We asked the investigating officer to respond to our concerns over the report. This is her response:-
“I refer to your email sent to Tasnim Shawkat on 19 November in relation to Robert Davis. I believe your article should provide more information, therefore please refer to the following;
Before, however, I respond to each of your points I need to stress that the Council has no power to revisit planning applications and no evidence arose during the investigation to suggest any illegality in any decision.
1. No one who provided the hospitality to Davis was interviewed by the investigating officer or asked what they paid and why;
The fact of the gifts and hospitality were not in dispute and I did not need to interview them for the purposes of my investigation against Robert Davis. In my email of 12 October I explained that I did not interview anyone who had provided entertainment to Mr Davis as I am not able to investigate anyone outside the Council. Developers and agents are not obliged to meet with me or provide me with any information.
2. The report states that the law is that if the hospitality is disclosed then there is no chance of illegality.
The correct reference is “the acceptance of gifts and hospitality is not unlawful provided that gifts and hospitality over £25 is registered. The acceptance of a large number of gifts and hospitality is not either unlawful either. There is no limit set on the numbers of gifts and hospitality.”
The Council’s audit team reviewed the register of Robert Davis’ gifts and hospitality. There was no evidential basis to refer the matter to the police for an investigation under the Bribery Act 2010. A copy of the investigation report by the Internal audit team was published as an appendix to my report.
3. Payments and linked to the Sir Simon Milton Foundation were not investigated
Tasnim Shawkat, in her email of 17 April 2018, advised that she had no powers to investigate donations/payments to the Sir Simon Milton organisation as it is separate from the Council. It is a charity and is governed by the Charity Commission and not the Council. The Council is therefore unable to look into its activities or into contributions made by anyone to the organisation.
I also refer you to paragraph 2.2 of my report which sets out the ambit of my investigation and it was made clear that the focus of my report was whether there had been a breach of the members code of conduct.
4. The report contains no analysis or mention of the Bribery Act 2010 which would be the relevant legislation if one was concerned about unlawfulness and accepting hospitality from people whose planning applications you were deciding upon; and
5. Despite these limitations, there are five cases where hospitality was paid for by the applicant, and permission granted against officers advice by Davis’ committee
I refer you to paragraph 4 of the Investigation report by the Internal Audit team. The Internal Audit team reviewed all planning applications consider by Planning Sub-Committee 1, which Councillor Davis chaired, for the period July 2014 to January 2017 to identify any decisions where the sub-committee made a decision contrary to officer recommendations and cross referenced this with the declared gifts of Councillor Davis.
Of the 333 decisions reviewed , 32 decisions were made to grant planning permission against officer recommendations and six of the applicants/ agents or individuals linked to them are recorded as having provided Councillor Davis with gifts or hospitality. The table on page 32 of my report pack provides a description of the gift/ hospitality Cllr Davis received, namely lunches, attending reception functions, six wine bottles and a book.
I refer to my response to point number 2) where I stated that there was insufficient evidence based on the findings of the investigation to make a referral to the Police under the Bribery Act.
You state the Council is refusing to look at any granted applications for schemes where illegality may have played a part in the grant of permission. It is not that the Council is refusing to do, the Council has no power to do so. Only a court can overturn planning decisions. More importantly there was no evidence during the investigation to suggest there was any illegality in relation to planning decisions.
You were informed by email that the Chief Executive was undertaking a review which would focus on the planning decision making process to ensure its probity and make any recommendations which may be considered appropriate. This is ongoing.
You were also informed by email, and when Tasnim and I met you on 16 April 2018, that the investigation would not look at individual planning applications or decisions. At our meeting you did not provide us with any information to suggest there was any “illegality” in relation to planning decisions.
I also refer you to the summary of my findings at paragraph 7.1 of my report.
Finally, the Council treated the self- referral from Robert Davis seriously and was thoroughly investigated. Investigating a complaint under the Code of Conduct involves public money and officer time. In this case both I, and the Internal Audit team spent a lot of time in considering Robert Davis’ acceptance of gifts and hospitality.”