Demand for answers on taxi drivers child abuse scandal

TAXI: South Ribble Council is at the centre of a secrecy row

TAXI: South Ribble Council is at the centre of a secrecy row

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Further questions have been raised over South Ribble Council’s handling of a taxi driver child abuse investigation.

After a report over allegations of two taxi drivers exploiting two girls was kept secret, the press and public may face being excluded from a special meeting on the issue.

Labour called the ‘extraordinary meeting’, which will take place on April 27, but the Tory-led council is insisting councillors vote on whether the public can attend.

Officers insist this is a “matter of course” as two members of the licensing department are suspended, pending results of an investigation.

Labour leader Coun Paul Foster said: “The whole point of us calling this meeting is to get things out in the open. We want absolute transparency but they (the council) are still trying to surpress information coming out. It’s appalling.”

At Tuesday night’s scrutiny committee meeting, members who tried to ask questions about the issue were prevented from doing so by council officers.

Committee chairman, Coun Mick Tithertington, said the problem arose when questions were asked about data sharing between licencing and the police, something criticised in the investigation report.

He said: “The director said it was going off the agenda and there was a meeting next week for that. I reminded him that it was perfectly valid to ask questions covered by the partnership, though I did acknowledge we were not able to discuss individual cases.

“The main purpose of scrutiny is to hold the executive to account and it’s important members ask penetrating questions.”

A spokesman for South Ribble Borough Council said: “It is the council’s intention to discuss the issues surrounding the licensing function of the council, including ongoing investigations, in public.

“However, there is an agenda section on Exclusion of the Press and Public. That is not unusual as it is a constitutional requirement when discussing officers and their conduct.

“We are in the middle of a live investigation based on sensitive and confidential information. We have to be extremely cautious about how we could impact, not only on that investigation, but also the disciplinary hearings of two officers. It was, therefore, inappropriate for councillors to discuss these matters at Tuesday’s scrutiny meeting.

“The final report, however, will be published in full – as always intended – when it is completed.

“The council has acted robustly since these issues were brought to our attention. We commissioned the external, independent review and have been working hard to implement its recommendations.

“We are doing a job and that job is not yet complete. When it is we will share our findings.”

Coun Matthew Tomlinson, Lancashire County Council’s member for young people, said he was writing to LCC’s chief executive and leader, asking them to demand reassurances from South Ribble Council that the safeguarding of children has not, and is not, being compromised by the way in which this situation is handled.