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Council boss: Why I sanctioned investigation into Tory councillor emails

PUBLISHED: 06:30 14 November 2018 | UPDATED: 11:28 14 November 2018

Dr Wendy Thomson, who is leaving as managing director of Norfolk County Council at Christmas, sanctioned the email investigation. Photo: Archant

Dr Wendy Thomson, who is leaving as managing director of Norfolk County Council at Christmas, sanctioned the email investigation. Photo: Archant

A council chief has sought to justify a controversial investigation into Conservative councillors’ emails.

The investigation involved the interrogation of data servers at County Hall Photo: ArchantThe investigation involved the interrogation of data servers at County Hall Photo: Archant

Managing director of Norfolk County Council, Dr Wendy Thomson, gave the go-ahead in April for email data of Conservative members to be looked at to find a leak.

It sparked criticism from opposition parties when reported last week.

The council has so far failed to provide the legal justification for looking at politicians’ email data.

A contractor, who used to work for the council’s IT department, said the only way to view the emails would be to change permissions on their mailbox.

Conservative councillor Stuart Dark was tasked with carrying out the investigation into fellow councillors' emails Photo: Norfolk ConservativesConservative councillor Stuart Dark was tasked with carrying out the investigation into fellow councillors' emails Photo: Norfolk Conservatives

Another alternative, without looking at the content of the emails, he said, would be to run a report showing the emails the person had sent. “It would be a big job,” he added.

Leader of the Labour group at County Hall Steve Morphew questioned Dr Thomson about why she gave the go-ahead and help with the Conservative Party’s investigation.

In an email to him last week, she said: “Officers are often asked for assistance by members and when that assistance can help members to discharge their democratic functions, we aim to provide it.”

She said the Conservative group voted unanimously in favour of the probe and said content of emails was not looked at.

Steve Morphew, Labour Group leader at Norfolk County Council. Photo: Labour PartySteve Morphew, Labour Group leader at Norfolk County Council. Photo: Labour Party

She said she was satisfied a “limited examination” could be carried out on advice from the council’s data protection officer and leading lawyer.

But Mr Morphew said his party would push for changes.

“It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and it will inform how we look at our own emails in the future,” he said.

“Councillor emails should never be compromised unless there is a Code of Conduct complaint or police investigation. Clearly neither was the case here.”

Meanwhile, former UKIP councillors at County Hall said they stopped using council emails in 2013 for any sensitive party matters because they feared they were not secure.

Denis Crawford, former leader of the group, said: “We were not feeling totally secure using council phones and emails.”

Another ex- UKIP councillor added: “To be frank, we didn’t trust the security of the council email system.” The council declined to comment.

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