Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Helen Michael interviewed under caution by Scotland Yard Detectives for parking poster

Lets just stick to the facts. Helen Michael was yesterday interviewed by 2 officers from Scotland Yard's special investigations unit. This is the unit responsible for, amongst other things, terrorism investigations. Helen was read her rights and interviewed under caution. The reason? Because a poster produced on behalf of Barnet Traders, campaigning against the abolition of pay and display parking in Barnet and extortionate parking charges may have breached election law on a technicality. The purpose of the law was to prevent anonymous smear campaigns against people standing for elections.

The complaint against Helen Michael was initiated by the CEO of Barnet, Nick Walkley. Mr Walkley doubled up in this role as the returning officer. The Barnet Eye wishes to explore the motivation of Mr Walkley in making the complaint and wishes to know in what capacity he has been persuing this. This is relevant to the case. We believe Mr Walkleys behaviour may indicate more than a professional interest in following this matter up. Given that the Police told Helen they were unaware of any other investigations into breaches of electoral law, despite one recent high profile case concerning a leaflet in Brunswick Park, we have to ask, why has only Helen's case been investigated. 

Helen's protest has been highly embarrassing to Mr Walkley. In the film "A Tale of Two Barnets", Paul Shea, a local trader, stated that Mr Walkley had said in a public meeting he was "pissed off" at his treatment by Barnet traders at a meeting in January 2012. You can see Mr Paul Shea say this in the long trailer for the film, at 41 seconds. This clip was filmed in January 2012, long before the May GLA/ Mayoral elections. This proves Mr Walkley had an axe to grind.  (it is worth noting that this footage has been in the public domain since March). 

 Having publicly stated that he was "pissed off" with the traders and their protest, what can we make of his decision to set the police on  the campaign coordinator? The Barnet Eye knows of at least two other posters and leaflets that breached election law recently. One of these was produced by the Brunswick Park Tories, who unlike Helen have a party machine behind them and are aware of the rules for elections. Why hasn't Mr Walkley demanded the police haul the local Tories down to the station? 

In a couple of weeks time we see the Olympic start in London. Every terrorist and every nutcase in the world would love to inflict atrocities on us during this period. It beggars belief that Mr Walkley is insisting that Scotland Yard investigate Helen Michael, who was merely exercising her democratic right to protest against an unpopular policy at such a time. Does anyone (except Nick Walkley) believe that Helen should be suffering this persecution? Does anyone (except Nick Walkley) believe that this is a constructive usage of Police time?

Given Mr Walkley's statement about being pissed off with the Traders and their parking protest, can anyone see this complaint as a fair, impartial response to the traders poster? No one would take electoral fraud, anonymous smear campaigns or attempts to rig the voting system in Barnet more seriously than the Barnet Eye. No one would take attempts to pervert the process more seriously than the Barnet Eye. We don't believe that any rational person could claim the traders poster was any such thing. 

So let's just recap the facts.

In January 2012. Nick Walkley stated publicly that he was "pissed off" with the Barnet Traders for their "rough treatment" of him at a business meeting (ie asking a few tough questions).

In April the Barnet traders started putting up posters to draw attention to the parking policies of Barnet Council and Brian Coleman.

Two days after the first poster went up, the Council Leader Richard Cornelius informally rang Helen Michael and informed her that he'd been told the posters didn't comply with election law and it would be better if she took them down, otherwise she may get into trouble. Helen Michael notified the other traders who removed posters as best they could.

The next day a local police officer visited Helen Michael and informed her of the complaint. Helen informed the officer that she would remove all the posters and had indeed already began the process of taking them down. The officer informed Helen Michael that this should be enough.

In late June, Helen received a follow up visit from the Police, asking for her to attend the station.

On 3rd July, Helen visited the Police station and was interviewed by two officers from Scotland yard, who informed her Mr Walkley was the complainant. 

The Barnet Eye is of the opinion that Mr Walkley has compromised himself by launching this complaint against the Barnet Traders whilst ignoring other potentially more serious breaches of the law. Had he persued other leaflets and posters with equal vigour, then this charge would not be valid, but as only Helen Michael has been summoned to an inquisition, it is clear what is going on. It is time for Mr Walkley to consider his position and if he won't then Council Leader Richard Cornelius should.


Mr Mustard said...

The CPZ judicial review managed to raise £40k or more (not sure of the exact figure) for the judicial review. Mr Mustard was one of the first to put his hand in his pocket and hand over a cheque for £100.

Helen will not be left without resources if it comes to a legal battle. Mr Mustard will get his cheque book out again as will many other reseidents of the borough who believe in fair play and proportionality.

My Coffee Stop said...

Wow, really interesting article. Sounds like the law is being misused to me. I'd be interested in what the other side has to say about this.

baarnett said...

Sorry, I can't comment on this at all.

I'm too involved in the BBC's "BLACKOUT", a three-part drama about a corrupt council official who wakes from an alcoholic blackout to realise that he may have been responsible for a murder.

Honestly, I don't know how they manage to think up such stories. And the description of next week's episode is beyond belief!

Morris Hickey said...

Chief Executives, like councillors, comprise a variety of individual personalities. Of the four I have known at the helm of my own authority there was only one megalomaniac with his own agenda. The other three, including the current incumbent, were all decent and pleasant men.

This instance, as described, has a pretty distinct whiff of a personal agenda - and possibly not just that of the CE. In my opinion the current Assembly Member should be complaining to the Police Authority about the gross waste of police resources. At the very worst a simple slap on the wrist is all that is required.

baarnett said...

"Police numbers to be slashed by deputy mayor in Met budget crisis"

Surprised that can find the time.

JVK said...

I can't understand why publicising the policies and actions of Barnet Council should be illegal. This is very worrying.