Send us news by text, start your message Globe News and your send photos and videos to 80360
SHOCK REPORT: Stress of speaking out pushed whistle-blower to consider suicide
THE stress suffered by a whistle-blower at Wirral Council led to him and his wife considering suicide.
The shocking revelation is made in a Freedom of Information request by Martin Morton, whose disclosures in the Globe in 2008 sparked a major inquiry that rocked the town hall.
Now for the first time he has revealed the full extent of the personal strain that was to follow his efforts to expose wrong-doing in the Department for Adult Social Services.
In his request for information, Mr Morton writes that on July 2, 2007, he attended a grievance appeal accompanied by his wife at Wallasey Town Hall.
He says this was ten months after he had submitted his allegations - under the local authority's official whistle-blowing policy – concerning the abuse of vulnerable people in council care.
But rather than his complaints being taken seriously, he experienced “bullying and harassment and abuse of power”, his FOI claims.
Mr Morton, a former manager at the Department of Adult Social Services, alleges he was interrupted during his opening statement to the appeal committee and threatened with legal action for defamation.
Mr Morton's FOI - published today on a website - continues: "After months of prolonged psychological abuse and years of working within a toxic and dysfunctional department, it was this despicable act more than anything that lead to my wife and I to want to take our own lives on the night of July 2, 2007."
Mr Morton goes on to acknowledge that, during an official inquiry into allegations of town hall bullying, the council denied that any such threat had been made.
The inquiry’s conclusions agreed. Mr Morton was said to have misinterpreted a reference to "taking independent legal advice".
In a statement issued to the Globe today, acting chief executive David Armstrong said: “The council has acknowledged that the issues raised by Martin Morton were badly handled and this has led to significant changes.
“The whistle-blowing procedure is now much more robust and has been well-publicised to ensure that staff understand their rights to highlight concerns and managers are fully aware of their responsibilities in dealing with such issues.
“The improved whistle-blowing policy now includes measures to report concerns in a way that guarantees protection in cases where whistle-blowers feel they may be vulnerable.
In addition, a new grievance policy will be going to the employment and appointments committee in September for consideration and approval. This policy has also been strengthened.
“In order to become a better council, it is vital that employees who have concerns about services, cultures or wrong doing, can draw them to the attention of senior managers without fear of repercussions.
“The changes that have been made to these procedures aim to ensure that this happens.”
Mr Morton approached the Wirral Globe in November of 2008 to tell how he had been pushed out of his job with DASS and paid £40,000 to keep quiet.
He came to us because of his serious concerns that the poor treatment of vulnerable adults – and the fact he was repeatedly ignored when raising them with his superiors – were being swept under the carpet.
Mr Morton exposed a "special charging policy" that saw disabled adults in the care of the local authority paying more for their accommodation than they should.
This “special” policy was at first refuted by the council but after a series of articles in the Globe it was forced to concede Mr Morton was correct.
A full apology was issued to the 15 vulnerable adults and their carers and agreement was reached to reimburse the over-payments, some £250,000 between them.
Two senior DASS managers were suspended following our stories.
They were later reinstated and fully exonerated of any wrong-doing.
In January of this year they both left the employment of the council “by mutual consent” and under so-called compromise agreements.
Mr Morton’s allegations eventually led to a major investigation by independent consultant Anna Klonowski.
Her 250-page report took six months to prepare and cost Wirral taxpayers £250,000.
The Labour leader of the council at the time was Cllr Steve Foulkes, who said when the report was published in January: “To our shame and Martin Morton’s credit these issues were highlighted and should have been dealt with better.
"We now have to find how as an organisation we can better deal with whistle-blowing and complaints.
“We apologise to Martin Morton, as we have done in the past, and also to those vulnerable people and their families for letting them down.”
The chief executive at the time, Jim Wilkie, said Ms Klonowski’s findings represented the most serious challenge the local authority had faced.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT...
Martin Morton was offered his job back following the inquiry report but he has refused to return and is now unemployed.
Councillor Foulkes was ousted as leader of the council in February in a vote of no confidence.
He has since been replaced by his former deputy Cllr Phil Davies.
After a lengthy period of sick leave, chief executive Jim Wilkie left the council in July under early voluntary retirement.
He was replaced in an interim chief executive capacity by Ian Coleman.
Mr Coleman has been suspended and replaced also in an interim posting by David Armstrong.
Mr Armstrong will be replaced by Graham Burgess, who will take up the chief executive position in September.