Thursday 28 August 2014


"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." - Albert Einstein.

This quote came up on Twitter the other day, shortly after I had received a detailed account of the experiences of several county council employees who had decided to do the right thing and report a case of abuse.

Since starting this blog, I have been contacted by a number of people who have had similar experiences, and although each one is different, their stories have a great deal in common and they have all been through hell.

More often than not what begins as an attempt to flag abuse of vulnerable people in the care of the Council or abuses of process ends up with the whistleblowers themselves being subjected to disciplinary procedures and dismissal.

These cases usually drag on for many months or even years, and the staff involved find themselves caught up in a Kafka-esque nightmare as the bureaucratic machinery is turned against them, senior managers close ranks, people change statements, reports are shelved and not acted on, key information is withheld and rules are turned upside down. Frequently they are subjected to bullying and find themselves ostracized.

Not surprisingly, these experiences are deeply traumatic, and complainants find their reputations trashed, future employment prospects ruined and their lives turned upside down. They are let down by the bodies which are meant to protect them. The Ombudsman is powerless to act, the CSSIW fails them; the unions often act half-heartedly. Appeals to senior management are ignored, and some elected political representatives turn out to be useless.

A common thread in all these cases is that the complainants begin to doubt themselves. "You probably think I am obsessive", they say. "You probably think I am unhinged".

As an outsider it is natural to wonder, especially when you hear that there have been charges of misconduct and disciplinary procedures, whether these are not just embittered former employees who have an axe to grind.

And of course, that is almost certainly what we are all supposed to think. But why, you end up asking yourself, would someone get in touch, identify themselves, provide very detailed accounts of what they have been though, and ask you not to write about their cases?

The Council has whistleblower procedures, and perhaps they are applied correctly sometimes and we never get to hear about it. But that seems to be far from true in the cases I have seen.

Concerns over the treatment of whistleblowers was one of the points I raised in my submission to the current review of governance, but this is a huge and complex subject. I suspect that as often as not councillors never get to hear about the real-life cases.

The horrific events in Rotherham are a timely reminder of what is at stake and why whistleblowers need to be taken seriously and given protection.

I hope that this is something the council's Audit Committee will take up and examine in detail in the months to come.

For those of you wondering whether the series on grants has now come to an end, there is one more thrilling installment to come next week.


Redhead said...

I do so agree with you. As one of those so-called "obsessives" I am sure that, many times, people thought (or still think) that I am unhinged.

Fortunately, some of the things I have been "obsessed" about have made the headlines and been found to be true.

However, people seem still to assume that they are "one offs" and occured due to a unique set of circumstances that could not be repeated once the original misdeeds had been uncovered.

They are no way on the same level as those in Rotherham but show the same symptoms from those that allow such things to happen -arrogance, ignorance and worse.

In fact, it is a systematic abuse of power that allows the people involved to get away with things that would make the general public drop their jaws - if only they could listen instead of dismiss.

Fortunately for me, many other people have now joined my bandwaggon and - with strength in numbers - we are beginning to turn the tide.

In local government it is utterly shocking how little accountability there is and how few sanctions there are for bending, breaking and ignoring the rules (if there are any).

But I cannot tell you (as I am sure Jacquie Thomas knows all too well) the personal toll that it takes on ones health and life.

Whistleblowers should be rewarded not punished but, alas, the system that we try to change is the very one that works against us.

Anonymous said...

Whistleblowers are the very greatest protectors of the public interest. They are not only un-paid, but they risk, and almost always, lose everything, in there desire to end cruelty, suffering, bad practices and see justice done. Those per Einstein's quote "who don't do anything about it (evil)" are guilty themselves. Of contemptable cowardice at best, and at worst, complicity. As with the Rotherham case, one wretched young woman explained that her abuser and controller became more empowered from the knowledge that the authorities knew yet did nothing. Those within the authorities who knew yet did nothing should not be allowed the luxury of resigning. Dismissal is also too lenient. They should be charged as criminals as joint enterprises with the perpetrators themselves.

Anonymous said...

I do so agree with anonymous @09.01
There are many employees who suffer harsh criticism as a result of wrong
decisions made by their superiors.
Many of these are young people who cannot afford to risk their careers to expose abuse of a system.It is said that protection is there but this has been proved not to be the case.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9.01

I agree with you that those in power who do nothing are as guilty as the perpetrators.
I have been contacted by several whistleblowers in the last few years and there is a distinct pattern to the way whistleblowers are treated.
Most of the whistleblowers who have contacted me say they have been referred to as being obsessive and troublemakers and through the bullying and harassment, either end up being driven out of their jobs or have the tables turned on them and are sacked.

The biggest problem I found when I complained was that of culture.
One Senior Manager ruled the roost and his treatment of staff was appalling ( Officer G). Anyone raising any concerns of any kind were quickly silenced.
He only promoted Managers who colluded with him and the situation became very dangerous.
You wouldn't think we were working within a service for the most vulnerable people in society.
Yet the Director of Social Care (soon to be retired) and the Head of Mental Health & Learning Disabilities (very soon to be retired) did nothing. The latter admitted to me that he and the Director looked at each other and nodded when I told them both in a meeting, that this man had become very devious and was using other people to bully for him, whilst offering them protection. All being pensioned off and rewarded for appalling behaviour and letting the vulnerable down. This failure of action on the part of those who have the power constitutes, in my opinion, the beginning of a situation that has developed in Rotherham.

Delyth Jenkins
Compassion In Care Whistleblowing Co-ordinator For Wales

Anonymous said...

If Authorities and organisations are saying that they now support and protect whistleblowers and that they are valued, they need to put their money where their mouths are and start employing whistleblowers in top jobs.

As it stands, how can anyone have confidence in organisations when Senior Managers and those at the top, bully and harass whistleblowers?

Delyth Jenkins

Anonymous said...

Anon 9.01

I hope these people's consciences allow them to sleep at night.

Anonymous said...

Whistleblowers are an essential operational part of business culture in the private sector, particularly where the enterprise is involved in safety critical activities. There are specific provisions in health and safety law regarding nuclear, rail, mining and other hazardous industries which involves a formal process or independent body tasked with investigating. What surprises me, us that such a provision is not made when the protection of children is a stake. The 'culture' in the public sector is to regard whistleblowers as at best a nuisance, and at worst a process to be shunned or repressed. The issue in Rotherham relates to the police. What appears to have escaped mainstream media attention is that the creation of elected police commissioners have directly undermined the effectiveness and scope of the professional standards units, possibly because they cannot make public statements to the media. This doesn't stop chief constables doing a meaningless 'lessons will be learnt' speeches. Children in domestic strife are constantly being detained by police officers for safety, but due to the nature of the victim, prosecutions may not always be possible due to the victim being unable to give credible statements which the CPS consider robust. Legally as soon as detention ends, the victim, by law, has to be handed over to the responsible adult, care institution or social worker, even if this be the source of the original safety concerns. While such detentions provide intelligence, operations to tackle institutionalised or widespread abuse can only be instigated when the level of intelligence is such that the abuse has built up due to ongoing or a multitude of victims. As long as 'well-being of the child is paramount' the role of 'whistleblower' must reside with social services which should have a formal recording and reporting procedure. Trouble is councils don't respond to whistleblowers with 'thanks for bringing this to my attention', but with letters threatening civil legal process to protect their own public reputation. In Rotherham, contrary to media speculation, race played no role in police inaction, but it did within safeguarding units of the local authority, and subsequently elected political 'don't rock the boat' approaches by safeguarding units, councillors and subsequently a PCC. An institutional change of culture is required.