AN investigation into an alleged attempt to smear Conservative group leader Cllr Jeff Green shines a spotlight on the sometime murky world of town hall politics in Wirral.

The long-awaited findings of the £17,000 inquiry have been published today and reveal that ex-mayor and former Labour council leader Cllr Steve Foulkes:

Disclosed confidential information he'd gained as a member of the council in order to "advance himself"

Broke the council code of conduct

Brought the council into disrepute

Failed to treat others with respect

Councillor Foulkes has since written a formal apology to Cllr Green.

The 60-page review by independent consultant Patricia Thynne will reopen old wounds for the authority.

Wirral's reputation was shredded in 2011 when another investigation exposed a devastating catalogue of failures and found "practices other authorities would consider abnormal were viewed as commonplace."

The latest scandal centres around a secretly-recorded telephone conversation made in 2013 between Labour deputy leader Cllr George Davies and a group of whistle-blowers, when a request was made for a confidential letter in their possession to be handed over.

News of the clandestine recording reached Cllr Green and he raised it with the ruling Labour group, whose leader Cllr Phil Davies ordered the probe.

An inquiry was launched in 2014 but proved inconclusive.

It was reopened last year when new evidence came to light.

The whistle-blowers refused to take part so Ms Thynne has not heard the recording herself but was informed of its content by two witnesses who told her they had listened to part it.

Ms Thynne said: "If [their] evidence is an accurate reflection of what was said then it would amount to a serious breach, not only of the Code of Conduct, but, potentially, of the criminal law.

"The seriousness of the potential allegation is such that it requires a higher
burden of proof and without the opportunity to hear the actual recording, it is one that is unlikely to be satisfied."

The investigator was told Cllr Davies requested the letter in order to reinforce Cllr Foulke's attempts to prevent whistle-blowers from being used for political ends by councillors.

Councillor Foulkes denied ever using it to "smear" his rival, saying he only wanted it to put the record straight.

The investigation says the letter was then passed by Cllr Foulkes to a local journalist - known only in the report as "Person C" - during a break at a meeting at Wallasey Town Hall.

Ms Thynne said: "It is more likely than not that Cllr Foulkes specifically requested the letter because he was in trouble politically and wanted something which would divert attention onto his opponent.

“He should have been aware his actions were highly inappropriate and potentially damaging to a political opponent and ultimately the council.

"Cllr Foulkes either knew or should have known the letter was likely to cause damage to the reputation of Cllr Green.

"This amounts to an attempt to smear Cllr Green notwithstanding that the journalist appears to have done nothing to publish the contents..the smear attempt therefore failed."

Wirral Globe: Tory group leader Jeff Green

Wirral Council Tory group leader Cllr Jeff Green

What the letter said has not been disclosed but the inquiry found no evidence claims within it were true.

Councillor Davies vehemently denied the letter was part of a smear and is exonerated.

Ms Thynne said: "I found no evidence Cllr Davies was aware of the content of the letter before he requested it nor that he believed the reason for the request to be anything other than that offered by Cllr Foulkes.

"l have therefore found no evidence Cllr Davies has breached the requirements of the code of conduct for councillors."

She goes on to sound a warning for the "most improved council" in England.

"This investigation focuses on a small instance of behaviour by a few people at a time in the life of Wirral Council when such behaviours were commonplace and there was a widespread lack of awareness of the boundaries of appropriate behaviour by both councillors and some officers.

"There are some within the council that believe that it has moved on from that - but there is evidence, of which this investigation is part, that there are remnants of the culture and continuing resentment of the behaviours at that time.

"I sincerely hope that the council is changing.

"But if it is, it has yet to be accompanied by a sufficient degree of openness, honest reflection and changed relationships to make recompense for actions and behaviours of the past.

"It is clear that the council has lost the trust of a section of its community and it needs to take positive action to achieve some form of reconciliation"

Councillor Green said: "I urge every resident of Wirral to take the opportunity to read the investigation report now available on the council’s website.

"I am sure that like me, they will be angry and shocked at the antics of senior Labour councillors throughout this whole saga.

"Their behaviour falls way short of what Wirral residents deserve and expect.

“I welcome the apology I have now received, but it should be noted that I first raised this issue with the leader of the council in December 2013 and the most recent investigation report has been with the council since December 2015.

"I really do wonder why it has taken over two-and-a-half years for a senior member of the Labour group to publically apologise - it appears where the Labour Party are concerned sorry really does seem to be the hardest word.”

The investigation's findings went before the council's own standards panel last month.

They found Cllr Foulkes did request the letter referred to in the report, did meet the reporter "Person C" and also discussed the contents of the letter with him.

The panel ruled Cllr Foulkes "breached the code of conduct in that he failed to treat others with respect and conducted himself in a manner which was contrary to the council's duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members."

Anyone wishing to read the report themselves can find it by clicking here.