A RECENTLY-retired judge is to lead an inquiry into the way a group of Wirral whistleblowers have been treated by the council - and decide whether they should receive compensation.

 Nicholas Warren will carry out the review once the scope and terms of reference of the inquiry has been agreed by council leader Phil Davies.

The move comes after Birkenhead MP Frank Field met with the authority's now-retired chief executive Graham Burgess in November, demanding that a sum of £48,000 in compensation given to an unnamed senior council officer should also be paid to the whistleblowers.

Mr Field said the group are suffering severe hardship and are “on the point of bankruptcy" after raising their concerns over a multi-million pound outsourced highways contract.

He claimed the payment to the anonymous officer, who it is understood had suffered at the hands of town hall bullies, was the least the council do in the circumstances.

His demands led to agreement that Mr Warren should carry out an informal review and that his findings will be binding to both parties.

Mr Field told the Globe: "I am delighted that Nick Warren has agreed to take this review.

"He has one of the finest legal minds in the country and if anyone can get to the bottom of what has gone on - and decide whether the whisteblowers have been fairly treated or not - he can.

"The added advantage of Mr Warren leading the inquiry is that he has no connection with the ongoing case and can approach it with a completely clear and unbiased view.

"His review will get underway as soon as Phil Davies, who is extremely keen for a fair and equitable outcome, signs-off the terms of reference."

Mr Field has been battling to reach a settlement with the authority for several years after a group of former council employees - acting under whistleblowing law - voiced concerns of alleged “irregularities” in a £40m contract with highways maintenance company Colas.

In November, he told the Globe: “Their whistleblowing resulted in an almost clean sweep of senior council officers.

“The debt Wirral owes to those who blew the whistle is considerable.

"And yet they gained no compensation for the damage that has occurred to their careers.

“There were last year carried information that a senior officer of the council was paid a fraction under £50,000 after allegedly being bullied by an even more senior officer.

"Surely the case of the whistleblowers is more deserving than the case of this officer, who is still in post”.

A serious problem for the council is that whistleblowing law guarantees anonymity for those involved in exposing what they believe to be dishonest or illegal activity in an organisation.

Yet this protection was removed when the identity of one of the group was revealed in a committee agenda distributed to all 66 elected members of the authority and uploaded to the council website.

Shortly after the whistleblow, four chief officers were suspended from work while an investigation was carried out by local government watchdog the Audit Commission.

The commission's report, published in October 2012, found EU rules "probably had been broken" by the manner in which the highways contract had been handled.

However, a subsequent inquiry by outside consultant Richard Penn cleared the authority of any wrongdoing and found there was "no case to answer."

The four later left the council under a management restructure either through voluntary severance or early retirement.