Officials working for Bury Council delayed investigating paedophilia allegations against a Labour politician in order to improve the party’s election prospects, according to inquiry reports seen by local media.Tottington councillor Simon Carter had previously been employed by Oldham Council but was sacked after he was seen looking at sexual images of “pre-teens” on his computer.
Bury Council did not know this at the time of his election, but now-former chief executive Mike Owen was tipped off by an Oldham Council officer who thought the local authority should be aware of Carter’s situation.
The Manchester Evening News, which claims to have seen the findings of two internal investigations into the matter, reports that Owen sat on the information, failing to inform Children’s Services or the governors of the school boards Carter was involved with – which included a Tory councillor.
The only person Owen informed of the allegations was Labour council leader Mike Connolly, described as a “close personal friend” of Carter’s. The politician is said to have described this as a “heads up”.
Children’s Services director Mark Carriline was not made aware of the allegations until eight days later – when the same Oldham Council officer who had contacted Owen rang him.
Carriline and Owen then held a private meeting, deciding that a safeguarding investigation would have to be held but delaying it for another week and breaking a number of strict procedural rules.
For example, they did not provide the liaison officer legally charged with advising those connected with Carter, including schools, with relevant information about the investigation’s progress – despite repeated requests – for weeks, by which time the councillor had been arrested on suspicion of downloading indecent images of children following a police raid.
“I am left with the conclusion that appropriate procedures put in place to handle allegations were sidestepped because of the overwhelming ambition to keep this information under wraps,” concluded childcare expert Malcolm Newsam, who authored one of the two investigation reports.
“It has been put to me that given the impending elections, that the driving motive was to ensure that the concerns in respect of Councillor [Carter] were not known to political opponents.
“Given that there was an opposition elected member on the governing body it is difficult not to come to the same conclusion.”
Carter was ultimately convicted of downloading dozens of indecent images, including the most extreme Category A type, but only received a three-year community order from Judge Timothy Stead, who noted that “The letters of testimony written on your behalf are impressive” in sentencing.
These included a glowing reference from aforementioned Labour council leader Mike Connolly, who wrote that he had “known Simon Carter both as a friend and colleague for over 12 years,” and that, in his estimation, the crimes were “totally out of character”.
Both Owen and Carriline have resigned from their posts, and Councillor Connolly has submitted himself to a Standards investigation.