POLICE have been called in to investigate how a hidden report into South Ribble’s taxi licensing scandal was ‘leaked’ to the public.
Lancashire Constabulary, which is so stretched it no longer routinely sends officers to burglaries, says it was forced to act after the matter was referred to them.
Now at least three councillors, including Tory Paul Wharton and Labour’s Claire Hamilton, have been questioned about their connection to the leaked document, which critics say should have been made public in the first place.
The report, compiled by independent solicitors, heavily criticised the council over incidents of child sexual exploitation by taxi drivers and failings in safeguarding but it was kept under wraps for months until it was leaked to the press earlier this year.
Councillors involved in the police investigation claim they have been threatened with warrants to search their houses, phones and emails to find out who leaked the report, and fingerprint analysis of the document was mentioned.
But police say is it was only a “fact-finding mission” to decide if there was been any criminality – and nothing was found.
The investigation has now ended.
The situation has been branded a bad use of police resources at a time of heavy cuts, but South Ribble Council said reporting the matter was standard procedure as the report contained sensitive information.
Force bosses say enquiries have been “proportionate” as it was concerning misconduct in a public office. They say it involved an officer on restricted duties and did not impact on resources.
Tory councillor Paul Wharton was called to a 35-minute informal meeting at Leyland Police Station on Tuesday, where he faced questions from the detective about where the leak had come from and who had been involved.
He said: “I’m confused as to why an extensive amount of time is being put in by an officer investigating a whistleblower at South Ribble Borough Council.
“Whether he’s on restricted duties or not, he could have been investigating something else.
“Whoever leaked the documents, I have no doubt did so in the public interest.”
Labour’s Claire Hamilton said she had phone calls from the detective involved as well as a face-to-face meeting. She has now submitted a formal complaint to Lancashire Constabulary, saying she felt “threatened and intimidated” by his actions.
She said: “The information that we have seen printed in the newspapers is of public interest and has shown that residents were being kept in the dark about serious safeguarding failings in the licensing function.”
Council leader Coun Margaret Smith was unavailable for comment but a spokesman for South Ribble Borough Council said: “When the interim confidential report into taxi licensing was leaked in April 2016, the council referred the matter to Lancashire Police.
“This is because this version of the report contained sensitive information which could potentially have prejudiced police investigations and disciplinary investigations involving our staff.
“The matter is with the police and it would be inappropriate to comment further while that process continues.”
A police spokesman said: “Following discussions with the local authority we have carried out some fact finding in order to establish whether any criminal offences have been committed and whether a further investigation is necessary.
“These enquiries have been proportionate and have been carried out by a single detective.
“While we have spoken informally to a number of people as part of our enquiries no arrests have been made, no-one has been spoken to under caution and no warrants have been executed.
“We can confirm that a complaint has been received by the Professional Standards Department and this is currently being reviewed and assessed to see if any further action is required.”
Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Decisions over whether or not to investigate potential wrongdoing are an operational matter for the Chief Constable and I cannot comment on individual cases.
“In terms of resources, all crime reports are given a proportionate response based on an assessment of risk and threat and harm.”
Eight months after an the investigation began into South Ribble’s taxi licencing scandal, the final report was officially made public last week.