Archive for July 17th, 2010

Isabella Freeman is the £121,052 a year chief legal officer at Tower Hamlets council. Her job is to protect the council’s backside.

So it would be extremely illuminating if she could spare a few minutes from one of her manic days next week to explain her statement concerning a former fellow officer who was caught with his pants down moonlighting for extra money at another organisation.

I refer of course to Lutfur Ali, he of Private Eye infamy and not much else. You’ll recall that he lost his job soon after Andrew Gilligan’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary; it became clear he’d been selling his mighty intellect to another organisation while trousering the best part of £130k a year from the likes of you and me.

At the time I wrote a letter to my former employers at the East London Advertiser in which I wondered whether he had received any pay off, including pay in lieu of notice period, for what appeared to be an open-and-shut case of breach of contract.

The consistently excellent Lib Dem councillor Stephanie Eaton was also concerned. So she wrote to Ms Freeman for clarification.The grimacing lawyer replied:

“I confirm that Lutfur Ali did resign… I am not able to confirm any details about staff payment as this is a confidential matter protected under the Data Protection Act. However we did confirm that there was no pay off.”

“There was no pay off”: pretty emphatic stuff, I’m sure you’d agree.

So what’s this interesting little footnote to the recently-released council accounts?….See p123 of the agenda/p27 of the accounts for details of the officers’ emoluments for the financial year 2009/10; have a look at the payments made to the ‘Assistant Chief Executive’. That’s Lutfur Ali. Under his stated salary payment for those 12 months of £113,694 (he “quit” in March, just a fortnight before the end of the financial year), you’ll see it refers to a footnote 2, which says:

2 The former Chief Executive and former Assistant Chief Executive received severance payments during 2009/10. Details have not been published in this document due to confidentiality agreements in place.

What was it that Freeman told one of our councillors? Er, “there was no pay off”.

I’m sure that Freeman has a copper-plated legal explanation for this. She could well argue that a severance payment is legally different from a pay off. But a councillor and the wider public to whom that politician, in good faith, communicated that statement, would understandably feel misled.

I suspect that what’s happened is this: Lutfur Ali, knowing that he has been exposed yet again as a charlatan, has resigned. But he has demanded to be paid for his notice period (which I understand was three months) and any accrued holiday. And not only that, I suspect he’s managed to get that payment (probably about £30,000) treated as a severance cheque and therefore as a tax-free lump-sum.

Why Freeman did not explain that to Cllr Eaton (and therefore to the taxpaying public she represents) is something only she can answer. But I doubt she’ll bother to do so, she’s like that.

In the meantime, I think we now have the full, sorry picture of the Lutfur Ali scandal. I just hope any future employers are reading this.

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