A Lambeth councillor has been allowed back into the Labour Party following a controversial email sting operation that left him excluded from the party for the last four months.
Kingsley Abrams, a veteran Labour councillor in the South London borough, was first accused of leaking confidential papers to a south London newspaper in January, an accusation he has consistently denied. The Lambeth Labour leader, Steve Reed, asked politically neutral council officers to run a entrapment operation in March that involved monitoring emails sent via Abrams' official Lambeth council email address.
Abrams was fed the false rumour that the chief exec of Lambeth Living, which manages council housing, had resigned, in the hope he would forward the information to journalists at the South London Press. Even though Abrams did nothing of the sort, and only forwarded the false announcement to local MP Kate Hoey, he was still accused of impropriety and suspended for four months from the Labour Party.
All these shenanigans, in the run-up to May elections, didn't stop Abrams getting himself re-elected with an increased majority by local voters. Abrams was suspended a couple of weeks later and has sat as an independent since. A June appeal failed so Abrams has been obliged to sit out the full term of his suspension on the Lambeth town hall naughty steps.
The suspension expired on Friday, allowing Abrams to be (grudgingly) welcomed back into the bosom of the local Labour party.
The circumstances of the suspension have been carefully chronicled by South London politics and community blog Onion Bag Blog and local media, as well as El Reg. Abrams has strenuously denied any impropriety throughout and no evidence to suggest otherwise has ever emerged.
Despite this a "welcome back" note from Labour states that Abrams has admitted leaking council material to the LibDems.
Abrams, a Labour activist for the last 32 years, casts an unlikely figure as a LibDem mole and Labour's statement appears to be an attempt to re-write history rather than drawing a line under the affair. Even though Abrams has returned to the political fold he is unlikely to give council bosses an easy ride, as Onion Bag Blog's Jason Cobb explains.
"There is quite simply nowhere else for Councillor Abrams to align himself, other than the Labour party," Cobb writes. "He believes in fighting the ConDem cuts, rather than rolling out public sector redundancies, as proposed by the Nu Labour twonks within his local party.
"Councillor Abrams is pledging to campaign for all housing maintenance in the borough to be brought back in house. With the collapse of Connaught leaving Lambeth Living looking even sillier, Councillor Abrams has been telling his ward constituents that further privatisation is not the answer to Lambeth’s shameful public housing state of affairs."
Lambeth Council has defended its handling of the affair. It told El Reg in June that Abrams was found in violation of council email use policy following a "recent discreet investigation". Its statement at the time only referred to unspecified third parties.
We fully embrace the practice of openness and transparency in local government, however both officers and councillors are prohibited from disclosing without appropriate authority confidential information to third parties, and this is reinforced in the council's protocol governing the use of IT.
That is why we - as is standard practice amongst both the public and private sector in complying with the government's information Security Standards - have an ICT protocol restricting what can and cannot be sent to third parties. This protocol applies to both staff and members and is expressly referred to when logging on to the Council's system to avoid any ambiguity.
Where we suspect any non compliance by any officer or member there is an unqualified right to investigate the use of the council's IT systems which is sanctioned by the council's internal audit team.
A recent discreet investigation was carried out, following concerns of confidential information being leaked, with emails from a handful of officers and members audited to ensure they were adhering to the ICT protocol. It was as a result of this investigation that a councillor was found to be acting in contravention of this policy.
The case raises uncomfortable questions about the willingness of supposedly neutral local council officials to authorise wiretapping on questionable grounds, months after ministers restricted the power of local authorities in this area, following incidents of abuse. ®
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