My last post about Murziline Parchment’s failed application to become Tower Hamlets chief executive has caused a bit of a fuss at the town hall, I’m told.
What Murziline herself thinks, I don’t know.
Prior to publication, I wrote to her to say I intended to publish details of her application. I invited her to discuss them with me but she simply passed on my email to the press office, which, surprisingly, made no attempt to talk about the story or find out what details I had. Instead, communications head Takki Sulaiman emailed me to say employment details were “private and confidential” so there would be no comment.
This “private and confidential” line is interesting. The council owes a duty of confidentiality to Ms Parchment and it has now ordered an investigation into how her details were leaked to me. Apparently, only a handful of senior officers and five councillors had access to the application, but I’m also told there had recently been a clear-out of some files during an office move, when someone else might have spotted the report lying around.
I’d been told that the council was trying to fine a way of “getting me” but for nine days after I published the documents, no one from town hall made any contact. But then, last Friday, the council’s legal department sent me an email.
The department, which is headed by the fine Isabella Freeman, usually marks all correspondence (and even responses to members’ enquiries) as “private and confidential”. But the letter to me contains so such marking and as such I’m going to publish it.
Frankly, the letter a bit weak. It accuses me of “poor journalistic standards” and of breaching the Editor’s Code of Conduct, citing paragraph 3.1 which states “everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications”.
It also cites item 10, which states that “the press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by…the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or digitally-held private information without consent”.
On item 10, I didn’t seek anything. As I said in the original post, the documents were posted to me and they arrived as a complete surprise.
I then removed all Ms Parchment’s personal contact details from the report and published only professional matters. Remember, she was handed her current (powerful) role as head of the mayor’s office without any formal and usual recruitment process. Remember, too, that her work now forms part of a fraud investigation examining the invoices she signed off for Gulam Robbani.
As chief executive of Tower Hamlets, she would have been “head of paid service” and been responsible for signing off far more invoices. Perhaps the interview assessors in 2009 did us a good public service. I wonder what they would have written had she been before them for her current role, one which is new and evolving under her own direction.
The council makes three further points in its letter to me. It says that my publication of the headhunters’ report “may cause distress to Ms Parchment”. Note: “may”, not “has”. Again, Ms Parchment has made no attempt to contact me.
The council says the publication “may also affect the confidence of individuals who might apply for roles in the council”. If that’s the case, the council needs to demonstrate it can keep confidential information confidential. That means strengthening its processes, I suspect. I’m glad to have been of service.
And finally, the council “requires” I remove the documents because I do not own the “intellectual property rights in the report”. It says those rights remain with the council and the headhunters, Green Park.
In that paragraph, the council reveals its desperation. However, it’s an interesting argument and for that reason, I’d like to open it up for wider discussion before making a final decision.
Here’s the council’s legal letter.