• Police confirm they are still investigating former East Devon councillor Graham Brown

    12th March 2014 | News | Claire
  • Police have confirmed that officers are still investigating whether an East Devon district councillor may have committed a criminal offence, a year after bragging he could secure planning permission for a fee.

    In March last year, former Feniton and Buckerell councillor Graham Brown resigned his seat after he was caught on camera boasting that he could secure planning permission as part of his professional work as a planning consultant.

    It is not illegal for councillors to work as paid consultants.

    East Devon District Council referred Mr Brown’s comments to the police, under the Bribery Act 2010, and the council’s own policy on fraud, theft and anti-corruption.

    Members of the East Devon Alliance campaign group subsequently expressed concerns at the “confusing and conflicting” information issued by Devon and Cornwall Police about the investigation.

    A spokesperson for the police authority initially confirmed the matter had been referred to them by the council.

    However, it was subsequently confirmed that the council was advised to report the matter to Action Fraud, the country’s national fraud reporting centre, which then refers cases to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, run by the police.

    Two months later, police authority spokesmen maintained that a police investigation had still not been launched because nothing had yet been reported back by the bureau to the authority on whether there was a case.

    Then last May a police spokesperson confirmed the force had started to investigate the matter, and was “looking into the circumstances to ascertain whether any offences have been committed”.

    However, no confirmation was given as to when the bureau made the referral or when the decision was made to investigate.

    Neither were details given on any inquiries already conducted by officers, how many officers were assigned to the case, or what the next stage was.

    Police have remained tight-lipped on what their investigation has involved.

    The council decided not to launch its own investigation until police enquiries conclude.

    But although understanding that sensitive details cannot be made public, the Alliance has long called for more transparency over the investigation and is concerned that while it remains shrouded in mystery public confidence is at risk.

    The group has previously criticised the length of time the investigation is taking and raised concerns that documentation may have been destroyed while police decided whether to investigate the matter.

    Ian McKintosh, group chairman, added: “We’re very disappointed that having taken so long to get going in the beginning we’re still not being given any basic information about what’s happening.

    “We understand that officers working on the case have been changing and we don’t know if anyone has been interviewed.

    “This doesn’t instil confidence in the process. How can we know if it’s being taken seriously or not?”

    A police spokesperson confirmed that their enquiries were continuing. “Officers are reviewing the case and assessing any further course of action. The matter is still under investigation and a conclusion will be reported at an appropriate time.”

    Mr Brown also resigned as the chairman of the East Devon Business Forum.

    The forum was set up to “improve communication” between businesses and the district council. It received about £5,200 of financial support a year from the council which was subsequently withdrawn.

    The forum proved controversial with critics branding it as a “a lobby for developers” and a task and finish forum was set up to look into the workings of the group and its relationship with the council.

    Following concerns about whether there was a conflict of interest between Mr Brown’s role on the council and his professional work as a planning consultant, an audit was carried out by the South West Audit Partnership (SWAP) into East Devon District Council’s governance procedures.

    The audit was requested by councillors on the Audit and Governance Committee and was satisfied at the council’s procedures.

    However campaigners branded it as being “too simplistic”.