Let us scotch one myth straight away. The more feeble elements of the press are putting it about that the commissioning of the Wragge Report (also known as the Gowling Report as Wragge's change their name more often than most residents of Sandwell change their underpants) was some sort of selfless act by the late lunatic leader [sic], Cooper, and the soon to depart "Chief Executive" "lol" Jan Britton in an effort to rout out corruption. Regular Sandwell-watchers will realise the absurdity of this suggestion and the report was a last feeble attempt by Cooper to protect his bezzy mate, Hussain (and Dickhead Daz put it about, of course, that he got the money for his house extension from Mahboob). Had he not died, Cooper would have done everything in his power to prevent disclosure when his plan went wrong and Wragge's actually - sort of - exercised a degree of professional integrity and found serious deficiencies in Britton's administration. This is just what the woman-bullying thug did with the Jones Lang LaSalle reports where he successfully managed to block disclosure for months until they were finally leaked. The pathetic Britton had his tongue so far up "Darren's" arse he was cleaning his teeth and so we cannot seriously discuss him as any sort of separate entity but merely as the likespittle servant of his Master's brutish voice.
It should also be noted that Cooper and Britton initially sought to have these matters investigated by Sandwell Council's own "internal audit team" - ie the very people who had somehow "missed" all this going on under their noses for some years!!!!!
But Jan Britton even f*cked up (yet again) in the commissioning of the report by Mr Mark Greenburgh of Wragge's and this has led to serious legal repercussions and the unbelievable situation whereby Hussain and the proven liar Ian Jones have been able to cast themselves as "victims" (a condition known in "Sadwell" as "Turdy's Disease").
Let's take it step by step. Cooper needed to protect Hussain and so needed a "friendly" lawyer who would provide the desired result. This was likely to cost us taxpayers a substantial amount of money. Jan Britton personally knew Mark Greenburgh from his time working at Buckinghamshire County Council and Wragges had done legal work for SMBC and so "were on the books". This blog has also shown that the departing top lawyer at Sandwell, Neeraj Sharma (who was employed following a damning report of her conduct - or, more particularly, lack of it - when she worked at Walsall Council), also hob-nobbed with Wragge partners and employees on the posh Birmingham canape circuit.
One problem this blog has persistently pointed out about Sandwell Labour is that when they need a scapegoat they pay off senior employees with VAST AMOUNTS OF OUR MONEY in secret deals backed with confidentiality clauses. Indeed, there is a suspicion they are at it again now with La Sharma. But an allegation has been made that Mark Greenburgh himself was in on this bonanza and he and his firm were directly benefitting from these appalling transactions. I wrote to him about this and here is his response:
Dear Mr Saunders
I am not at liberty to disclose these matters to you; you should address the questions to the council.
Head of Public Sector
And so in thicko Cooper's crazed mind Greenburgh was just the man for the job even if he is a dyed-in-the-wool Tory and Wragge's were duly appointed at vast expense without the contract being put out to tender or offered elsewhere - another regular failure of the shockingly bad governance of useless Jan, Melanie Dudley et al. Although the report is rubbish it does appear to have been honestly written but the fact that Cooper and Britton selected Greenburgh has been challenged by Hussain and the liar Jones on various grounds and become the subject of legal action which has led to us taxpayers becoming embroiled in further expense. A QC was appointed to advise on disclosure and other issues at more cost to us and SMBC has been involved in actual litigation by Hussain. Even though Sadwell are "winning" that battle at the moment it is a well-known fact that legal "winners" rarely recover their full outlay of costs in such cases (and they may then have to try and get the money out of Hussain which will not be easy......) And so we are going to get hit again readers for more cash in due course. Yet another massive f*ck up by Cooper and Britton in the "anals" of Sadwell history!
I believe the BBC and Halesowen News have seen the terms of reference under which Wragge's were instructed but they have the advantage over me as I have not and, although they are referred to in the Report as disclosed, they are NOT available on the SMBC website. Neither are ANY of the seven lever-arch folders of documents apparently accompanying the report and this will be the subject of further Freedom of Information (FOI) enquiries. Suffice to say here, that it is clear that the terms of reference were very narrow and appear to have been limited to the sale of the bogs; Hussain's employee son's Clifford Street property: the lifting of some restrictive covenants which directly benefitted Hussain associates; the provision of Council housing to Hussain family and associates; the sale of the Lodge Street building plot and the Smethwick Coroner's Office to Hussain's employee son and a couple of other matters including the cancellation of parking tickets.
These subjects will be dealt with in separate blogs but, in respect of land sales, there are two glaring omissions ie the sale of property in Bridge Street to Councillor Bawa (who was a big mucker of Hussain before the relationship cooled) and the sale of the Florence Road site to Cllr Rouf's son (with the ancillary questions of how Rouf was given council housing and his false declarations in the Register of Interests). I am already pursuing a long-outstanding FOI request in respect of the Bawa deal and clearly new leader Steve Eling needs to talk to West Midlands Police (WMP) about Rouf and also consider opening a fresh enquiry (clearly not by Wragges) into that sordid and highly dubious affair.
Which brings us neatly on to the bent copper or coppers at WMP. When the Regional Fraud Team became involved in matters Sandwell they told me to my face that they had NOT started an investigation because of the revelations in this blog but "had already made a decision independently" to investigate the Labour dictatorship. Nevertheless, they were happy to have my help and in a lengthy interview I gave them a substantial amount of information on a range of subjects. I am aware of others passing information to them and I also regularly sent new stuff in - of varying quality - via email (and thus have a record of all this). I also encouraged witnesses to contact the police direct. As I have pointed out before, Mahboob Hussain enjoys a "special relationship" with WMP due to his "assistance" to them in respect of local law and order and security issues. Thus when someone claiming to be one of his sons publicly threatened me in the street he was happy to tell me, "F*ck of back to [home]. We run Oldbury". The unfortunate residents of McKean Road appear to be finding that out too.
All seemed to be going along well with anecdotal evidence of junior police officers working hard on the case. But then a respected media source told me that the police were back-pedalling. Wragge's were instructed in March, 2015 with the narrow terms of reference being agreed, aptly, on April Fools' Day. Even then there was the suggestion from inside sources that the appointment of Wragge's was a ruse to head of the police investigation. I duly hand-delivered a letter to DI Chris Berrow who was then allegedly "in charge" of the case on 17th April, 2015. The redacted letter about the apparent cover-up is within my earlier post:
and the response proved that DI Berrow, either acting alone or on the basis of instructions from above, was specifically NOT permitting the investigation of a number of lines of enquiry concerning the Council. These included the Bawa and Rouf deals referred to above plus other matters some of which I still cannot go into in case the relatively new Chief Constable orders all this to be re-opened. I was particularly concerned with the taxi deal whereby Hussain made false declarations of interest when tendering for a contract which his firm won and which has netted his taxi firm over £100,000 in taxpayers' cash from the Labour Dictatorship. This was particularly galling since I had been given the impression that, based on information I supplied, WMP would be making specific enquiries with the Home Office concerning one possible line of enquiry linked to all this. As far as I am aware, that was specifically NOT pursued. Why not?
Anecdotal evidence is that junior officers were finding too much out and they were becoming confident that prosecutions could be brought. Having said that, it seems that they were being hampered by senior officers throughout. By way of example, they were directed to search a named SMBC employee's desk drawers where it was believed certain information might be found but it is believed this was never done. Further, I was specifically requested by WMP NOT to blog about the alleged interference with parking tickets as this was said to be an active line of enquiry by them when this was, apparently, an outright lie.
The previous paragraph raises other important issues. Clearly the police have extensive powers to investigate matters not available to Mr Greenburgh of Wragge's, the Press or this blog. They have the power to search but used this sparingly. I understand they raided three properties - MONTHS AFTER the investigation had begun when one would have expected incriminating evidence to have long-since disappeared. They allegedly made no independent searches of the Oldbury Kremlin - even having received "tip-offs" - but simply relied on SMBC to hand stuff over to them. There were widespread allegations of files going missing and documents being shredded under the Cooper/Britton regime but how much WMP investigated this, if at all, is, as yet, unknown. Rather than raid the Kremlin and seize files Mark Greenburgh reports: "the Council entered into a concordat with the police to SHARE CERTAIN INFORMATION"! What the f*ck does that mean? What the hell was going on here? (Incidentally, regular readers will know that Sandwell Labour used a "concordat" to try and hide the details of their bent deal with Sandwell College over The Public! The clue is in the first three letters of the word).
WMP also have the power to interview people under caution either having had them attend police stations voluntarily or under arrest. Of course, people can give "no comment" interviews but there are potential adverse consequences of doing this if the matter proceeds to trial. We have seen in respect of the various untruths contained in the Register of Members' Interests that WMP failed to interview the likes of the liar Cashmore when this may well have been a fruitful exercise.
The Police are not supposed to haul loads of people in on "fishing expeditions" and good lawyers will protect folk against this sort of misuse of power but we are dealing with local authority employees involved in all this and so, at the very least, the following should have been asked to voluntarily attend for taped interview - Jan Britton, Melanie Dudley, Neeraj Sharma, Pardip Sharma, Nick Bubalo, Adrian Scarrott (possibly). If they refused, WMP should have then considered whether or not to arrest them.
As I pointed out in a recent blog - with one new addition - the following should also have been asked to voluntarily attend and/or been arrested if they demurred: Mahboob Hussain, Azeem Hafeez, Ian Jones, David Willetts, Abdul Naeem Quyam, Abdul Amean, Anthony Hope, Bobby Jandhu, Gulfam Mohammed, Noreen Bi, Mohammed Tariq and Mohammad Farooq. (This EXCLUDES the Bawa and Rouf issues). In respect of the taxi contract it may have also been necessary to arrest another daughter of Hussain.
(Mr Hope links the Wellesley Road factory, Hussain land purchases AND the bogs and so his evidence could be important here).
As it is, WMP only interviewed FOUR people under caution in the whole investigation (and one of those interviews lasted just 15 minutes!) This fact alone is sufficient for Cllr Eling, the new leader, to ask the Chief Constable to arrange a review of this shambles.
Why all this is so important is that, subject to proper safeguards, the Police have means to compel the surrender of documents and to obtain evidence under caution. Mr Greenburgh of Wragge's had no such powers and was thus left to pick through the documents and to hope that witnesses would voluntarily provide information. He had none of the greater powers that the Police had (or should have had if they had done the job properly) to put allegations to interviewees under caution. Even a cursory reading of the report shows that some witnesses were less than candid and it seems Greenburgh never put some of the allegations in this blog to them. And, of course, the main protagonist, Azeem Hafeez, refused to give evidence to Wragge's AT ALL even though he was, and still is, an employee of the Council! He was also unable to talk to Abdul Naeem Quyum who declined to be interviewed. Greenburgh was trying to make an omelette without eggs.
[Important request for information here - Bubalo, who was the the heart of the bent deals, alleged to Greenburgh that he had never spoken to Azeem Hafeez even though the latter was working in his own department for years! Given the incestuous atmosphere prevalent in the Kremlin this seems unbelievable. This is, of course, something the police could have challenged deal old Nick on under taped interview. If you have any information on this please contact The Skidder asap - contact details below.]
Avid Sadwell watchers will know what has been going on in the unfortunate Borough for some time and that Cooper and Hussain ruled the roost whilst keeping everyone sweet - like the Joneses and their associates in Wednesbury. Greenburgh has formed a view on credibility without thorough cross-examination of witnesses. For example, he appears never to asked Dave Willetts why he lied in replying to a Freedom of Information reply to me concerning the bogs which has been frequently mentioned in these pages. If Willetts is lying in official Council documents how can Greenburgh not seriously question his credibility and truthfulness as a witness? Likewise with Ian Jones. Leaving aside his and his immediate family's involvement in the Wednesbury Celebrates debacle (leading to his son's lover getting £90k from Sport England) Jones specifically lied on local radio - The Adrian Goldberg Show (and Goldberg was a close friend of Cooper) - about the valuation of the bogs. How could Greenburgh ignore this and give any credibility to Jones's different testimony months afterwards?
Despite the apparently high cost of the Report and the length of time it took to prepare - over a year - it is, in my opinion, sloppily written for such a major law firm. It is possible that certain further information is contained in appendices which the feeble Britton has failed to disclose (yet). Of course, we all know that Hussain has been pulling the strings but Greenburgh reports that Azeem Hafeez was able to go into business as a property developer because of the sale of the old Rickshaw Restaurant in Dudley. (Incidentally, Greenburgh makes no mention of the fact - as detailed in this blog - that Azeem was running a whole string of car accident claim companies whilst managing to hold down his onerous day job under the trappist Nick Bubalo). Wragge's report in para 2.1.16 that Azeem bought the Rickshaw from Hussain, his Father, for £85,000 in 2004 without wondering where Azeem - a lowly SMBC employee - got the money for this in the first place (and he owns another residential property too). When the tax authorities come to investigate all this (and the Police specifically said they were going to contact HMRC about certain aspects of this affair but there is no information they ever did so - another thing for Eling to follow up) they will no doubt check whether any money physically changed hands. It is then said Azeem sold the burnt-out site in 2012 for £470,000! (Again, on the face of it, this should have triggered a large Capital Gains Tax bill). Greenburgh mentions some "attached notes" on this which Jan Britton has not disclosed but he records at para 4.2.26 Hussain giving different figures ie that Azeem sold the property in 2011/12 for a lower figure of £375,000. Which is it? Greenburgh says at para 4.13.2 that the sale was indeed in 2012 for £470,000. Still we do know that poor old Mahboob is prone to serious bouts of amnesia (although this does not prevent him bravely soldiering on as a Councillor). Incidentally, there are redactions in the report but it appears that a related party to the option on the Lion Park Playing Fields was involved in all this and I will post further on this in due course.
So Azeem had no dosh - apart from £85k in 2004 (!) until 2012? But Greenburgh says at paragraph 4.12.1 that he also managed to scrape £110,000 together from his council pay to buy the Clifford Road land in, er, 2007! Who is kidding who here and why is this not being questioned by the Police let alone Wragge's?
The Wragge Report in its careless and blithe assumptions actually makes life more difficult for those trying to shine a light on the murky affairs of Sandwell. For example, despite all the Wednesbury Celebrates [sic] scandals Greenburgh casually announces at para 4.5.1 that Ian Jones had no pecuniary interest in the sale of the bogs (even though he publicly lied about the deal live on radio) and yet there is still the mystery of the 2013 article in the Express and Star about the sh*tters at the appropriately named "Shambles" in Wednesbury. Remember, these bogs were sold at a gross under-valuation by Sandwell Labour to Abdul Naeem Quyum - the father in law of Cllr Hussain's daughter, Nigat Loreen - on or around 13th August, 2012. Hold that date please - 2012. But then a year LATER in August 2013 this appeared in the E&S, the official mouthpiece of Sandwell Labour:
And who should be proposing this transformation but an insolvent voluntary organisation closely linked to, er, Cllr Ian Jones! Oh look, here's his agoraphobic wife Cllr Olwen Jones with Cllr Costigan outside from the same article:
We don't believe in all these "coincidences" do we Skidder readers? By the way, this article gives the clear impression that the bogs were still the property of us taxpayers when that was absolutely not the case.....
As above, all of the documentation is missing from the report and there are numerous redactions and so we need to see the whole thing - or at least substantially more than we are seeing now. For example, the report completely glosses over the release of three restrictive covenants (for no fee to the taxpayer) with no details whatsoever. It is not said when SMBC were contacted about these covenants, by whom etc but simply that fall-guy Dave Willetts (believed to be well-known to Cooper and an alumnus of Bristnall High) took it upon himself to agree to their removal. Happily all three beneficiaries - please note WMP - were related to, or close associates of, your mate Mahboob Hussain.
I must be fair to Mr Greenburgh and congratulate him on one point. He has bravely raised issues beyond the terms of reference and, most importantly, the option on the Lion Farm playing fields. Of course, The Skidder first alerted y'all to this deal last June in my post:
Curiously, a member of Neeraj Sharma's legal team phoned me about two years ago but was very nervous about supplying info. The lawyer said that there was "a massively corrupt deal" on the cards involving an option but that ******** ******** [a very senior council officer] had said to hang fire until the heat had died down from The Skidder's revelations about land sales at the time. The lawyer was quite certain that the senior officer was fully au fait with the parties to the deal and its dodgy nature. Clearly I have no idea if this was the option referred to and I make no specific allegations about the Lion Farm option other than those already made in the post referred to above but Cllr Eling needs to get a list of all significant options granted by SMBC and check them out (and provide a copy to WMP.) This matter needs urgent attention since, whilst admirably flagging this up as an issue of considerable concern, Mr Greenburgh did not "investigate" it as it was beyond the narrow terms of reference. If WMP have done nothing on this they should clearly do so in any event.
[Info request - way back in the 1980's/1990's I am told Hussain had a shop in the Smethwick/Bearwood area which suffered a fire. Does anyone have any info on this please - particularly an address?]
Watch this space for more on the Wragge Report and much, much more.There will also be news about another "Hussain Out" demo shortly.
PS. It is claimed that Azeem Hafeez is off sick at the moment although he is out and about in Sandwell and is rumoured to have recently bought stakes in three (yes 3) taxi firms. Clearly this cannot be right with him being so poorly.....
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