES council, offers circumstantial evidence that staff did feel pressure from their bosses to publicly support the development proposals, perhaps even regardless of any personal doubts.

(v) Untrue allegations that senior individuals at Horseworld have lied and “didn’t seem able to tell the truth” and that trustees have “vested interests”.

Without specific (and preferably accurate!) quotations and accompanying URLs, it’s difficult to counter this – but suffice to say we dissected what looks to a reasonable person a lot like dissembling by Mark Owen in an interview about HorseWorld’s problems on BBC Radio Bristol (HORSEWORLD BOSS GOES A BIT ‘PINOCCHIOWEN’ LIVE ON RADIO!, 21 November 2013). Can that embarrassing episode be what they mean?

And finally…

(vi) Abusive user-generated content that is in some cases linked to other feeds that publish further abusive and defamatory content.

This one is simply laughable. If anything we have made it clear, before it has even happened, that The BRISTOLIAN will not tolerate threatening comments – against anyone – being posted to the website. Neither Mark Owen nor the Burges Salmon legal interns badly C&Ping from our website can find any “Abusive user-generated content”, for the simple reason that it isn’t there.

Claiming it is would be what some in the legal profession would call a porkie-pie, right?

PANTO HORSE GATE: HORSEWORLD BOSS’S ATTEMPT TO CENSOR CRITICS

BEOFPantoHorseGateIn a SENSATIONAL development in the long-running HorseWorld financial mismanagement saga, bosses at the struggling charity have attempted to use legal threats to SILENCE critics – including your very own ‘Smiter’, The BRISTOLIAN!

On Friday 14 February we received our very own Valentine’s message from our web hosts, who informed us that they’d received a lawyer’s letter on behalf of HorseWorld Trust demanding that they “remove or disable access to the Bristolian [sic] immediately and remove its content from the public domain” by 5pm today, or… Umm… Else!

This follows similar pressure recently brought to bear on University of Bristol student newspaper Epigram and, we understand, the Chew Valley Gazette, as well as laughable attempts to shut down criticism on Twitter.

Sources close to managing director Mark ‘Not That One’ Owen’s Whitchurch Führerbunker have also told us that “legal threats and letters are being dished out left, right and centre” at HorseWorld,  in addition to “face-to-face ‘discussions’ and ‘meetings’ with staff/ex-staff, insiders etc thought to be whistleblowing.”

We stand by the accuracy of what we have published about HorseWorld’s management in the pages of The BRISTOLIAN and online over the past ten months. In those ten months we have received not one single, solitary word of complaint – by letter, email, tweet or telephone – from HorseWorld, alleging any kind of inaccuracy or demanding any kind of corrections.

In fact, when a commenter pointed out a minor error in one of our HorseWorld stories, we immediately rectified it, in a transparent fashion.

No, instead it seems that Mark Owen or those around him have chosen to hire lawyers – at a rate of what we are reliably informed amounts to around £400 PER LETTER – to skulk around in the shadows, threatening any and all who question the direction of the charity’s leadership.

Now, if it looks like censorship, sounds like censorship and smells like censorship, then it’s probably an attempt at censorship.

For this reason, and because we want to continue giving a voice to all those low-paid workers at HorseWorld who have sacrificed so much to the charity yet who now face the chop whilst those who caused the problems keep their fat salaries, The BRISTOLIAN will NOT be removing any HorseWorld stories without good reason – at 5pm today, 5pm tomorrow or 5pm the day after.

If you want to waste yet more charitable donations trying to silence a newspaper which has been publishing accurate stories, fair comment and reasonable supposition, then go ahead. We’ll see you in court.

» See the lawyer’s letter used to try and gag us, and our response!

 

MARKET FARCES: HOW BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL’S ‘FRAUD-BUSTERS’ BELLYFLOPPED

CAN’T STAND UP TO MANAGERS – CAN’T PROTECT WHISTLEBLOWERS…

The Markets FileBack in mid-January, another meeting of the Bristol City Council’s crap Audit Committee offered up yet more shocking revelations of FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT AND SLEAZE in the seedy corridors of corrupt power at Shitty Hall.

The committee’s in-depth fraud reports (which have proved to be a hugely embarrassing feature of the last few meetings), have been quietly ditched. But another report catches the eye. With the unpromising title of ‘Internal Audit Compliance with Public Sector Internal Audit Standards’, it reveals the extent to which our council has operated for the benefit of bent bosses and against the interests of whistleblowers.

The report identifies “a few specific areas…where currently Internal Audit arrangements do not fully conform with the public sector Internal audit standards requirements”. Or, in other words, areas where the committee and its FEEBLE INTERNAL AUDIT TEAM have screwed up.

Top of the list is, “The Chief Internal Auditor should report to an organisation level equal or higher to the corporate management team and must be sufficiently senior and Independent to be able to provide credible constructive challenge to senior management.”

So the Chief Internal Auditor should report directly to the council’s Chief Executive? This has never happened. The Chief Auditor always reports to the Head of Finance – a level below corporate management. Until recently, when he scarpered sharpish, Head of Finance was Freemason Peter Robinson, who SPIKED ANY INVESTIGATION into the Markets Service and did nothing to discourage the victimisation of a whistleblower there.

We know he also once spiked an investigation into the dubious procurement of a fleet of Mercedes vans. On that occasion he victimised – then attempted to sack – an investigator in Internal Audit who uncovered and produced a report on that particular procurement scam.

Chief Internal Auditors have been NEUTERED and left powerless for years – and it’s a fact they admit. Last year in an email to a senior trade unionist the head of Internal Audit’s fraud unit, Andea ‘Chocolate Teapot’ Hobbs, admitted that they “cannot provide any assurances as to how management will respond if a whistleblower makes him/herself known to management as a whistleblower (as happened in the circumstance I believe you are referring to).”

The “circumstance” referred to is the way that Tony Harvey and his bosses responded to whistleblowing by victimising and bullying the whistleblower out of their job – apparently under the nose of Ms Hobbs.

Let’s face it, if you’re unable to stand up to a soppy little Facilities Manager and stop them doing over a whistleblower, or to call that manager out for being unable to account for £165,000, then the idea you can provide “a credible constructive challenge to senior management” is laughable.

The reverse is true. Middle managers have been able to IGNORE Internal Auditors with impunity, stamp on whistleblowers and do whatever they like with our money for years.

What a shambles.

MARKET FARCES: HOW HARVEY OUTED WHISTLEBLOWER TO BOSS!

The Markets FileAn email from 22 May 2012 confirms Facilities Manager Tony Harvey OUTED A WHISTLEBLOWER to their boss, Markets Manager Steve ‘God Botherer’ Morris. This opened the door for Morris to start a campaign of bullying and victimisation against the whistleblower – which Harvey then did nothing to stop.

Oddly, despite outing whistleblowers being ILLEGAL, contravening council policy and being against all good practice guidelines, neither Harvey’s managers nor Internal Audit ever addressed the matter with him.

The whistleblower expressed concerns about VICTIMISATION at a meeting on 12 July 2012 with Andrea ‘Chocolate Teapot’ Hobbs, an Internal Audit manager who was allegedly investigating the markets. Internal Audit is supposed to have responsibility for whistleblowers and their welfare at the council, and should report to politicians on the Audit Committee.

Instead Hobbs attempted to outsource her responsibility for whistleblowers to the council’s Human Resources people – even emailing the whistleblower to say she had contacted H.R. for him but that whistleblowing “is something they are unfamiliar with and do not know how to deal with”! She then told the whistleblower to contact, er … Tony Harvey!

Yes, this really is how a public sector organisation deals with whistleblowers – like LOW-RENT KAFKA… Or what looks very much like an informal policy to victimise whistleblowers.

At least this time one of the bosses running this sick shadow policy topped themselves rather than a whistleblower.

MARKET FARCES: AN AUDITOR WRITES…

A FORMER INTERNAL AUDITOR GIVES THEIR OPINION ON THE SO-CALLED CITY COUNCIL ‘INVESTIGATION’ INTO THE MARKETS SERVICE…AND IT AIN’T PRETTY

The Markets FileWe have covered the FINANCIAL SCANDAL in Bristol City Council’s Markets Service for a full year.

Many in Shitty Hall attempted to gloss over the whole affair.

But then we received a LEAKED COPY of the council’s own ‘Internal Audit’ report. It made for interesting reading…

But don’t just take our word for it. We passed it on to a FORMER INTERNAL AUDITOR, and asked them to give their opinion on it.

Here is what they said:

Due to the seriousness of allegations and problems within the market, I would query whether this audit should have been carried out by the council’s own internal audit department as it may be considered that they may not be objective or independent.

For what it’s worth, the audit opinion is that “management can place no reliance” on the “weak” internal control of the market, resulting in an audit assessment of “poor – of concern”.

The auditors stated that they could not “form an opinion on the soundness and strength of the allegations or otherwise” because they were not presented with enough objective evidence.

The audit says that: (a) requested documentation was not made available and (b) there was a lack of willingness and urgency from market staff to resolve any issues. How any auditor worth their salt put up with this sort of response is beyond me. Imagine if a professional, independent, outside company had been brought in, only to be presented with a barrage of obstruction and apathy (let’s be honest – this is what it boils down to).

They would have presented a brief, damning report detailing how they had been given the run-around, declaring the market’s management and system unfit for audit and presented them with a large bill for wasting their time.

Some audit findings seem to imply that traders are being charged, ‘adjusted’ or let off on a whim, with no qualifying or traceable paperwork or adherence to any system. It is particularly telling that for some of the corrective action the auditors are suggesting that:

  1. There is a problem
  2. No one in current staffing has ability to correct the situation
  3. Suggests that a fInancial person is appointed to the task
  4. Recommends that they get instructions from the audit department (not management?) prior to implementing the corrective action.

Don’t they trust management to implement the corrective action, even after discussions and receiving the audit report along with all the “findings”?

I have been led to understand that, despite the audit laying down implementation dates for corrective action to be completed (Nov 2012 – Jan 2013) there has not been a follow- up audit to see whether the corrective action identified – and agreed – has been implemented.

“Imperative” and “urgent” are words from the executive summary, yet why still no follow-up audit?

I suppose at least the council has a piece of paper to wave under the noses of the uninitiated to tell them that the problems have been identified and corrective action – where necessary – is being implemented.

MARKET FARCES: THEY LIED! A ‘BRISTOLIAN’ SPECIAL REPORT INTO BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL’S FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT

STARTLING LEAKED DOCUMENTS DESCRIBE A SICK CULTURE OF LIES, DOUBLE CROSSING, BULLYING, VICTIMISATION AND MORE.

The BRISTOLIAN has been leaked a copy of a SHOCKING Internal Audit report by Bristol City Council’s Corporate Services into the crisis-hit Markets Service.

The Markets FileThe report, dated November 2012, sensationally proves that Mayor George Ferguson, his Green Cabinet sidekick Councillor Gus Hoyt (the man responsible for Markets), and even the council’s Press Office, have all LIED about what’s been going on in the department that had been the direct responsibility of Facilities Manager Tony Harvey.

Over the Summer of 2013 MAYOR FERGO and SIR HOYTY-TOYTY were both insistent that there was “no evidence of wrongdoing” and that “no money went missing as this was purely an administrative fault”. Meanwhile, in July 2012 the Press Office told the BBC in a formal statement that the council had “found no evidence to support any charge of fraud or dishonesty, nor that any cash had gone missing”.

However, there is nothing in the audit report that supports these conclusions. It actually states,

“It was difficult to form an opinion in respect of the allegations [of fraud, theft and dishonesty].”

Hardly the sparkling clean bill of health we’ve been sold for the last six months, is it? And in a further twist, it seems that Tony Harvey and his line managers, with the full support of the council’s Freemason ex-finance boss Peter Robinson, SPIKED A FULL INVESTIGATION into the twenty-odd allegations Harvey had received from a whistleblower.

What's a £283k overspend to a millionaire mayor? King George weighs in on the markets accounts chaos

Did you say unsubstantiated George?

The report says: “Facilities Management requested that Internal Audit undertake an investigation into the markets management decision making processes for both financial and commercial transactions. To facilitate the above investigation a decision was taken by Internal Audit management to undertake an AUDIT REVIEW. It was considered that this would enable a sound knowledge of the systems to be gained prior to completing the INVESTIGATIVE WORK.”

However, “the INVESTIGATIVE WORK” never happened. Instead, Internal Audit’s work was “drawn to a close” and – in the words of the report – the allegations left “unresolved”.

How a non-investigation in which serious allegations are unresolved becomes “no evidence to support any charge of fraud or dishonesty, nor that any cash had gone missing” is a mystery.

It’s also a mystery why Harvey – with the support of his boss, Robert ‘Spunkface’ Orrett, and the Head of Finance, Peter Robinson – never went on to investigate the allegations, but instead busied himself (again, with Orrett and Robinson) TARGETING THE WHISTLEBLOWER for the sack.

What the report DOES tell us:

  • £2,500 in cash is unaccounted for
  • “Income may not have been banked intact”
  • There was “potential for fraud/ misappropriation”
  • Accounts had been “adjusted” and monies removed with no explanation
  • “No reliance can be placed upon the integrity of the detail recorded [in the markets’ accounts]”
  • The audit opinion was “poor”, financial control was “weak and management could place no reliance on it”
  • The Markets Service finance system was open to “significant risk, error or abuse”
  • It was difficult for the auditor to form any opinion as documents were withheld by Markets Service staff and managers – an act of gross misconduct
  • There was a refusal from staff to work with the auditor – an act of gross misconduct
  • There was a lack of transparency in both commercial and financial decision making
  • The expertise to sort out the financial mess did not exist among Markets Service staff once whistleblowers were given the boot by Harvey
  • No reliance can be placed upon the integrity of the markets’ accounts

This shocking report and subsequent EFFORTS TO SUPPRESS ITS FINDINGS by senior City Council managers (with the full knowledge and cooperation of the ‘fraud-busting’ Internal Audit team and the Head of Finance) call into question the financial integrity of the whole organisation.

Our money is not safe in their hands. There’s a cover-up here that reaches right to the top.