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.
Are Bristol’s SEND technocrats conspiring against parents with SEND children? This is part of a statement from a parent to the People Scrutiny Commission on 26 September 2022.
It begins to look very much looks like SEND managers and council legal ‘investigators’ are using their shitty little internal ‘fact finding’ report to councillors to try and stitch up outspoken parents. Will they get away with it?
SENDIASS is the Special Educational Needs & Disability Information Advice & Support Service. In Bristol, this is run by Send and You. The service is funded by Bristol City Council as part of their duties in Chapter 2 of the Send Code of Practice (CoP).
On 20 January 2022, SENDIASS contacted Bristol City Council to say that an officer of Bristol Parent Carers had posted ‘confidential’ information online regarding a co-production meeting attended by the ‘Alternative Learning Provision Team and the council and other stakeholders’. Unfortunately, no such meeting actually took place involving a BPC officer*.
The event that did take place on that day was an informal coffee morning hosted by Send and You for any parent carer in Bristol to attend. I attended. Send and You often hold things like Send Surgeries, virtual coffee mornings and information events on topics such as exclusions, transitions, personal budgets and SEN support. I don’t make a habit of attending Send and You parent carer meetings. I did on this occasion because the specific subject of the meeting was for parent carers to find out more about Education Other Than At School (EOTAS). As I was in the process of taking Bristol City Council to tribunal for EOTAS in one of my children’s Education Health Care Plans, I attended the meeting.
I registered on Eventbrite as a parent carer, under my own name and with my own personal email address. Being part of the Twitter Send community, I posted some of the comments being made during the public parent carer meeting, because they might have been of interest to others. According to Bristol City Council’s report, someone from Send and You saw these quoted comments in some capacity and reported them back to Bristol City Council.
SENDIASS Staff would have known full well that this was not a co-production meeting and I was not there as part of BPC because they organised it and ran it themselves. In light of this, I went back through my Twitter account and blocked a number of Send and You staff along with some Bristol City Council and Sirona officers who had been following me.
The service appears to have conspired with the Local Authority to say that a BPC officer had released confidential information from a co-production meeting which did not actually exist. Remembering that Send and You ‘should be impartial, confidential and accessible,’ how can a supposedly vital service heavily replied upon by Bristol families now be trusted with personal information that would be highly beneficial to the council legally at Tribunal?
How on earth has false information found it’s way into a so-called ‘fact-finding report’ from Bristol City Council’s Head of Legal Services? is this good enough?
Is this report simply another vehicle for bent council managers to attack parents of SEND children with lies?
This is not a new document cobbled together in the wake of the SEND spying scandal. It was created in May 2020 by Kate Burnham-Davies, a solicitor at Bristol City Council and a colleague of the people who produced the ‘fact-finding’ report assuring us that there was no social media protocol “dealing directly with viewing and sharing third party social media”.
The guidance strongly suggests that the social media surveillance carried out by Bristol City Council on SEND parents is unlawful. Pretty much a consensus view shared by everyone in the country except the council’s Director of People, Hugh “Cares” Evans; Director of Education, Alison “Pervy” Hurley; a variety of spying chancers in Bristol City Council’s SEND management team; the External Comms team and the council’s Head of Legal, “L’il” Tim O’Gara.
Here’s some relevant items from the guidance. This is what it says about RIPA:
So where’s the evidence the SEND management spies and External Comms followed RIPA procedural guidance?
Next up, here’s what it says about social media users’ human rights:
Where’s the council’s public interest purpose for spying on SEND parents social media? Where’s the specific legal advice establishing a lawful basis for direct surveillance?
Finally, this on record keeping:
Where are the records of the decision and rationale for spying on SEND parents?
This document proves that everyone from Hugh “Cares” Evans and Alison “Pervy” Hurley down have deliberately ignored their own organisations’s policies and broken the law to spy on the city’s SEND parents. They all need to go and if they won’t go, they should sacked.
Meanwhile, “Li’l” Tim O’Gara and his legal team have tried to cover it all up. What. The. Fuck?
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’.
Inactive “activists” and non-campaigning “campaigners” star in desperately shite sham report that council’s top lawyer is pretending isn’t anything to do with him
A little late but, as promised by outgoing Chief Exec Mike “Billie Jean” Jackson, Bristol City Council has published a heavily redacted ‘fact-finding’ report into their SEND spying scandal.
This is the scandal of senior education bosses casually obtaining personal information from the internet, including wedding photos, on parents with SEND children. With no regard for the law, this personal information was then gleefully shared among City Hall bosses and third party organisations to undermine the local Parent Carer Forum and the parents it supports.
The education bosses even appear to have attempted a spot of what’s popularly called “doxxing” by obtaining what they considered identifying information from the internet on parents and then outing them to third parties.
Luckily for the officers involved in this potentially unlawful conduct, their names have been redacted in the report. However, in order not to protect the guilty and help you avoid some massive tossers, we’re happy to name some of the key arseholes in the council’s senior education team involved in the spy operation: Alison “Purvey” Hurley, Director of Education; Vikki Jervis, Principle Education Psychologist; Virginia Roberts, WSOA/SEND consultant; Gale Rogers, Head of Children’s Commissioning; Jess Baugh, Commissioning Manager.
A number of unnamed individuals in the council’s external comms team, managed by failed journalist Saskia “Hindley” Koynenburg were also involved. Information on these individuals welcome. Why should they be allowed to skulk in the shadows and fuck with us?
The report, itself, is a grim farrago of half-arsed backside covering attributed to Bristol City Council’s “Legal Services”. Largely because legal boss “L’il” Tim O’Gara may not want his name anywhere near such a political document that may cost some of the idiots involved their jobs.
O’Gara’s report is just ten slim pages. Eight of which are wholly irrelevant and dedicated to a nakedly political and obsessive attack on the Bristol Parent Carer Forum (BPC), which two parents at the centre of the scandal are involved with. The council’s main angle on the pair is that they were “activists” and “campaigners” against the council and its SEND team and this was a conflict of interest with their roles at BPC.
The obvious response to this is, so fucking what? And what right do council managers and directors have to spy on “activists” and “campaigners” anyway? Do residents of Bristol effectively forfeit basic human rights and their dignity if the council randomly labels them “activists” and “campaigners” on the basis of unreliable evidence gleaned off the internet?
Having dehumanised their SEND spy victims as “activists” and “campaigners” with no rights, the council’s report fails to identify anything resembling a “campaign” or “action” from either parent. Instead the parents’ only apparent action was to discuss the poor quality of Bristol’s SEND offer on social media with each other!
When did conversing with friends, acquaintances and relatives become “activism” and “campaigning”? Who made up this nonsense, which is basically cover for a crude state assault on the free speech of Bristol SEND parents on the internet? And a blatant attempt to stop dissent and criticism of a failing local public service so that the incompetents running it can pump out cheery fake news about the service instead and continue to bank fat salaries they don’t deserve.
Helpfully, the report clearly indicates that this “campaigning”/”activist” schtick is all a load of bollocks. Para 16 says:
Remarkably, the report is openly acknowledging that its “campaigning”/”activist” concerns may not even be true but concludes that doesn’t matter because some fantasists at City Hall think they might be true! A piece of Alice in Wonderland logic that opens the door for council bosses to unlawfully investigate citizens on the basis of false facts and fictional concerns. So that’s all right then.
Another purpose of all this meandering drivel seems to be that it allows O’Gara to avoid the actual purpose of his report, which should be an investigation into spying on parents by council bosses.
For years a Bristol City Councillor has sat QUIETLY, INEFFECTIVELY AND INCONSEQUENTIALLY as a non-executive director of the Merchant Venturer-run PORT OF BRISTOL COMPANY at Avonmouth. This councillor is supposed to protect our public investment in the firm as well as independently oversee the company, its finances and management to ensure it’s acting lawfully.
at last, a councillor has stepped up and admitted that he QUIT this non-Exec role two years ago as he was PREVENTED from effectively overseeing
the firm as the law requires and he was concerned this CONFLICTED with his responsibilities under the council’s code of
Green Councillor Clive Stevens told a council scrutiny committee that the
demand from the Port of Bristol Company that he sign a GAGGING ORDER preventing him from discussing any issues regarding
the company shackled him from independently overseeing the company and conflicted
with his primary role to be OPENLY AND
DIRECTLY ACCOUNTABLE TO THE PUBLIC .
also raises further questions. Like what the hell port owners, the scummiest of
Merchant Venturer scum, David Ord “Ure” and “Tory” Terrence
Mordaunt, think they’re doing NOBBLING
DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES AND INDEPENDENT NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS of
their firm? Or why our councillors have colluded with this legally dubious
corporate management culture for years and why were they putting up with
anti-democratic bullshit from a couple of wealthy Tory boys on the make?
The council’s Head of Legal Services has agreed to look at the matter and
produce a report. Will he have learned anything from the 2008 banking crisis
and the need for genuinely independent non executive directors TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC FROM THIEVING
CORPORATE BASTARDS WITH NO MORALS?