Councillor guilty of email fraud

Coun Robert Bleakley
Coun Robert Bleakley

A LOCAL councillor is to have messages vetted after his peers found him guilty of an email fraud.

Coun Robert Bleakley was condemned in his absence from a standards sub-committee hearing this week following a town hall probe.

The panel heard how the Tyldesley ward representative had deliberately altered an email in an attempt to jeopardise a senior employee’s job.

Coun Bleakley had previously admitted doctoring the email in a discussion with deputy chief executive Paul McKevitt, the hearing was told.

At the eleventh hour, Coun Bleakley, who was accused of altering an email last March, sent an email stating that he did not wish to participate in the hearing.

The panel, which comprised standards committee chairman Coun Charles Rigby and Couns Shirley Dewhurst and Lynne Holland decided there was sufficient information to proceed without him.

It has been alleged that Coun Bleakley altered a council officer’s email about Steve Normington to make it appear that the director of economy favoured Labour over oppositions councillors.

After hearing the evidence, the panel agreed unanimously that Coun Bleakley had breached the council’s protocol on member/officer relations and paragraphs five and six of the members’ Code of Conduct.

As such his emails will now be monitored for a period of 12 months and he will have to attend one to one coaching sessions.

If his behaviour improves then the 12-month email monitoring sanction will be reduced to a minimum of six.

After the hearing Coun Rigby said: “This was a very serious complaint against Coun Bleakley.

“His actions nearly cost the jobs of two innocent employees and we simply will not tolerate it.

“I hope today’s hearing proves that the standards committee take their role very seriously and will continue to do so.”

Coun Bleakley was suspended by the Lib Dems when the probe was launched and he has stated it likely he will stand as an independent in May’s local elections.

He described this week’s hearing as a “kangaroo court,” adding: “The decision was clearly pre-determined even before the investigation began.”

Coun Bleakley has crossed town hall chiefs before.

He was suspended by the Standards Board for three years in 2004 for four breaches of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct and again in 2005 for attempting to bribe a council officer not to give evidence in respect of his first tribunal.

He was suspended for six months in 2010 for intimidating and bullying a member of council staff and had to formally apologise to the council.

He is currently on police bail as officers probe allegations of fraud and misuse of public office.

Leader of Wigan Council Lord Smith said: “Coun Bleakley is an all too familiar name at the standards committee and yet, despite having been disqualified and suspended on previous occasions by the Standards Board for England and subject to police investigation, he continues to cause trouble.

“This particular complaint could have cost two employees their jobs and that is not acceptable.

“It is our job is to protect and defend our employees and that is what we will do.

“I just hope that this hearing makes him think about the possible consequences of his behaviour in future, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”