Bridge NDC – High Court judgement on board sackings leads to fresh calls for full investigation

Haringey Liberal Democrats have welcomed this week’s court judgement that concluded a three year legal battle over the sacking of two women from the Bridge New Deal for Communities (NDC) in Haringey. Mr Justice Keith followed his decision made in February 2007 to quash the decision, by judging that at no time did the NDC board consider the allegations against Joyce Oyeyi-effiong and Ibiola Campbell. Liberal Democrats have once again renewed their demands for an independent forensic investigation of the accounts of Bridge NDC.

Acting as voluntary chair and vice-chair of The Bridge NDC finance committee, Joyce and Ibiola were dismissed after they raised questions when the board was asked to spend £3.8 million for a lease on a property without adequate information regarding the lease. Following complaint letters received by the Bridge NDC Board about their “aggressive” and “disruptive” behaviour, which chairman Lorne Horsford described as “bringing the programme into disrepute”, it was decided on 22nd September 2004 to remove them permanently, accusing them of breaching the Code of Conduct.

They also queried the movement of millions of pounds of Bridge NDC money to Haringey Council accounts without proper authorisation, the spending of £259,000 on a study for the Haringey Chamber of Commerce, for which no final report was ever issued.

The Chief Executive of Haringey Council at the time of the dismissals, and head of the Bridge NDC’s ‘accountable body’, was judicially barred from the Board’s disciplinary meeting, but a Government Office for London (GOL) observer was present. A month later GOL received a petition signed by 600 Tottenham residents asking for The Bridge’s accounts to be examined. But Parliament was subsequently assured (April 4, 2005) on behalf of GOL’s Minister, John Prescott, that his office remained “satisfied that the expulsions were handled fairly”.

The two women applied to the High Court for a Judicial Review of the sacking, but were initially turned down. They appealed, and after a court hearing on February 21st – 22nd 2007, Mr Justice Keith quashed the Bridge NDC Board’s sacking, highlighting that the Board gave no indication of the rules of the disciplinary hearing involving the two women before holding it and did not consider the allegations against them.

Lynne Featherstone, Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green comments:

“What has happened to Joyce and Ibi is a travesty. These two brave women were doing their job properly – and asking totally appropriate questions. The whole move against them stinks. The tables should now be turned and it must be the Government Office for London, John Prescott and Haringey Council in the dock. I will be putting down Parliamentary Questions to find out why GOL lacks more effective controls on the expenditure of millions of pounds of tax-payers money.”

Cllr Wayne Hoban, Haringey Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and spokesman on Regeneration, who has repeatedly challenged Haringey Council on this issue, adds:

“Joyce and Ibi have fought hard for this legal judgment, which says they were wrongly sacked.

“I have been raising the same points with Haringey Council, which is supposed to be the Bridge NDC’s ‘accountable body’, for years, and I have been thwarted at every turn. I have never seen properly audited accounts, and am now told that, as an “unincorporated association”, it does not have to produce any.

“I think it is scandalous that huge sums of Government money can be dished out with so little proper control, and I hope this judgment will open up lines of inquiry which will make TheBridgeNDC properlyaccountabletothe community and the country at last.”

Joyce Oyeyi-Effiong said:

“We are naturally very pleased that the Court has declared that our sacking was improper, and has said that we are free to seek re-election. We are now taking legal advice about the investigation of our actual complaints. The judge was not asked to examine this issue, but he has given us full permission to raise the matter again. So we intend to pursue the same questions about financial probity that the NDC Board was so keen to suppress by sacking us. ”