INVESTIGATIONS by a Wirral campaigner have unveiled the staggering costs local councils and government offices have racked up paying for gagging orders to prevent former employees from speaking out.

Paul Cardin's inquiries have shown almost 5,000 council workers and civil servants have been gagged at the taxpayers’ expense at a cost of up to £400,000 each. 

The total cost for silencing public officials is an astonishing £14m.

Research undertaken by Seacombe resident Mr Cardin shows the number of confidentiality agreements signed between council employers and staff increased nearly sixfold from 179 in 2005, to 1,027 in 2010.

Some 256 local authorities have signed more than 4,000 gagging orders.

In all 4,562 compromise agreements, many of which contain confidentiality clauses, have been signed with former staff, Mr Cardin’s survey discovered..

Mr Cardin, 53, a former lighting engineer at both Wirral and Cheshire West & Chester Councils, was himself a whistleblower who signed a compromise agreement.

So stringent was this contract that he was barred from even making Freedom of Information requests.

He told the Globe: "The way I was treated was terrible. In fact, it was because I was so badly treated by these councils that it fuelled my motivation to get to the truth.

"I'm very happy this whole gagging clause issue is now becoming visible to all.

"But to me, the sheer scale of it and the amount of public money involved creates more questions than answers."

Mr Cardin's relentless pursuit of information showed Wirral Council had issued 12 compromise agreements in recent years.

A council spokesman said today: "Confidentially clauses have been a common element in compromise agreements for many organisations. However Wirral Council no longer, and has not for some time, included confidentially clauses in compromise agreements.

"Since the arrival of chief executive Graham Burgess on September 3, 2012, there have not been, nor will be, any further clauses applied."

In 2008, a gagging clause had been used to try to silence whistleblower Martin Morton.

Mr Morton, a social services manager, went to his bosses in August of 2006 with alarming reports some council care services were being run by individuals involved in organised crime.

Four men with baseball bats were reported to have demanded money from one care home manager.

There were also allegations a vulnerable patient had been raped and people with learning disabilities were being routinely overcharged.

He subsequently signed a £45,000 "compromise agreement" after being ignored then bullied out of his job.

Mr Morton, however, refused to be silenced.

He came to the Globe with his allegations in 2008 and ever since, we have helped him tell his story.

The shocking revelations exclusively reported in the Globe led to a sweeping £250,000 inquiry being commissioned by the then leader of the council, Cllr Jeff Green.

Investigating consultant Anna Klonowski's 200-page report concluded Wirral was falling catastrophically short in its standards of corporate governance.

She famously wrote that: "In Wirral practices other authorities would consider abnormal have become commonplace."

Ms Klonowski's report confiirmed many of Mr Morton’s concerns.

A recent document published under FoI rules showed that one of the carers had a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, and the rape allegations were passed to police.

Speaking in a video recorded for the Daily Telegraph newspaper today, Mr Morton said: “These gagging orders have a chilling effect.

"I was terrified about speaking out, I didn’t know what the consequences would be.”

After our stories were published, Wirral Council eventually admitted that it had overcharged 16 adults with learning disabilities more than £500,000 and agreed to repay them.

Two senior managers were suspended in 2008 but later reinstated after an internal disciplinary inquiry.

However, they left the authority last year with pay-offs of what is reported to have been around £100,000 each.

An apology for his "appalling treatment" was sent by the local authority to Mr Morton and he was also offered his job back. He has since said he will not be returning.

The revelations created a chain reaction which saw several of the council's senior officers leaving its employment and a new chief executive taking over the reins.

The way the Klonowski report was handled also saw the departure of the Labour council leader, Cllr Steve Foulkes, who was ousted in a vote of no confidence during a debate at the town hall.

Last month the Government banned gagging orders for all NHS employees after it emerged more than £18m had been spent on gagging 600 staff.

Brighton and Hove City Council was recorded as the most prolific authority, signing 123 agreements with exiting staff, followed closely by Bristol City Council, which signed 121 and Coventry City Council with 114.