Ex-Leader Cllr. Clare Coghill’s breach of the LBWF Code of Conduct: Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes adds further fuel to the fire

Leading on from previous posts about Cllr. Coghill and her breach of the LBWF Code of Conduct by not declaring in 2017 that she was on the staff of Barry Sheerman MP, Director of Governance and Law Mark Hynes has just provided some new details, small in themselves but nevertheless significant.

First, he underlines that Cllr. Coghill’s error ‘was down to her and no one else’ (in other words, ruling out that she had been undone by mis-communication with an officer); and, second, he clarifies that when Cllr. Coghill updated her LBWF register of interests [hereafter LBWF register] in 2017, for some unexplained reason, she started with ‘a blank form’, rather than simply amending her existing entry.

So, adding all the known information together, the sequence of events regarding the breach was as follows.

In 2014, Cllr. Coghill joined Barry Sheerman MP’s staff, and this was recorded in the House of Commons Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants [hereafter, HoC Register].

Also in 2014, Cllr. Coghill submitted a LBWF register form which similarly recorded that she was on Barry Sheerman MP’s staff, and added the detail that she was his ‘Office Manager’.

In 2015 and 2016, Cllr. Coghill continued to be listed in the HoC Register as on Barry Sheerman MP’s staff.

On 11 August 2017, Cllr. Coghill was again listed in the HoC Register as on Barry Sheerman MP’s staff.

On, or just before, the same date Cllr. Coghill took a blank LBWF register form; in sections one and two, where she was asked to declare her paid employment, wrote ‘None’ (see screenshot below); and then submitted it for publication on LBWF’s website.

In May 2018, Cllr. Coghill was listed in the HoC Register as on Barry Sheerman MP’s staff.

In July 2018, Cllr. Coghill was no longer listed in the HoC Register as on Barry Sheerman MP’s staff.

It will be recalled, that having conducted his investigation, Mr. Hynes concludes that Cllr. Coghill’s ‘failure’ in 2017 was ‘an administrative oversight’, or as he then glosses it, ‘a genuine oversight on her behalf’.

Perhaps he is right. 

But that said, his reasoning is surprising.

For what he is asking his audience to accept is that a high-profile and experienced councillor, who had correctly declared details of her ongoing outside employment in both registers previously, now chose to respond to sections one and two of the LBWF form by writing in the word ‘None’, an unarguable fiction, this being (to repeat) because of an ‘oversight’, a word that is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘a mistake made because of a failure to notice something’.

Put mildly, that’s certainly a tall order.

And of course, it is made more bemusing (and amusing) by the fact that Mr. Hynes, too, appears to suffer from ‘oversight’-itis, failing to notice that while compiling her 2017 LBWF register form, though Cllr. Coghill accidentally overlooked the extent of her own employment situation, when it came to her husband, as the screenshot shows, her recall was miraculously unimpaired.

However, there is at least one happy outcome.

Because when, in future, LBWF finds an employee or ‘customer’ to have filled in a form, say a job or housing application, without the required degree of disclosure, it will be incumbent on Mr. Hynes and his legal team to accept it as a genuine mistake, not one that breaks any rules.

After all, what’s sauce for the goose is source for the gander.

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