Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Update: 'Taxi!' Chief Exec's YouTube Comments

Mark Cullinan
Chief Executive
Lancaster City Council 
Earlier reports on the following incidents posted in June 2011 were removed from the internet by both Virtual Lancaster (“'Taxi’ called for Chief Exec over YouTube Comments”) and the Lancaster Guardian ("Council chief in taxi driver argument" ) in July 2011 pending the outcome of correspondence initiated by Mr Cullinan’s private solicitors.

Virtual Lancaster is now able to bring this updated version of the original report to our newsblog.

A draft of this report has been submitted to Lancaster City Council and to its Chief Executive, Mr Mark Cullinan. The City Council has responded that; “The council does not comment on matters relating to individual employees or licence holders.’ They added that: “As the article refers to Mr Cullinan in his employment capacity, not as a private individual, it would be inappropriate for him to make a public comment.”

Lancaster City Council’s personnel committee met in private in August 2011 to consider a complaint brought by Mr Andy Kay, chair of the Lancaster branch of the Hackney Proprietors Association, against the City Council’s Chief Executive, Mr Mark Cullinan.  No representatives of the complainant were invited. The committee did not uphold the complaint and Mr Kay received notification that the committee ‘came to the view that the complaint has no impact on Mr Cullinan’s role as chief executive and does not contravene the city council’s policies and procedures.”

The background to the complaint began when Mr Cullinan happened to be with his 'mate', Graham Atkinson, in the North Road car park at 2.26am on 23 April, when Mr Atkinson claimed that a taxi had hit his knee.

Taxi driver Andrew Chapman denied the allegation and filmed his ensuing encounter with the pair on his mobile phone. The video he shot can be seen on YouTube at http://youtu.be/GQVSAb7aKFo.

In the video Mr Atkinson (he is the gentleman holding the pizza) introduces Mr Cullinan to the taxi driver as the 'Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council', adding 'That's Mark Cullinan who runs your f***** licence!' He repeatedly requests of Mr Cullinan that the Chief Executive ‘sort him out'' asking him 'How do you sort the taxi drivers out?' A full transcript of the video was published in the Lancaster Guardian newspaper on 23 June 2011.

Mr Cullinan was quoted in the Lancaster Guardian article as saying: ‘I did witness an incident of a collision between a taxi and a pedestrian and I did suggest to the victim that he could contact the police, which he did.’

There is no suggestion that Mr Cullinan himself behaved in any way improperly during the course of this encounter. He simply repeated his friend’s allegations and drew him away from the encounter.  But Andrew Chapman, an experienced and highly qualified professional driver, was disturbed by the threats made by Graham Atkinson in Mr Cullinan’s presence, and approached his trade representative, Mr Andy Kay.  As chair of the Lancaster Hackney Proprietors Association Mr Kay represents his members’ interests in the City Council’s Taxi Liaison Group. Mr Kay posted the video of the car park encounter under the title ‘Cullinan-2011-04-23-02-26-38’ on his private Youtube Channel, which he had previously set up and used to share a broadcast by the Transport Minister relating to taxi regulation with the City Council’s Licensing Department.

Mr Kay arranged a meeting between himself, Andrew Chapman and the City Council’s Licensing Manager, Mrs Wendy Peck, on Tuesday 10 May 2011 at Lancaster Town Hall. His purpose, he later told Virtual Lancaster, was to seek reassurance from the Licensing Department for Mr Chapman that the matter would simply be left in the hands of the police pending the outcome of their investigation, as is routine. Noting that Mr Cullinan was a personal friend of the complainant and his supporting witness in an active police investigation, Mr Kay requested assurance that, despite Mr Atkinson’s threats made in front of Mr Cullinan, the Chief Executive would be not be professionally involved in any Licensing Department proceedings against Mr Chapman over the incident.

Mr Kay showed Mrs Peck the video of the car park encounter on his phone. Mrs Peck told Mr Kay that she would have to investigate the matter and get back to him, and asked him to send her a copy of his YouTube link to the video for this purpose, as it could only be accessed by linksharing.  Mr Kay told Virtual Lancaster that he was concerned that the content was sensitive, and that he had explicitly warned Mrs Peck that the matter was subject to a police investigation and that the link should not be shared but treated as confidential case material, submitted solely for the purposes of her investigation of their request. He sent her the link by email from his phone at 14.19.

However Mrs Peck’s investigation took an unexpected turn. Mr Kay told Virtual Lancaster that when he showed the video to Mrs Peck it had had 8 views and no comments. By the time he had driven home some 40 minutes later, it had been viewed 26 times.

In response to a Freedom of Information request Mrs Sarah Taylor, Lancaster City Council’s Head of Governance, later wrote to Mr Kay:

I understand that your email was forwarded by Wendy Peck to Luke Gorst, as the legal adviser to Licensing, at 14.25 on the 10th May, as she did not have the necessary access permissions to open the link.

Mr Gorst forwarded your email to me at 14.40, and I forwarded it to Mr Cullinan at 14.48 on the 10th May.”

She also told Mr Kay:  “Not having previously used You Tube, I was not entirely sure whether the video was publicly available, but in any event, as it bore Mr Cullinan's name, I felt that I had a responsibility to make him aware of it and I therefore forwarded it to him.”

Neither Mr Kay nor Mr Chapman were contacted but, shortly after viewing the video in which he was introduced by Graham Atkinson as the Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council, Mr Cullinan posted the following comment by ‘MarkCullinan’ below it on the YouTube website:

Despite his denial the Taxi driver did drive into my mate and hit his right knee hard. Two weeks later he is still badly bruised. Watch out for driver 376 not only does he run into people? and then lie about it I saw him parked on double yellow lines outside The Pub on saturday night!”

Mr Kay, as HPA Chair, emailed Licensing Manager Wendy Peck at 16.06pm, questioning the appropriateness of the Chief Executive's action and complaining at this outcome of her investigation – a comment on YouTube by the City Council Chief Executive in relation to a private dispute currently under a police investigation in which Mr Cullinan was personally involved as a supporting witness. He questioned whether the Licensing Department was not placing itself into a position which would make it difficult to pursue any licensing issue that might arise objectively. He sent a copy of this email to Mr Cullinan and to Head of Governance Sarah Taylor.  He did not receive any reply to this email.

At the same time Mr Chapman, the taxi driver, emailed Mr Cullinan, in relation to Mr Cullinan's criticisms of his character and his parking, requesting an apology and referring him to the Road Traffic Act sub-section that deals with licensed hackney carriages being permitted to stop in any controlled zone for the purpose of picking up or setting down passengers. He added, “I expect better behaviour of a public servant being paid in excess of over £100,000 per annum.”

Mr Cullinan replied to him by email at 16.12, saying “I am afraid that I don't know who you are. Nevertheless I have only honestly commented on a video that has my name at the top of it.”

At 16.38 Mark Booth, Mr Chapman’s employer and the owner of Taxi 376, emailed Licensing Manager Wendy Peck pointing out that Mr Cullinan’s YouTube comment implicated the other drivers of Taxi 376, who might suffer loss of earnings as a result. Mr Booth's email displayed that it had also been copied to Mr Cullinan himself, to Head of Governance Sarah Taylor, to Mr Kay,  to the national Hackney Proprietors Association office, to two city councillors, to his MP Eric Ollerenshaw and to a fellow taxi driver.

Mrs Peck didn't respond, but at 16.45pm Mr Cullinan replied to Mr Booth, with copies to the same recipients:  'I did not put the Video with my name on it on YouTube. Someone else did and I have simply commented on it.' 

Later that night, between 1am and 2am, Mr Cullinan posted a second comment on the YouTube webpage:

"Oh and by the way I now have the photos of my mates knee. I will be happy to show anyone who? is intersted at Morecambe Town Hall . I will be on the steps at 12.15 p.m. Wednesday" (sic)

On the following morning, 11 May (Wednesday), at 9.51am the City Council Chief Executive’s PA, Elaine Stoker, emailed Mr Chapman’s employer, Mr Booth, on behalf of Mr Cullinan as follows:

From: Stoker, Elaine  On Behalf Of Cullinan, Mark
To: Mark Booth
Subject: Liquid car park incident
Sent on behalf of Mark Cullinan
Dear Mr Booth
Can I take it that you're the owner of the taxi?  If so, to help clear the matter up, if you meet me on the steps of MTH at 12.15 today, I will show you the photographs.
Mark Cullinan
Chief Executive
Lancaster City Council

Mr Booth duly attended the Chief Executive’s meeting on the steps of Morecambe Town Hall (MTH).  Mr Cullinan was later quoted in the Lancaster Guardian as saying: “during a lunch break from work I showed the proprietor the photos of the injuries, as I thought he would find this helpful as he had not witnessed the collision.

Mr Booth explained again to the City Council’s Chief Executive that the City Council license number of a taxi relates to the vehicle, and not to its drivers. Taxi 376 was driven by 4 different taxi drivers for their living, raising serious concerns about their all being implicated in the Chief Executive’s comments about ‘driver 376.’ As the matter was currently under police investigation, and Mr Cullinan’s photographs were already in their hands, he believed it appropriate for the Chief Executive to await their evaluation rather than inviting ‘anyone who? is intersted’ to see him testify his friend’s case to a taxi driver’s employer on the town hall steps.

At around 1pm on Wednesday 11 May Mr Cullinan posted a further comment on the YouTube webpage:

"I have been informed that there are 4 different drivers of car? 376. My comments relate only to the driver of the vehicle in relation to the incident placed on YouTube only and I apologise if i have inadvertently offended the other 3 drivers"

The police, on investigating Mr Atkinson’s complaint that a taxi had hit his knee, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. Mr Kay and Mr Chapman had made a request to the investigating officer that CCTV footage of the car park be examined in case it was able to shed any light on the disputed allegation. In fact CCTV in Lancaster is controlled and operated by Lancaster City Council.  Mr Graham Cox, the City Council’s Head of Property Services, told Virtual Lancaster in October 2011 that CCTV images are only retained for 31 days, and that as no requests had been lodged with the council for this footage during that period, it was no longer available.

Mr Chapman took the decision to quit his job in Lancaster and move to a different licensing area. He told the Lancaster Guardian in June 2011 that the incident was ‘the final straw that broke the camel’s back.’

Mr Kay was taken aback to find that his private YouTube account had been ‘hacked’ as he saw it, by the Chief Executive pursuing a private dispute via sharing of confidential case material, obtained at the Licensing Manager’s specific request for the purpose of her promised investigation.  He reacted to the perceived breach of privacy without consultation by making the YouTube page publicly accessible.

On June 23, 2011, Mr Kay made a formal complaint to the City Council about the Chief Executive’s handling of this case writing:

"Mr Cullinan's actions are not fitting for the City Council's Chief Executive.

"Firstly to make libellous allegations against taxi drivers over whose regulation he has oversight.

"Secondly, to be ignorant of the parking / loading regulations but still to issue an emphatic and unfounded public allegation, against drivers whose employment and regulation he oversees, also apparently in total ignorance of the common shared vehicle arrangements of the people whose employment he regulates.

"Thirdly to invite a further public confrontation, on the steps of Morecambe Town Hall (!) where he is most certainly, and at all times, not paid £107,000pa to pursue personal quarrels, but to be Chief Exec. He invited the public to see the Chief Exec of the City Council pursuing a personal quarrel based on a drunken encounter, against a person whose employment he regulates, on Council property, with all the authority of the council behind him. And all for his mate. Which is pretty much what his mate asked him to do in the video."

Mr Kay later confirmed that in using the term ‘drunken encounter’ he was referring exclusively to Mr Atkinson’s encounter with Mr Chapman.

As reported above, his complaint was not upheld by the City Council Personnel Committee.
Lancaster City Council told Virtual-Lancaster in November 2011:

"Lancaster City Council can confirm that it investigated a matter concerning an incident which was alleged to have occurred on the North Road car park in Lancaster on April 23.  The matter was reported to us by the police and in situations such as these, as the licensing authority, our role is to investigate any allegations made against the taxi driver.
"The matter was properly investigated by the city council to determine if any action needed to be taken under licensing legislation.
"Lancaster City Council does not comment on the specifics of individual investigations and how they are dealt with."

Earlier reports on these incidents posted in June 2011 were removed from the internet by both Virtual Lancaster (“'Taxi’ called for Chief Exec over YouTube Comments”) and the Lancaster Guardian ("Council chief in taxi driver argument" ) in July 2011 pending the outcome of correspondence initiated by Mr Cullinan’s private solicitors.

This correspondence was referred to when the report of the car park incident, and Mr Kay’s complaint about Mr Cullinan’s YouTube comments, his meeting on the steps of Morecambe Town Hall and his approach to taxi regulation in this case later appeared in Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column (Issue 1299, 14 October 2011 p13 ‘Rank Behaviour’), who nominated Lancaster City Council Chief Executive Mark Cullinan for a special award, the name of which is unrepeatable in this family news blog.  Their report was aired on other UK websites and blogs.

Mr Cullinan’s comments on the YouTube page were followed by a number of exchanges by other usernames. ‘MarkCullinan’ made no further contributions. In September 2012 Mr Kay deleted the page and its comments and switched the video to a new link: http://youtu.be/GQVSAb7aKFo.

Virtual Lancaster is now able to bring this update of the original report to our newsblog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder which policies they were looking at. Room booking? Is there one about trolling clients' social networking sites with personal rants during office hours? These things can eat up your time. Lucky we've been able to provide a PA.
Poor Mrs P, locked out from all the fun. They locked the wrong stable door there, innit?