Complaint about former council leader dismissed

The complaint by a council whistleblower was deemed ‘frivolous and vexatious’

(Credit: WF Council)

A “whistleblowing complaint” from within Waltham Forest Council about its former leader Clare Coghill was dismissed as “politically motivated”, a new report reveals.

On 25th April, the council’s audit and governance committee conducted its annual review of the whistleblowing policy and all complaints received that year.

A report prepared for the meeting reveals that, in February last year, a complaint was made against former leader Clare Coghill “as well as several other senior members and officers”.

The complaint was related to Cllr Coghill joining the board of social housing provider Square Roots Ltd, a subsidiary of developer London Square, in September 2021. A month previously, London Square had submitted a planning application to build more than 300 homes near Lea Bridge Station.

Regarding the whistleblower’s complaint, the report states: “The matter was investigated by both the Monitoring Officer and the Council’s fraud team, who concluded that it was a politically motivated complaint which was frivolous and vexatious.”

Cllr Coghill stepped down as council leader in June 2021, announcing she would also not run in the borough’s next local elections, and was replaced by Grace Williams three months later.

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At a full council meeting in December that year, Conservative councillor John Moss asked if the “close” relationship between Cllr Coghill and London Square could create “impropriety”.

New leader Cllr Williams said the council’s monitoring office Mark Hynes had advised that there was “no question of any impropriety or conflict of interest”.

She added: “Given Cllr Coghill has now stepped down as both leader and from cabinet, it is unlikely that any conflict of interest will arise in her continued role as a councillor.

“However, should such a conflict arise, the monitoring officer’s advice would be sought in terms of the necessary declarations that would need to be made by Cllr Coghill, so that she is not put in a position where her integrity is able to be challenged.

“London Square Ltd have confirmed that Cllr Coghill will not be involved in any work in Waltham Forest, including the Lea Bridge Station redevelopment scheme, whilst she remains a local councillor in the borough.”

London Square’s plans for the three sites near Lea Bridge Station, which include a 26-storey tower, were granted planning permission in March last year.

In addition to outlining last year’s whistleblowing complaints, the report prepared for councillors last month details changes to the council’s whistleblowing policy.

One change, in a section on whistleblowers who choose to “take the matter outside the council”, is the addition of the sentence: “It will rarely, if ever, be appropriate to alert the media.”

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