David White at the standards committee hearing at County Hall.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Secret recording of former county council leader Derrick Murphy by chief executive is defended

Friday, February 8, 2013
2.00 PM

The conduct of Norfolk County Council’s chief executive in secretly recording his former council leader has been defended - by the leader of another Conservative council.

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said County Hall top officer David White had “laid down his career” to try to do what was right.

The revelation that Mr White had taped a phone conversation with former leader Derrick Murphy without his knowledge came out at a standards hearing into Mr Murphy.

That hearing was triggered after seven members of the public complained about Mr Murphy’s behaviour in relation to an email sent in April last year.

That email was sent by Kevin Vaughan, the political assistant to the Conservative group at County Hall, to BBC Radio Norfolk, in April last year.

It was sent two days before Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, was due to appear on Nick Conrad’s show to discuss the King’s Lynn incinerator, which has long been a source of tension between West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.

It suggested it might “be pertinent information” for the broadcaster to know that the borough council leader was facing “a serious leadership challenge” and that his authority had failed to procure alternative technology to the plant.

When the email came to light it sparked an independent investigation at County Hall, which concluded in the summer Mr Vaughan had acted on the wishes of leader Mr Murphy. Mr Vaughan later left the council, with a pay-off.

Following the independent report, seven people complained about Mr Murphy’s behaviour and the county council asked Jenni Richards, QC, an expert in local government, to investigate.

She concluded Mr Murphy should face the standards hearing, with her investigation finding he had asked Mr Vaughan to lie about who asked him to send the email and, in conversations with the council’s chief executive about the issue, Mr Murphy “gave answers that were misleading, evasive and lacked candour”.

Mr Murphy had stood down as leader to focus on the hearing. The committee cleared him of six of the seven complaints, including those which related to the conversations with Mr White.

Mr White had told the hearing he had recorded a conversation on April 27 last year and had part of it transcribed because he had feared further down the line it could be his word against Mr Murphy’s. He said Mr Murphy often spoke “in riddles”.

Mr White had told the hearing: “While others might judge that not to be in my own personal interests, I felt the interests of the authority must come first.”

Mr White said he had sought legal advice before making the recording, but, when asked at the hearing whether he would share what that advice was, he said: “It is something that I have no longer retained.”

And Mr Fuller gave his backing to Mr White, who will be taking voluntary redundancy in April after deciding he did not have the commercial skills to head up the authority as it seeks to become more commercially minded.

Mr Fuller said: “The chief executive did his statutory duty, even at the expense of his own career and salary and benefits.

“That should be recognised as one of the most honourable and selfless acts by any civil servant in recent times. David laid down his career for the benefit of Norfolk.”

Acting leader Bill Borrett has already said Mr White will not face any internal disciplinary action.

Mr Murphy was found to have breached the code of conduct by asking Mr Vaughan to claim it was twin-hatted councillors, who represent the county council and West Norfolk Council, rather than Mr Murphy, who had asked him to send the email.

He has since quit as chairman and leader of the Conservative group and he and his wife Janet have pulled out of county council elections in May.

Mr Murphy has said the hearing raised a number of “very important issues” which he is “honour bound to pursue against Norfolk County Council.”

The conduct of Norfolk County Council’s chief executive in secretly recording his former council leader has been defended - by the leader of another Conservative council.

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said County Hall top officer David White had “laid down his career” to try to do what was right.

The revelation that Mr White had taped a phone conversation with former leader Derrick Murphy without his knowledge came out at a standards hearing into Mr Murphy.

That hearing was triggered after seven members of the public complained about Mr Murphy’s behaviour in relation to an email sent in April last year.

That email was sent by Kevin Vaughan, the political assistant to the Conservative group at County Hall, to BBC Radio Norfolk, in April last year.

It was sent two days before Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, was due to appear on Nick Conrad’s show to discuss the King’s Lynn incinerator, which has long been a source of tension between West Norfolk and Norfolk County Council.

It suggested it might “be pertinent information” for the broadcaster to know that the borough council leader was facing “a serious leadership challenge” and that his authority had failed to procure alternative technology to the plant.

When the email came to light it sparked an independent investigation at County Hall, which concluded in the summer Mr Vaughan had acted on the wishes of leader Mr Murphy. Mr Vaughan later left the council, with a pay-off.

Following the independent report, seven people complained about Mr Murphy’s behaviour and the county council asked Jenni Richards, QC, an expert in local government, to investigate.

She concluded Mr Murphy should face the standards hearing, with her investigation finding he had asked Mr Vaughan to lie about who asked him to send the email and, in conversations with the council’s chief executive about the issue, Mr Murphy “gave answers that were misleading, evasive and lacked candour”.

Mr Murphy had stood down as leader to focus on the hearing. The committee cleared him of six of the seven complaints, including those which related to the conversations with Mr White.

Mr White had told the hearing he had recorded a conversation on April 27 last year and had part of it transcribed because he had feared further down the line it could be his word against Mr Murphy’s. He said Mr Murphy often spoke “in riddles”.

Mr White had told the hearing: “While others might judge that not to be in my own personal interests, I felt the interests of the authority must come first.”

Mr White said he had sought legal advice before making the recording, but, when asked at the hearing whether he would share what that advice was, he said: “It is something that I have no longer retained.”

And Mr Fuller gave his backing to Mr White, who will be taking voluntary redundancy in April after deciding he did not have the commercial skills to head up the authority as it seeks to become more commercially minded.

Mr Fuller said: “The chief executive did his statutory duty, even at the expense of his own career and salary and benefits.

“That should be recognised as one of the most honourable and selfless acts by any civil servant in recent times. David laid down his career for the benefit of Norfolk.”

Acting leader Bill Borrett has already said Mr White will not face any internal disciplinary action.

Mr Murphy was found to have breached the code of conduct by asking Mr Vaughan to claim it was twin-hatted councillors, who represent the county council and West Norfolk Council, rather than Mr Murphy, who had asked him to send the email.

He has since quit as chairman and leader of the Conservative group and he and his wife Janet have pulled out of county council elections in May.

Mr Murphy has said the hearing raised a number of “very important issues” which he is “honour bound to pursue against Norfolk County Council.”

• Do you have a council story? Call reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk