Thanet council has slammed a request to investigate potential bribery in officer dealings over proposals for a ferry service at Ramsgate port as “unsubstantiated,”
A report was made by Ramsgate resident Steve Coombes to council leader Bob Bayford in July alleging a bribe had been alluded to during a meeting regarding proposals for a Ramsgate-Ostend ferry service.
Cllr Bayford took the matter to Thanet council’s monitoring officer Tim Howes who then had a meeting with Mr Coombes.
Mr Coombes presented a tape recording of a conversation said to be between county councillor Paul Messenger and a representative of Seaborne – the company proposing to run an Ostend/Ramsgate ferry service – outlining discussions that were said to have previously taken place with Thanet council officers.
Mr Coombes said the contents of the conversation, which are based around setting up a joint venture between the prospective ferry company and Thanet council, buying a tug which could be hired and the making of expense claims, warranted investigation into bribery and corruption allegations against council officers.
Cllr Messenger says he was asked to arrange meetings with Seaborne as part of Kent County Council’s Brexit preparations. He said: “KCC is tasked with resilience factors regarding Brexit. I am the Ramsgate KCC member so I’m at the coal face for the ‘promotion’ of a ferry option into our port. Therefore It was natural for KCC to ask me to form a relationship with (a Seaborne representative),”
Thanet council says the information provided does not contain allegations of unlawful activity by the council or its officers.
The issue was initially dealt with under the council’s Whistleblowers Policy, a procedure which Mr Coombes says was inappropriate because the code applies to employees not the general public. He says an investigation should be carried out under the council’s fraud and anti-corruption procedures.
Thanet council says there is no evidence to support an investigation.
A spokesman said: “None of the information provided alleges any unlawful activity by the council or its officers.
“An allegation was made to the leader of the council on 13 July. The leader reported it to the monitoring officer who investigated the matter under the Whistleblowing Policy which is the appropriate channel for the investigation of such an allegation.
“It was deemed that there was absolutely no evidence to support such a claim. If there had been Thanet District Council’s monitoring officer would have reported it to the police.
“The author of the claims was advised in writing in July that if they believed they had evidence they should report the matter to police.
“The monitoring officer was presented with a recording of a conversation between two people in which one is speculating on how he thinks officers might behave in a hypothetical situation.
“This allegation has been made by an individual who has been designated as a persistent, vexatious and unreasonable complainant on the grounds of ongoing pursuit of information based on unsubstantiated, false grounds.”
Mr Coombes, who disputes the vexatious designation and says he has been branded as such due to his persistence to get answers about Ramsgate Port finances and accounts, says he has now made public a tape recording of his meeting with Mr Howes, which includes the audio of the conversation in question. Mr Howes is said to have been aware the meeting was being taped.
He said the allegation was not made by him but simply passed on by him and that he believes there is evidence to support an investigation into ‘unlawful activity.’
He says he believes the council statement is misleading and the “author of the claims” is clearly not him but comes from Seaborne. He adds that comments on the tape such as “pension plan” constitute euphemisms for unlawful activity in the context that they were spoken.
Mr Coombes said: “With all other avenues of resolution now closed, I have reluctantly decided I have a public duty to act and to make the tape of my meeting with Mr Howes available to councillors, the press, the police and the people of Thanet so they can form their own judgement as to how the public interest is best served.”
Mr Coombes has also contacted Kent Police about his concerns .
A Kent Police spokesman said the force was unable to comment on the issue.