“A cowardly power play against a random council estate mum”
SEND spy victim Jen Smith made a statement today to Bristol City Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Board. As she finished she looked the council’s new underqualified and over-promoted chief exec, Stephen “Preening” Peacock in the eye, the statement speaks for itself:
Will Peacock manage to get a grip on an issue that his predecessor Mike “Billie Jean” Jackson failed to? Or will our latest Chief Executive chump let the SEND spying issue spiral further out of the control of the council?
Is he just another useless senior council boss: all fat wallet and no morals?
Papers for Bristol City Council’s People Scrutiny Commission tomorrow which will look at council legal boss Tim O’Gara’s ludicrous ‘fact-finding’ report into SEND spying have been published. These papers include questions and statements from parents.
Here’s a particularly disturbing statement, which suggests that the spying goes far beyond a couple of parents involved with the Bristol Parent Carer Forum. While SEND management actions go far beyond spying. They also appear to be referring ‘difficult’ parents to child protection social workers as some sort of weird disciplinary measure.
I am a parent of a child with Special Educational needs. I am not an officer or volunteer of Bristol Parent Carer forum but I have experienced tweets of mine being copied and shared with other agencies.
It took me almost 2 years and cost me thousands of pounds to ensure my son was in a suitable school place – this was decided by a judge during a tribunal process, through independent reports.
During this process I was referred to social services as Bristol SEND services raised concerns that I had fabricated or induced my son’s illness. Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII) is the term used for when a parent or caregiver of someone, most commonly a child, is accused of fabricating, exaggerating or inducing the symptoms of that person.
False FII allegations are made by people in power, such as medical professionals, social workers, teachers, the Local Authority etc and they happen more often than is known and the cases are continuing to rise by the day.
Part of the reason these allegations came about is because in May 2021, an employee of BCC sent my son’s head teacher a copy of some tweets I had made about how my son feels in school. The officers told the headteacher that, “BCC communications team…. Monitor social media for us” and that she felt the school would, “rather be aware of the situation than not”.
SEND parents know that monitoring of families is prolific, especially if we appeal decisions of shoddy EHCPs which are not fit for purpose. This SEND surveillance is not just about [Bristol Parent Carer] forum officers – the leaked emails clearly show redacted names which are likely to be other parents.
Although my eldest son is now in the correct provision and social services have no concerns and are discharging us, my younger two children are being denied referrals to the Autism team. This is in part due to the school insisting that my children are not autistic and should not be referred and being denied Human Rights to go private.
The officer that shared my tweet sought to damage my relationship with the school – which they have been totally successful in and the actions of this officer now impacts the support my children are able to access and the hellish nightmare of FII accusations over the last year. The school for example, has actively called the paediatrician to ensure the GP request of referral for autism assessments is blocked.
I urgently need to get my children help as their SEN needs have been recognised by independent professionals but I am not able to get them they help they need due to the FII allegations, yet I have support of my GP, Social Services.
Their needs are being ignored across health and education. Surely this is disability discrimination? I feel this situation has been deliberately created due to the surveillance actions of the comms team and the officer that shared the post with the headteacher. I believe this is some form of punishment for advocating for my eldest and for contacting the Evening Post in 2020 to share with them how awful the SEND system is.
This is simply unacceptable and I hope my story encourages other families to share the experiences they have had and not to be scared of the threat of social services.
A collection of legal interpretations that are such a load of old bollocks it’s hard to put into words
The council openly acknowledge that that they were spying on SEND parents at para 29 of their fact finding report.
And again at para 41
Having acknowledged parents were spied on, the report concludes with some bizarre legal analysis from council legal boss, “L’ill” Tim O’Gara explaining why nothing unlawful occurred. On the subject of the Regulation of Investigation Powers Act, which regulates how, why and when state actors can spy on us, he says:
A rather odd conclusion as the relevant legislation on directed surveillance makes no mention of ‘publicly available information’ being exempt as O’Gara seems to think:
Considering that O’Gara’s report acknowledges that the information on SEND parents was obtained on two occasions for what looks like a ‘specific investigation’ in a ‘manner likely to result in the obtaining of private information’ (eg. the identity of anonymous Twitter users and wedding photos), it’s hard to understand how this wasn’t directed surveillance as defined in RIPA.
RIPA authorisation would have meant that rather than providing a useless (and unrecorded) briefing to obtain permission for their dodgy investigation from clueless moron Education Director, Alison “Pervy” Hurley, the managers undertaking the investigation would have had to have obtained formal written advice and authority before undertaking any spying activities. To most normal people, a sensible course of action.
However, any authorisation would have had to come from a magistrate, who would be unlikely to authorise an investigation of parents because they were criticising some thin-skinned local authority managers and their shit service. This is on the simple basis that slagging off the council is not a crime and councils can only spy on people where there’s a reasonable belief that they are breaking the law.
O’Gara reaches similarly offbeat conclusions about data protection and the relevant GDPR legislation designed to protect our personal data from government and corporate snoopers and data thieves. In simple terms, the information council bosses accessed, processed and shared was undoubtedly personal data subject to GDPR legislation.
The council, therefore requires the consent of the owners of this data to process it. Something they clearly did not have. If they don’t have consent, then the council is required to have another lawful ‘reason for processing’ this personal data.
However, here’s O’Gara’s interpretation of GDPR issues raised his by council’s spying activities:
Where’s the council’s ‘lawful reason for processing’ SEND parents personal data in all this guff? Nowhere in three long-winded paragraphs of red herrings about ‘Data Protection Impact Assessments’ (DPIA) and ‘systematic monitoring’.
There’s no dispute that it was thicko Education Director Alison Hurley’s choice whether or not to do a DPIA, which is basically a risk assessment. Something you might expect a director-level public sector manager to undertake as a matter of course before implementing any new and, potentially, highly controversial policy.
But what’s this got to do with GDPR compliance? Are the council saying they complied with GDPR because they didn’t produce a risk assessment that’s not required? Ironically, a document that might have informed Hurley how to comply with GDPR? But which might have also left a rather unhelpful paper trail directly back to her?
Similarly, the surveillance Hurley authorised may or may not be ‘systematic’ and therefore subject to further regulation but where’s the answer to the crucial GDPR issue: what was Hurley’s ‘lawful reason for processing’ SEND parents’ personal data from the internet without their consent?
This central issue is avoided in O’Gara’s report, which tells ua that their spying activities were done
at the request of Contact and BPCF to substantiate the concerns being raised by BCC about the activity of the [parent carer] forum members;
Para 49, Fact-finding report – Use of social media by council staff re SEND Parent Carer Forum.
Are we being told that if the Bristol Parent Carer Forum requests personal information from the council on the parents it’s supposed to be representing then this exempts the council from the law? This is such a load of old bollocks it’s hard to put into words.
It’s further worth noting that an unnamed ‘Parent Participation Advisor’ from Contact, an allegedly independent national organisation supporting SEND parents, seemed to very enthusiastically encourage the council to spy on Bristol’s SEND parents. They told a council SEND snooper in an email extract at para 20:
I understand that some of the evidence may be subject to GDPR but I have been advised that anything that is posted publically [sic] is ok to share
Para 20, Fact-finding report – Use of social media by council staff re SEND Parent Carer Forum.
Did anyone at Bristol City Council bother to check if this legal opinion was accurate and check the legal credentials of whoever ‘advised’ this ‘Parent Participation Advisor’? Or was it just accepted by a ridiculously thick set of SEND managers and has this inaccurate claim then found its way into a formal council legal opinion, allegedly prepared by three lawyers?
This short, daft report signs off with just one recommendation:
Would it come as any surprise to learn that this is one great big fat lie too? Bristol City Council Children’s Services has a very detailed protocol called Use of Social Media Sites by Social Care and Safeguarding Staff on the internet in their Bristol Children’s Services Procedures Manual.
The relevant section would appear to be:
2.3 Covert/Overt Surveillance and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
Viewing a service-user’s social media content without their specific consent is not necessarily, of itself, unlawful.
However, consideration must be given, in all cases, as to whether viewing the sites constitutes ‘directed surveillance’ under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (‘RIPA’) and so requires authorisation under that Act. This is a complex area.
Whilst the following general principles apply, each case must be treated on its own facts, and legal advice MUST be sought as necessary:
If the consent of the service-user is obtained, then no further authorisation would be required;
If consent is not obtained but no privacy settings are in operation to prevent viewing, then the material available on the sites can be regarded as ‘open source’, and so a single viewing would not constitute ‘directed surveillance’ under RIPA and no authorisation would be required under that Act;
However, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (now superseded by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner) made clear his view that repeat viewing of sites by staff may constitute ‘directed surveillance’ and if done covertly (i.e. without the knowledge of that person) then this would be ‘covert surveillance’. This would require authorisation under the Act in the form of a warrant from a magistrate.* It is for the employer to ensure that any covert surveillance is properly authorised, recorded and, most importantly, legally justifiable.
So why has the Director of Education and her SEND managers completely ignored their own publicly available procedures? And why is the Head of Legal Services and his legal team pretending in a report to councillors that these procedures don’t exist and instead published the exact opposite as their legal view?
I think we should be told ...
*******A meeting of Bristol City Council’s People Scrutiny Commission will take place on Monday 12 September at 5.00pm for councillors to discuss this absurd report and next steps. People are encouraged to ask questions, make statements and, if possible, to attend and jeer at any spying director or manager scum in attendance (that’s if they have the balls to attend – look out for last minute sick notes). Details on asking questions and putting in statements are here under ‘Public Forum’.
A leaked email from the Bristol City Council education managers at the heart of the SEND spying scandal reveals them plotting over what information they would provide to Bristol Parent Carer Forum.
The email clearly indicates that Education Director Alison Hurley was personally overseeing what sensitive personal data from parents should be unlawfully released to third parties
At the time, Vikki Jervis was Principle Education Psychologist at Bristol City Council. What parents were saying on social media had to do with education psychology is something of a mystery. Although she appears to be the council’s expert on RIPA and GDPR and releasing personal information obtained through surveillance to third parties.
Virginia Roberts is a consultant brought in as SEND lead for Bristol’s Written Statement of Action for OFSTED. It’s her job to oversee an improvement in SEND in Bristol after its terrible OFSTED inspection. How does monitoring and sharing parents’ social media posts relate to improving Bristol’s SEND service? Has Roberts shifted her focus to silencing parents rather than improving her service?
Maybe SEND management are more concerned with monitoring parents’ social media and supplying gossip to third parties than doing the jobs they are handsomely paid to do?
A new message just in regarding Bristol City Council spying on SEND parents’ social media:
“I know of one case where the comms team reported a Bristol parents tweets to the SEND team. Screen shots were taken and then a SEND manager sent the tweets to the parents school. I’ve seen the evidence.
“This family’s vulnerable and already facing accusations of fabricated or induced illness (ffi), so they dare not do anything.”
Yet again, sensitive personal data of parents, unlawfully processed by Bristol City Council External Communications Team, is casually handed over to a third party to further process unlawfully. In this case a school is involved.
We will be endeavouring to find out which school this was. Then we can arrange a visit from the Information Commissioner (ICO) for the school to explain why they think that holding parents’ sensitive personal data, obtained and shared via unlawful surveillance without permission, is OK.
What a mendacious shambles our city’s education sector is.
Yesterday, the Nazi Post and others ran with our story about the council spying on SEND parents.Naturally, Bristol City Council had a totally bizarre explanation for their actions.
An unnamed spokesperson from the council’s External Communications team – who are at the heart of the scandal after covertly collecting parents’ sensitive personal data from the internet and distributing it to Council House managers – explained:
“At the request of the Bristol Parents Carer Forum, we reviewed our own social media and passed onto the forum information relating to claims made about SEND services which included comments left by members. The forum had specifically requested this information to conduct an internal investigation into the conduct of some of its members.”
This is a bizarre excuse, which seems to be saying that a small, local voluntary group made the council do it. It also fails to address public concern that the council acted unlawfully in terms of data protection law (GDPR) and in terms of tight legislation around covert investigations by the state (RIPA).
It now appears the council statement was also a total lie. The Bristol Parent Carer Forum this morning issued the following statement:
This is a pretty categorical statement that the forum did not ask the council to collect data about parents. What have the council got to say now? What’s gonna be their next excuse for their unlawful conduct?
In March 2018 a FW ( fellow worker) working in Child Protection for Bristol City Council (BCC) was suspended from his post. He was charged with issues under the code of conduct, and most of the first set of allegations against him related to a closed Labour Party Facebook page. The group are made up of labour activists, who regularly discuss policy and procedure in BCC. The FW was conversing with a union shop steward about the Walter Ayles anti-war artwork. This had been taken down after orders from BCC. But after an outcry, the Council had to apologise, and the artwork was replaced.The face book posting had been given to the council by Mayor Marvin Rees. Therefore, rather than just speaking to the labour party member, he tried to get them dismissed from their post in Child Protection. He also, by his actions, closed down a labour party face book group, and shut down free speech concerning BCC’s activities. Furthermore, he may have breeched rights of members under data protection legislation. All in all, Mayor Rees has attacked his own party members, and stopped them discussing his own policies. Hardly a beacon of democracy, and more will be forthcoming about this. Probably just prior to his reselection attempts.
Marvin failed to get the activist sacked for this, but then BCC forwarded more allegations, and tried to refuse our FW trade union support. The Head of Workforce, a Mr John Walsh wrote in an email, that the IWW secured, that the caseworker must be “shut down”. Hardly in line with the ethos of an open and transparent disciplinary process. Walsh carried on in his attempts to carry on with out the FW having representation, until BCC employed an expensive consultant. This consultant had to explain to Walsh that he could not do this, and also, he had to follow his employer’s own policies. This consultant even had to explain to Walsh what “will” meant, in the context of employment legislation; unbelievable when you consider that this person’s wages equate to a couple of libraries being kept open.
The other allegations revolved around a twitter account, held by the Bristol Citizen. The Citizen regularly criticises BCC’s officers, councillors and policies. The democratic Mayor and his officers cannot stand this and were determined to prove that our FW was the Citizen. One small problem, they did not have a shred of proof, not a smidgen, absolutely bugger all. Their main “proof” was that it was common knowledge in the Public Relations Office, and the Mayor’s Office, that the FW was the Bristol Citizen. Come the day they could not supply a single statement, or witness. The IWW contacted the Bristol Citizen, who did provide a statement, and some interesting information.
Whilst this incompetent mess could be seen as the council just being completely out of their trees. The FW does have some history with BCC. In 2012 he whistle blew that a six figure some was missing from Bristol markets. This figure could build a children’s centre, or similar. Rather than a full investigation, he lost his job and was lucky to be redeployed. To this day, the money is still missing and there has not been any disciplinary process, other than against the whistle blower. No other FWs in the council have had to put up with this level of incompetence relating to disciplinary. So we can only conclude that these bizarre allegations, and the victimisation that followed, were due to him being a whistle blower. He even phoned the Council’s whistle blower’s helpline, to get an answer phone, and no help.
Our FW is made of stern stuff though, and he had the support of the best Union in the world. After 8 ½ months on suspension. 15 allegations, the employment of 2 external consultants, and hundreds of officer’s hours, all at a great cost to the tax payers of this city. He won his hearing, as everything was unfounded. He will go back to his Child Protection role, supporting vulnerable children in our city. But, we are not finished. There are serious questions to be answered, both from the Mayor, but also Mr Walsh. He started by trying to deny the FW his trade union rights, interfered in the case, and even instructed the FWs witnesses not to engage. Furthermore, the Bristol Citizen tells us that he has history. He was involved in the sacking of several whistle blowers in Wakefield. The Citizen has tweeted this, and the IWW will be investigating further. We do not need these people in our City. We need proper, transparent public services, run by a democratic council. If they cannot do this, we will.
The Reverend Rees continues to a run a Rolls Royce bureaucracy. If the Rolls Royce in question is a BURNED OUT WRECK on the hard shoulder of the M32 currently acting as the temporary home for a family of small rodents.
On the 25 May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will replace the Data Protection Act, supposedly to better protect our PRIVACY and PERSONAL INFORMATION from rampant corporate crooks and mendacious public sector bureaucrats. The changes have been in the pipeline for years and organisations across the country have been working flat out to make sure they comply with the new regulations and protect OUR RIGHTS.
Not, however, at Bristol City Council. Despite an endless procession of expert managers on six figure salaries coming through the revolving door over last few years, none of them has BOTHERED to prepare for the launch of the GDPR in May. Although the council openly admits, “GDPR will have a fundamental effect on all Bristol City Council processes and systems that hold personal data and will require significant change to working practices across all Directorates.”
Instead, the council – with four months to go – ADMITS that there’s NO formal project plan in place to implement GDPR across the Council; that NO governance arrangements for GDPR exist; that NO resources have been allocated to deliver GDPR and NO statutory Data Protection Officer, as required by the legislation, has been appointed. Nor does anyone seem to know where this new post might fit in the staff structure.
Council bosses promised councillors that they would URGENTLY report back to them about the GDPR through the Audit Committee at the end of January. But, alas, that particular item fell off the meeting agenda with NO explanation. Wonder why?
Good to see our privacy, personal data and rights are being so well looked after by the Reverend Rees and his expensive bosses isn’t it?