Paper exposes council leader's FoI 'meddling'

A council leader faces a misconduct investigation after his local newspaper revealed he was 'meddling'in Freedom of Information requests.

In March, Huddersfield Daily Examiner senior reporter Katie Grant got hold of potentially damning emails that appeared to show the leader of Kirklees Council, Mehboob Khan, amending FOI requests before they were sent out.

In one example, the council was asked how much council tax was owed by people living in Kirklees, including all overdue payments, and the council's FoI officer prepared a full response dating back to 1993, which was then sent to Khan.

However, in an email exchange with the officer, Khan said: 'This is not going out. Who prepared the response?".

That led to a new response being put together by the council – which only included figures for the financial year 2010/11.

In another case, the council's FoI officer received requests asking how much the council spent on celebrities for local events.

The officer prepared a response but Khan appeared to prevent the information from being released – telling the officer: 'I suggest this response ... you will notice that it is different.

'I refer to your recent enquiry regarding the use of celebrities by the council. I have trawled our various services and unfortunately this information is not collated in one central place."

Ironically, Khan's involvement was exposed by an FoI request submitted by Grant requesting email correspondence between Khan and the FoI officer.

Khan, meanwhile, has denied any wrongdoing, claiming he was trying to put things into 'context'and 'improve'the information sent back to applicants.

He told the Examiner that he had only amended one per cent of all FoIs he received.

Grant said suspicions were raised when the council sent back the FoI on council tax payments. She said: 'We had lots of trouble getting the numbers back, and it was a simple question. We couldn't see why weren't getting a response."

Last week, the council decided there was a case for Khan to answer, after allegations made by the newspaper showed Khan 'may have compromised the impartiality of council officers".

The council also found that: 'The allegations also raise the issue of whether the subject member had used or attempted to use his position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for himself or any other person an advantage or disadvantage."

Grant said she is surprised none of the national press has picked up the story, particularly when you consider Khan also sits on the Standards for England Board – an organisation set up to champion 'and promote high standards of conduct amongst our local politicians".

A spokesperson for the organisation told the Examiner that Khan would be excluded from involvement in the board's case-handling activities while the investigation was ongoing.

MORE ON THIS STORY : 

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.