Chief of council watchdog expresses frustration over the police investigation into former councillor

The following article by Harvey Gavin in the Sidmouth Herald outlines the extreme frustration felt by everyone that the extraordinary story of the Daily Telegraph sting against former councillor Graham Brown in March 2013 has still not reached a conclusion.

I raised the matter in full Council at the end of July as it is a pall which hangs over the integrity of all councillors and the matter should be brought to a conclusion with all speed, particularly for the man himself.

The story is reproduced below:

Former Councillor Graham Brown

The chief of a council watchdog has voiced his ‘deep frustration’ with the length of time it is taking the police to conclude an investigation into the alleged conduct of a former councillor.

At a meeting last week, East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) overview and scrutiny committee (OSC) heard that ex-councillor and former EDDC deputy leader Graham Brown was the subject of an investigation which has dragged on for 18 months.

OSC chairman Councillor Tim Wood pledged to raise the issue with the region’s police and crime chief, if no progress was made by the time the committee met again in November.

Cllr Wood made the comments in response to a question from Sidmouth resident Robert Crick, who asked when the authority’s Business Task and Finish Forum (TAFF) would reconvene.

The TAFF was set up in December 2012 to look at links between controversial lobby group the East Devon Business Forum, which Mr Brown chaired, and EDDC, but has not met since September last year.

Mr Brown resigned his seat in March last year after comments he made to undercover reporters, apparently claiming he could influence the planning process, were published in a national newspaper.

The former Feniton and Buckerell representative has always denied any wrongdoing and, 18 months after the case was referred to police, Mr Brown has not been charged with any offence.

In answer to Mr Crick’s question at last week’s meeting, Mr Wood said: “I share a number of the frustrations that you have expressed because I believe the difficulty in resolving this matter has raised problems with the reputation of the council and some of its officers and some of its members.

“I find it deeply frustrating that the police are taking so long over this business.

“I have repeatedly sought further legal advice on this matter and I am told very firmly that, while the police investigation continues, it would be wrong to proceed with the TAFF and, in particular, with the situation concerning Mr Brown.

“I think it is deeply embarrassing to all concerned.”

He said he would ‘pursue the issue’ with Tony Hogg, Devon and Cornwall’s Police and Crime Commissioner, when he visited EDDC on November 13.

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