Support fund set up for Alex Folkes

You might remember Stephen Tall’s article about the way Liberal Democrat Cornwall County Councillor Alex Folkes had been treated by his council’s Chief Executive, who had branded him as a “potential risk” to children and written to youth groups to say so. This unelected official even called on Alex to resign as a councillor and publicly said so. All this action was taken despite there being no actual evidence of wrongdoing.

As Stephen said at the time:

Alex is determined to establish his innocence and clear his name (the latter especially hard in cases like this). He has not only resigned from the cabinet but also voluntarily suspended his party membership and referred himself for investigation under the Lib Dems’ own disciplinary procedures.

Cornwall Council and its chief executive Andrew Kerr have a number of questions to answer.

If Cornwall Council has evidence of any wrongdoing by Alex that should be shared with the police so they can act on it. Has this been done? It appears not, or at least if it has the police don’t regard the evidence as meriting re-opening an investigation, according to a police statement reported in the local paper: ‘”We are not investigating him,” the force spokeswoman said. “It is an internal investigation by the council.”

On what basis, then, is Cornwall Council warning local people of a risk posed by Alex, and on what basis is it demanding his resignation? Why has Alex been given no opportunity either to hear the allegations against him, or been subject to any form of due process investigation so he can defend himself?

Cornwall Council’s press statement suggests they have based their decision publicly to name and shame Alex based on information received from the police — yet if the police have decided not to charge Alex with any crime why has the Council used its powers to pronounce him guilty as not charged?

It’s really quite an astonishing course of action for a Council Chief Executive to take on the basis, it seems, of not much in the way of evidence.

Sadly, a month on, we’re not much further forward, as Alex writes on his blog today:

To those who have asked what is happening at the moment…

In order to prove that the claims made against me are false, I need to gather information held by various agencies including the Met Police and Cornwall Council. Such information has to be sought through a process known as a Data Subject Access Request. This can take up to 40 days. These applications have all been made. In the meantime, I have already been able to show with documentary evidence that some of the statements made by the council are completely false.

Sadly, I think that this matter will take some time to resolve, not only wasting a huge amount of time and causing a lot of stress and anxiety, but also wasting a huge amount of Cornish taxpayers’ money.

A site has now been set up where Alex’s supporters can pledge expert or financial help:

Alex has been overwhelmed by the support he has had from people across the country since being forced to resign from the the Cornwall Council Cabinet on 20 November. However, the case goes on, and Cornwall are still refusing to reconsider their position.

In order to fight these allegations, we are seeking messages of supportfor Alex, a selection of which will be published on this site. Additionally, as Alex considers his legal options, any pledges of financial support or legal expertise that you could make would allow Alex to get the support he needs. If you can help Alex in any way, please complete the form below.

If you say we can do so below, we may publish your name on this website or elsewhere as supporting Alex’s fight by a donation or testimonial.

If you want to  offer support to Alex, you can do so here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Steve Comer 24th Dec '14 - 3:11am

    Good to hear a support fund has been set up. I hope this will be heavily publicised by ALDC and the LGA Lib Dem Group.
    All Lib Dem Councillors and activists should be concerned about this, and prepared to help fund the legal costs.

  • Whilst I believe Alex deserves all the support he can get I cannot escape the impression there is some hypocrisy here. Innocent until proven guilty was not felt to be applicable to Lord Rennard…..

  • Tsar Nicolas 26th Dec '14 - 10:09am

    I wasn’t aware that the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ did not apply if allegations were being investigated for the first time. That sounds very much like you have to be proved innocent the first time, then you can be considered innocent on the second occasion!

    Having said that, I initially read about Alex on the BBC website on the day the Cornwall CEO made his announcement, and it didn’t seem right – there was definitely something wrong about it.

    I was glad then when Mark Pack linked to Alex’s website with his explanation for what had happened.

    I think that what has arisen shows how many CEOs of local authorities around the country have been abusing their positions free from restraint by elected members, thanks largely to the current Councillors’ Code of Conduct (which restricts councillors in any fightback) and the complete absence of any Code of Conduct of senior officers.

    The playing field between elected members and non-elected officers is completely unequal and it is a pity that we did not try to level this out long ago.

    Thanks, Caron, for posting.

  • @George Potter
    Actually there are more similarities then you care to admit.

    Both had the issue investigated by the Police, and in both cases it was decided not to proceed. (the Police do not declare you are innocent)

    Had either been employees they would have won hands down at an employment tribunal for abuse of process.

    Both were denied access to the evidence and findings in full. Alex has not seen the evidence against him, Rennard was not allowed to see the report that cleared him yet led to the request for an apology (which in turn led to further proceedings).

    In short innocent until proven guilty is a principle that should apply always. Accepted there are times where the justice system, or an organisation needs to apply sanctions during an investigation. But these should be limited to where further harm could occur and be confirmed by an independent reading of the evidence (a remand hearing for example..)

  • Tony Dawson 26th Dec '14 - 2:38pm

    I am a Local Authority Councillor and have also been a professional caseworker for thirty years or so in the health & social services field. The abuse cases which I carry are fairly few but take a disproportionate amount of my time.

    I fear that the comments on this thread and others have largely come from standpoints of well-meaning naivety as to what the procedures are within Local Authorities concerning ‘risks’ to children and vulnerable adults.

    Local Authorities consider it their legal duty to make assessments of potential risks to children in particular at a level which is VERY far below the criminal proof-burden point of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’: indeed, these may well be acted upon even below the civil’tipping point’ of ‘balance of probabilities. Those directly-affected by such assessments (and promulgation of such assessments to those who the Local Authority (or Health Authority of Police or a whole range of other agencies) feel have a need to know are usually family members, friends or neighbours of particular children.

    Such risk assessments are, by their very nature, bound to be wrong in a significant percentage of cases. If I believe, correctly, that there is a one in three chance that you are a child abuser then any statistician will tell you that in any significant sample, two out of three people so-labeled by me will be innocent. In many cases, although causing real distress to those involved, both innocent and guilty, the number of people informed of this ‘risk’ is fairly small and the information does not reach a wider public domain.

    You cannot get away from the fact that it is perfectly likely that a number of Local Authority councillors will be assessed, from available information, as being a potential risk to vulnerable children despite being free of convictions or even charges. What is far from clear to me is how many opportunities there are that a Local Authority councilor will be placed in any situation, by virtue merely of being in that office, which will make him/her likely to increase the risk to any vulnerable child in the area. Certainly, there could easily be a confidential and voluntary self-limiting protocol agreed with any councillor in such a situation. Councillors do not normally have ‘hands on’ responsibilities in any care situations and are not likely to be left alone with children in situations arising purely as a result of their holding office. So, setting aside any criticism which we might potentially have of Cornwall CC’s risk assessment of Cllr Folkes (and, let’s face it, we are pretty much in the dark here) there remains a serious question of the appropriateness of the actions of the Local Authority in such circumstances where they have determined there to be a risk, Who REALLY needed to know of the Council’s assessment and why did they need to know? It seems to me that Cornwall CC and its Chief Executive in particular have decided that no one who could not whizz through a test more stringent than a CRB check should be allowed to be elected as or remain as a councillor – and got piqued when Alex Folkes refused to accept this decision. How can they (or the Leader of the Council) justify taking such a public position? What right did they have to spread it to hundreds of thousands of people who had no obvious need to know?

  • @Tony Dawson
    You make some very valid points. However the biggest issue to me is that Alex does not know what information has led to the decisions made relating to him, nor will the council share it with him. Fancy expecting someone to defend themselves without actually seeing the evidence…… Which brings me nicely back to hypocrisy, secret courts anyone?

  • Steve Comer 27th Dec '14 - 8:16am

    Tony: you said “If I believe, correctly, that there is a one in three chance that you are a child abuser”
    It sounds like you are unclear about the source, so what is the evidence? Its about like the common assumption that “1 in 10 men are gay.” That comes from a misreading of the Kinsey Report from 60+ years ago.

    We allow want to protect children, but we also have to be careful we don’t fan the flames of hysteria. Already we have a problem in some areas with fewer volunteers coming forward to run scout groups, football clubs. Many fear one false allegation, if believed, and as Tony suggests not subject to a sound burden of proof, could destroy their families and careers. It comes back to Stephen’s original question: “On what basis, then, is Cornwall Council warning local people of a risk….”

  • This is totally different to Lord Rennard – we trusted the women making those allegations and Alex. As of yet, no evidence has been presented against Alex, anecdotal or otherwise.

  • @ChrisB
    That’s OK then as long as you trust someone you can abandon the presumption of innocence. When it suits principles….

  • @Steve Way,

    You’ve conflated court judgements and reality whilst inferring four senior Lib Dem members were lying, all in under 20 words! Impressive. I presumed innocence in that case until the evidence I heard convinced me otherwise; the case with Alex is the same. I understand that it didn’t meet the burden of proof required by law, but that is unimportant morally – I trust those women and what they’ve said, even though they had no direct evidence. If I assaulted you and 3 others, would you be OK with it as long as you couldn’t prove it happened?

    To be clear Steve, and in stark contrast, nobody has made any allegations against Alex. As far as I understand it he’s a victim of a local bullying campaign against him, unless you have testimony to the contrary. If you do, I’ll evaluate these things and decide if I think you’re trustworthy enough to be believed! If there were 4 of you saying this, I might think again; do you really only make value-judgements from legal rulings?! Just because trust is currently an undervalued democratic currency it doesn’t mean that we don’t make value-judgements with it constantly.

  • @ChrisB
    Please show me where I have inferred four senior Liberal Democrats have lied. I have not seen any evidence merely the outcome of a police and internal investigation. Thankfully the law is not about individual opinions but the outcome of a process.

    Would I be happy if you assaulted me – absolutely not, but accusers do not make the decisions in our justice system. Would a third party be able to convict without evidence – again absolutely not. The principle of presumed innocence means we should accept that the guilty may go free.

    Whether you agree with someone or not should not remove this presumption from them, which was what many wanted to do by calling for Rennard to be expelled. I have no idea whether he was guilty or innocent but both the police and the internal investigation decided there was not a case to answer therefore he must be presumed innocent. The similarity I see is that even when asked to apologise it was on the basis of a report he had not seen, for something he denied which had not been properly tested in a fair and transparent hearing.

    Also, to be pedantic evidence has been presented against Alex, it’s just he hasn’t seen it and is having to use the DPA ’98 to gain access to it. Which is why I believe Alex deserves support and has been treated terribly and deserves support. I just find it hypocritical when some Lib Dems have when it suits principles. This is a party whose elected representatives roundly backed secret courts where others could lose a case based upon evidence they have not seen.

    I’m just consistent that I do not believe action should be taken against someone until such time as there has been a hearing and they have been found at fault.

  • >Please show me where I have inferred four senior Liberal Democrats have lied.

    Here : “That’s OK then as long as you trust someone you can abandon the presumption of innocence.”

    It’s true, as long as you trust somebody that can certainly supercede a legal judgement. It doesn’t mean you can abandon the presumption of innocence in court, it means you can have justified beliefs that suggests someone isn’t innocent and make judgements on that evidence. The standard to which that principle is held to is entirely dependent upon who is hearing the case; judges are humans that make value-judgements based on evidence they’ve heard. So, if the women weren’t lying and there’s no guilty party, can you explain your view of the allegations?

    >to be pedantic evidence has been presented against Alex

    Prove it; there has been NO evidence presented so far and AFAIK you’re the first person to make this claim. These cases aren’t in any way similar, because in one of them 4 trusted members of the party made claims against another member, whereas in this case no individual at all has made any claims about Alex that we know of. A letter making an unsubstantiated claim isn’t evidence of anything, in anyones world, legal or otherwise.

    In the other case there were 4 testimonies submitted, all of which were one persons word against another and the legal advice given by Alistair Webster QC was that there was “less than 50% chance that a charge against X could be proved to the requisite standard”. Not taking a case to court because it was determined the odds of conviction were less than 50% is very different to a case where no evidence has been shown so far and looks more like a bullying campaign. If that case was heard in an employment tribunal the burden of proof would of been different and many people felt that the odds were far better than 50%, but the party had no process for this.

  • @ChrisB
    Firstly, I did not call into question the veracity of anyones evidence, I merely pointed out that the presumption of innocence should never depend upon what you know of the accuser. Anyone in a position to say they knew and trusted the accusers would be precluded from any fair and transparent process because they would be too biased. Whatever the truth, Rennard remains innocent in the eyes of the law as the police decided not to pursue the matter and the Lib Dems whose internal process found innsufficient evidence to proceed.

    Secondly, Alex himself has stated that evidence has been presented and that he has not had sight of it. This should not be news to anyone who has followed the case. The Council have claimed the evidence was provided by the Police and he is now going through DPA ’98 subject access request process to get a copy. From his own blog entries you will see it is not a letter making an unsubstantiated claim, rather a case of (what appears to me and most observers) credit card fraud where his card was used to access illegal material. What Alex has not seen is the specifics…

    You seem to missing the fact that I support Alex….

  • >Alex himself has stated that evidence has been presented and that he has not had sight of it.

    Show me where Alex states “that evidence has been presented”, my understanding was he said “they have not offered any evidence to support their outrageous claims”. You’ve seemingly misquoted in order to substantiate your claim that there is evidence against him. By the “letter making an unsubstantiated claim”, I was referring to the document posted on the Cornwall Council website on the 21st Nov, also sent to local youth clubs and schools which kicked this story off and is currently the only source of information from the council. We have no idea if the process that document claims happened did, so there’s no way of knowing if there is any real evidence behind those claims (see Tony Dawsons post above). Yet you keep referring to this evidence as though you know it exists. Alex has been gathering evidence regarding the council procedures and subsequent police interactions, but obviously this evidence is not the same as the alleged evidence against him (which is referred to in the aforementioned letter). We also have no reason to think the card fraud investigation has anything to do with the current situation past it being the reason for the CRB flag in the first instance, what we don’t know is what the council received on October 16th that they say triggered the issuing of the letter and suspension.

    If you support Alex, you should really stop trying to tie him to Rennard. They’re two completely different cases, you’ve posted unfounded claims repeatedly and can’t stop referring existentially to evidence against him.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 29th Dec '14 - 3:58pm

    I think this conversation about the Rennard case has gone on long enough. It’s not what this post is about. You have both had the chance to state your cases and you are starting to go round in circles. Can you stop talking about it in this thread, please.

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