Council member in fraud probe

Cllr Robert Bleakley
Cllr Robert Bleakley

POLICE are investigating a Wigan councillor over alleged fraud.

Lib Dem Robert Bleakley – a former party election agent of the year – is claimed to have doctored an email from a council officer to “maliciously” undermine director of economy Steve Normington, one of the most senior officers in the authority.

He then allegedly sent it to other councillors ... still claiming it to be an official communication from the (unnamed) council officer.

The move, it is claimed, was part of an on-going battle to prove that opposition groupings at Wigan are not receiving as favourable treatment as the majority Labour Group councillors.

The letter related to rock and road salt allocations to each ward over the winter,

In a confidential email to councillors about the incident, council chief executive Donna Hall reveals that she had now brought in GMP to investigate.

In it she states she is “appalled” by Coun Bleakley’s alleged actions.

The letter reads: “At the last two Opposition Briefings Coun Robert Bleakley has stated he has been sent an email of complaint from a council officer. I am aware that Coun Bleakley may have also shared this email with other members of the council and council staff.

“The email was letting Coun Bleakley know that the council officer had overheard Steve Normington instructing staff not to give information to opposition members.

“Following an investigation, Coun Bleakley admitted last night to me and (deputy chief executive) Paul McKevitt that the email was actually false.

“He has changed a generic email to all members about winter gritting and made up the allegations which he has written into the email himself.

“I am appalled at these actions which we have reported to the police and discussed now with lawyers.

“I just wanted to set the record straight and inform you of the facts regarding this very serious issue in case you have been given misinformation.

“Steve and the other officer whose name was used are receiving my full support.”

In a statement Coun Bleakley told the Post: “I admit that I have been foolish and for that I have apologised unreservedly to the officer involved and hopefully that’s the end of the matter.”

Opposition political allies at the town hall have been quick to speak out on behalf of Coun Bleakley. They point out that Coun Bleakley had been hit particularly hard by the death of his mum earlier in the year.

And had allowed his frustration at how he felt opposition councillors at Wigan are treated to “get the better of him.”

Leader of the opposition Coun Gary Wilkes (Wigan Independent Network) said: “While I can not condone Coun Bleakley’s actions I sympathise and totally understand why he has conducted himself in the manner he has.

“As opposition councillors we are not treated as equals to Labour councillors.”