Public probe set to start

Dave Stubbs
Dave Stubbs

A BARRISTER appointed to oversee a £20,000 public inquiry into the interests of councillors and their links to the voluntary and community sector started work this week.

Tom Mitchell, a barrister-at-law, is leading the inquiry after a Peer Review report raised major concerns about the perception that some Hartlepool councillors act out of self-interest and the perceived lack of rigour around the declaration of interests of councillors.

It was announced at a meeting of the full council that Middlesbrough-based Mr Mitchell was due to start work this week.

People will be able to take part in the public inquiry during public sessions but the dates are yet to be fixed.

Councillors have previously stressed the inquiry is a good opportunity to set the record straight and quash any rumours or perceptions after the damning report into the running of Hartlepool Borough Council.

It had already been agreed that the chair should be independent of Hartlepool and a person with a legal background.

Dave Stubbs, the council’s chief executive, told councillors that a long list of candidates was compiled through the chief solicitor, which led to the short-listing of three candidates and the appointment of Mr Mitchell, a barrister-at-law.

A report said Mr Mitchell was educated at Balliol College Oxford and Manchester Metropolitan University and his year of ‘call’ was 1995 and since 2003 he has been a member of Fountain Chambers, in Middlesbrough.

Mr Stubbs said Mr Mitchell’s principal practice area is defending serious criminal cases with expertise in the “civil law of misfeasance and actions against public authorities”.

Plans to hold a public inquiry were agreed at a meeting in February after the Peer Review found the reputation and effective running of the local authority is being “badly damaged”.

While there was praise for the council workforce and services, the conduct of some councillors and governance had been called into question.

The review also raised concerns over the transparency of the council’s commissioning and grant-funding arrangements for the voluntary and community sector.

The inquiry is being funded from the positive out-turn from last year’s budget.