A JUDGE has ruled Wirral Council was right to prevent the public from seeing legal emails discussing a probe into a high-profile social services scandal.
The ruling came after the council lodged an appeal against an earlier decision by data watchdog the Information Commissioner, which had found there were insufficient grounds for preventing disclosure.
The judge’s report says the tribunal agrees with the local authority.
It reveals the commissioner’s office has subsequently changed tack from its original ruling and also agrees the data, bar one minor item, should remain under wraps.
The judge wrote: “The Commissioner has changed its stance in relation to a large proportion of the withheld information and has conceded that the council is not obliged to make disclosure.”
The issue centres around written discussions between consultant Anna Klonowski and a firm of lawyers she engaged to ensure the published report of her inquiry - triggered by revelations in the Globe in 2008 by whistleblower Martin Morton - was legally sound.
Mr Morton exposed how the Department for Adult Social Services had secretly introduced a so-called “special charging policy” which, over an eight-year period, deducted around £700,000 in excessive rental payments from the bank accounts of 16 disabled residents living in supported housing in Moreton.
Ms Klonowski was commissioned to conduct a major inquiry into the scandal, and evidently believed correspondence between her and legal experts would remain confidential.
But Wirral freedom of information campaigner Paul Cardin submitted an official request for the exchanges of emails, faxes and letters to be placed in the public domain.
However, after a protracted process over 26 months, the tribunal finally has ruled that to do so would be an “actionable breach of confidence.”
Mr Cardin said he wanted the correspondence to be aired as it was his belief it could shed light on a puzzling, three-year-old mystery.
Back in 2011, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found the “special charging policy” amounted to discrimination against disabled people.
A confidential email by the commission's disability committee chairman Mike Smith was published in the Globe.
It stated: "I do not agree with the conclusions drawn by [Wirral] Council's Director of Law that discrimination did not occur because the residents were not overcharged for reasons relating to disability.
"Current discrimination law clearly establishes that motive and intent are irrelevant to this issue.
"The facts are that disabled people were subject to unlawful levels of charging, whether or not the cause was maladministration.
"It is the opinion of the Commission that these concerns should be included in the inquiry in order to identify whether there are other issues or systemic problems that need to be addressed."
However, Mr Smith’s findings never made it into the Klonowski report.
In fact, her review concluded there was no disability discrimination whatsoever.
Mr Cardin said today: “I’m extremely disappointed with the judge’s ruling.
“I see it as a blow against disabled people everywhere.
“The correspondence I requested could be absolutely crucial to this case.
“Within those exchanges, there is a chance that evidence exists to explain how and why the decision by Mike Smith was left out.
“What makes this even harder to swallow is the fact Mr Smith had not asked Klonowski or anybody else to rule again on whether there’d been any disability discrimination.
“He’d decided there patently had been - and had clearly requested that his findings be fed into the investigation.”