Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council refused to apologise and pay compensation to two allotment holders whose complaints were upheld.
The Ombudsman said: “I am not satisfied with the action taken by Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council since I issued my two reports.”
The Ombudsman understood that the Council took the view that it would be inappropriate to accept her recommendations to compensate the complainants (called ‘Mr C’ and ‘Mr B’ in the reports) because this “…was unlikely to resolve the conflict on the site.”
She responded that her investigations and reports had been into the Council’s discharge of its administrative function, and she had no interest in the disputatious relationships between allotment holders. She was critical of “…the introduction of irrelevant considerations by the officers’ report and allotment holders attending the meetings; the influence that irrelevant considerations clearly had on the Cabinet’s decision; the disrespectful and discourteous comments about my office made in the officers’ report; an apparent misapprehension about the content of one of my reports and of the most basic principles of public law.”
She said that the Council should have addressed its mind to the remedies that she recommended for the maladministration she had found, which was that the Council:
- had locked Mr C out of his allotment without regard to his status and rights under allotment law, which could not be ignored simply because it wished to restore order to the site;
- had formed and expressed in writing a view about Mr B’s involvement in an altercation without giving him an opportunity to respond; and
- had falsely claimed that Mr B had been cautioned by the police;
To remedy the injustice, she recommended that the Council should:
- retract its suggestion that Mr B had been subject to formal police caution and apologise to him for that and the way it handled a complaint against him;
- pay Mr B £1,000 for his time, trouble and costs and for the anguish and distress caused by the allegation of a police caution;
- apologise to Mr C and compensate him with £25 for every week that he was locked out of his allotment and £250 for his time and trouble in bringing his complaint which could have been avoided by an explanation of the tenancy agreement;
- ensure that the facts in any dispute about allotments are determined by an independent person and with advice from the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardens on allotment law; and
- have clear and accessible policies for dealing with complaints about the behaviour of residents and ensure that officers are properly trained in how to investigate those complaints fairly.
She asked that the Council now give proper consideration to her further report.
Ombudsman unsatisfied and file closed: 13 July 2011