A community group chairman says complaints have been lodged with Kent Police, the Parliamentary Investigatory Powers Commissioners Office and Thanet council over the authority’s legal and monitoring officer in a row about intercepted emails.
Tim Howes, who is one of four officers in Thanet council’s top team, oversaw the action put in place for emails sent from Ramsgate Action Group chairman Steve Coombes to councillors and TDC staff. This was after Mr Coombes was designated by the authority as “a persistent, vexatious and unreasonable complainant on the grounds of ongoing pursuit of information based on unsubstantiated, false grounds,” at the end of 2018.
Mr Coombes disputed the vexatious designation, saying he had been branded as such due to his persistence to get answers about Ramsgate Port finances and accounts
Emails from an individual’s email address were directed to an officer as a single point of contact. That officer checked the contents of the email. Where the email was deemed not contrary to Thanet council’s vexatious and persistent complaints policy, it was then re-directed to its intended recipient.
However, once this status expired Mr Coombes says the redirection of emails was not lifted and it is not clear whether the designation was extended, although Mr Coombes says he received no notification of that.
Mr Coombes has complained to authorities, saying the action involved breaches of GDPR and the Data Protection Act and could constitute offences under the Regulatory Powers Act 2016.
Mr Coombes says in an apology sent on Monday (September 3) Mr Howes said the email ‘redirection’ was not removed “due to an oversight.”
In response a furious Mr Coombes has demanded Mr Howes’ immediate suspension from office while a full and independent inquiry is carried out.
He said: “This is a wholly inadequate response. Mr Howes’ explanation that this was an “oversight” does not bear much scrutiny.”
‘Robust and lawful’
A Thanet council spokesperson said all actions taken in the process were ‘robust and lawful.’
They added: “It would be inappropriate to comment on individuals who have been designated as persistent, vexatious and unreasonable complainants. However, the council can confirm that there are currently no such designations in place.
“The council is satisfied that the designation process provides a robust and lawful way to deal with persistent, vexatious and unreasonable complainants, and has received no complaints from any regulatory bodies about its use or operation.”
Take it higher then Steve
TDC’s definition of persistent and vexatious is someone who won’t be fobbed off and continues to ask difficult and inconvenient questions! Rather than actually answer those questions Steve was shut down. This is blatantly unacceptable and I believe I’m right in saying that interception of mails had not been limited to Steve.
Not so. To quote from TDC’s Complaints Policy:
“8.1 On the rare occasion when a customer makes a complaint in an unreasonable way: repeatedly, obsessively or aggressively for example this will be dealt with under the Council’s Vexatious or Unreasonably Persistent Complaints Policy.
8.2 The term ‘persistent and unreasonable complainant’ broadly applies to those customers who are aggressive or have demonstrated abusive behaviour, as well as those who make unreasonable demands or become unreasonable persistent. In such cases we may take action to limit the contact the complainant has with us.”
The complainant has the option, if he so desires, to take his case to the Local Government Ombudsman, if he thinks he’s been unfairly dealt with.
What did the Ombudsman say about Mr Coombes’ case?