Friday, 16 November 2012

Official welcome for Lancashire's new Police and Crime Commissioner

Lancashire Police Authority and Lancashire Constabulary have officially welcomed the County's first-ever Police and Crime Commissioner.

As we reported earlier, Clive Grunshaw was elected to be the PCC for Lancashire following the election yesterday. The PCC will officially replace Lancashire Police Authority on 22nd November, becoming accountable for how crime is tackled in the area.

The change has not, we have to report, stirred many to exercise their democratic right locally. By 6.00pm the Voting Booths at St Thomas Church Hall in the Lancaster City Centre had see fewer than 100 people pass through the door. Overall the ballot had an exceptionally low turnout of just 15.5%, with 172,710 people voting across the county. Figures on spoilt ballots are not available as yet.

None of the four candidates polled more than 50 per cent of the vote. Labour candidate Clive Grunshaw, who received 66,017 votes, and Conservative Tim Ashton, 58,428, went through to the final. The second choices of people who voted for eliminated candidates, Afzal Anwar (Lib Dem) 18,396, and Rob Drobny (UKIP) 25,228, were distributed to the top two contenders and recounted.

Despite concerns at voter apathy for the new post, intended by government accountability to the police but raising concerns over politicization, the deed is done: now we'll have to see if it works. Lancashire Police Authority Chairman, Bruce Jassi officially welcomed Clive Grunshaw and congratulated him on his successful election to Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire.

"I wish him well in the new role and hope he can continue cutting crime; ensuring the County is a safer place," he commented.

"Lancashire Police Authority has enjoyed a healthy working relationship with the Constabulary. We have been a critical friend; supporting the Constabulary through the successes and challenges it has faced.

"I look forward to seeing this relationship continue to develop under the direction of the Commissioner and the Police and Crime Panel.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who voted in this election. I would also like to thank my fellow Police Authority members and staff for their support and dedication through this transition and wish them all the best for the future."

Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary, Steve Finnigan, congratulated Clive Grunshaw on his election as the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire.

He said: “The election of PCCs is undoubtedly a huge change for the police service but I am confident that here in Lancashire, Clive Grunshaw and I will be able to build a professional and effective working relationship that will help us to collectively ensure that the county remains a safe place in which to live, work and visit.

"I'd also like to pay tribute to the work of the Police Authority, which has left a strong legacy in place for the Commissioner to now progress."

Lancashire Constabulary is the 10th biggest force in England and Wales and was set up in 1839. It serves approximately 1.5m people across the county. The Chief Constable is Steve Finnigan who was honoured with a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June 2010.

Labour's Clive Grunshaw elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire

Labour's Clive Grunshaw – the only candidate for the post who was a serving member of the existing Lancashire Police Authority – has been elected as Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire following a County-wide election.

Mr Grunshaw, who was Labour’s candidate for Lancaster & Fleetwood in the parliamentary election in 2010, officially takes up the role of PCC for Lancashire on 22nd November, replacing the current Police Authority.

The PCC will hold the Chief Constable to account and be the voice of the County when it comes to issues of crime and policing.

Speaking after his election to the role of Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire, Clive Grunshaw, said:

"Clearly I am delighted with this result. I would like to thank all those who voted in this election. Also, thanks to all those who have worked and volunteered during this election.

This is a new era for policing in Lancashire. This is a real opportunity to focus on what matters to people in this County.

"My number one priority is the safety and security of the people of Lancashire.  I will focus on making this role a successful one; ensuring the public gets the best possible service from Lancashire Constabulary and protecting the frontline."

Clive Grunshaw has had a varied career: he left school aged 16 to work on Fleetwood Docks as winch builder. He worked as a milkman before gaining a Politics degree as a mature student from Lancaster University. After working for his union, the T&GWU,  he became the parliamentary assistant to Joan Humble MP (Blackpool North & Fleetwood) in 1997 but has been a Wyre Councillor since 1994 – and is presently leader of Wyre Labour Group.

A County Councillor since 1999 – he served as Cabinet Member for Children & Young People and then the Environment – he has also been a foster carer for children with special needs.


"My simple aim in standing as candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner is to do  everything within my power to make Lancashire the best police force in the country," said Clive in a  published statement. "Given the level of cuts being imposed upon us it will be a difficult task for any newly elected PCC – but it is also an opportunity to make things work better.

"To be effective in the new role we need to firstly listen to the views of the resident’s of Lancashire and to then incorporate their views/concerns into the Police & Crime Plan." he argues. "It is through meeting people across Lancashire that I have identified their concerns and put them as my priorities."

The only candidate that was a present member of Lancashire Police Authority where he has been Chair of the Resources Committee for the past four years, he has had to be involved in decision making to shave £38 million from the county's policing budget – but still have a gap of over £3 million yet to identify.

"We have had a moratorium on recruitment for the past three years (apart from a one off recruitment of 50 officers last year fill some gaps)," he notes. "It is also worth pointing out that whilst we have identified the cuts they have only been partially implemented.  Any suggestion that the reduction in the budget has not led to an increase in crime is misleading – it soon will!

"I hope to find further savings through collaboration with other forces, working more effectively with the voluntary, community and faith sector and some innovative schemes such as targeting persistent and prolific offenders.  This is because, if done properly, it will make a real difference to the safety of the resident’s in Lancashire and save a significant amount of funding that could be reallocated into other areas of crime reduction.  It would be achieved through integrated offender management i.e. working more intensively with persistent offenders, and their families, in a multi-agency partnership approach.

"The cost to the tax-payer of dealing with each persistent offender, through the criminal justice system, is tens of thousands of pounds," he notes. "By turning their lives around it would help to save significant resources – which could be reallocated to other areas of crime reduction including better commissioning of services direct from community groups; and putting more police officers on the frontline to tackle issues such as anti-social behaviour.  This would hopefully improve the trust and relationship between the police and communities and therefore have a positive effect on the fear of crime.

"Again easier said than done but the evidence is that this is a genuine opportunity for improved working.

"We have already started some of this work in Lancashire with the Total Family Programme – this would be an extension to this scheme.

"If we can make such schemes work then we can ensure that savings are reinvested on the frontline and PCSOs."

Mr Grunshaw's Key Pledges:
  • Defend frontline policing – maintain a visible policing presence
  • Protect neighbourhood policing – particularly PCSOs
  • Ensure swift and effective response to reports of anti-social behaviour
  • Prioritise the fight against domestic violence and child sexual exploitation
  • Champion the rights of the victim
  • Target persistent and prolific offenders

Police warning after spate of sneak thief robberies in Lancaster

Ullswater Road, Lancaster. Photo via Google Maps
Lancaster Police are urging home owners to make their properties secure following a spate of opportunist burglaries.

Police say there have been five burglaries since the beginning of the month where entry has been gained through insecure doors or open upstairs windows and a variety of items have then been stolen.

On the evening of 10th November, a handbag was stolen from a house on Ullswater Road whilst the victim was upstairs. Her bag had been left near to her front door with the blinds open and the lights on in the room in full view of the footpath on the busy street.

On 9th November, someone also sneaked into a house on Coniston Road through an insecure bathroom window and stolen a PlayStation 3 and Samsung laptop.

Similar offences have also been committed on Patterdale Road, Canal Walk and Greenfield Street.

Residents are being reminded of the need to secure all doors and windows prior to leaving their address. Valuable property should also be security marked.

Sergeant Dave Callan said: “In some cases homes have been entered while the occupants are still inside. Unfortunately the darker winter nights undoubtedly provide cover for burglars who walk up driveways and try doors without being seen.

“Many of these offences are completely avoidable by people simply locking the doors to their house. Car keys and handbags left on display are an incentive for burglars to walk in and help themselves.

“Burglaries are at an all-time low and to maintain that members of the public need to remain vigilant and reduce opportunities for thieves.

“Security lighting and locked gates are just a couple of ideas that will help.”

Anyone with any information about any burglary should call Lancashire Police on 101.

People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Storey to host Handmade and Vintage Festive Market


Lancaster's Storey centre on Upper Market Street will play host to the independent Handmade and Vintage Festive Market on Saturday 8th December.

"The beautiful Victorian gallery will burst open with Arts and craft-orientated stalls," say organisers, " showcasing a bewildering array of homemade, pop and vintage influenced gifts, knick-knacks and curiosities."

More than 40 stalls will fill the first floor providing a special festive shopping experience in one of the most impressive rooms in Lancaster. Up and coming artists, designers and makers from across the North West will sell original, affordable goodies. Lively paintings, bold prints, elegant jewellery, stunning textiles, hand crafted dolls, unusual homeware, cutting edge kids clothing and contemporary ceramics will be on offer alongside gorgeous vintage gowns, bags and hats.

If you are looking for something to wear this Christmas or need the perfect present, then come along to the Handmade and Vintage Festive Market, support the independent traders and grab something truly unique.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Lancaster man dies after assault

Following on from the assault outside the Joiners Arms in Queen Street, Morecambe on the 5th November, sadly, the victim who was left in a critical condition, passed away overnight last night (14th – 15th November).

He can be named as Paul Ormerod who was 55 and from Lancaster.

40-year-old Christopher Kearnes has subsequently been re-arrested and charged with murder and will appear before Lancaster Magistrates court tomorrow morning. (Friday 16th November)

Specially trained police officers are supporting his family at this incredibly difficult time.

 

Opinion: Did somebody mention an election?

Today, for the first time, in a blizzard of media indifference, Lancashire will elect its first Police & Crime Commissioner. We didn't receive any questions to ask them.

We apologise for suggesting in an earlier article that anybody could stand. Gina Dowding, Co-ordinator of North Lancashire Green Party has now informed us:

"The Greens  decided not to stand in this election, not least because of the prohibitive deposit of £5000 which was required up front by any candidate standing."

To stand for election as an MP the deposit is just £500.

And that's it. Normally, we would urge people to get out and vote. Probably you should. Otherwise you could end up with UKIP candidate and ex-special constable Rob Drobny (40) from Knott-End-On-Sea who, with a keen eye for the most vulnerable in society, says his top crime priority is

"I will say no to the persecution of motorists as driving cash machines."

Rob Drobny, the man who puts the 'human' into traffic.

Alternatives are:

Anwar Afzal, Liberal Democrat

Tim Ashton – Conservative

Clive Grunshaw, Labour

The Search is on to Find Lancashire’s Young Citizen of the Year 2012

Nominations are being sought for a county-wide award that recognizes the special achievements of young people.

The High Sheriff of Lancashire's Young Citizen of the Year Awards take place every year and involve the High Sheriff inviting applications to a competition to find a young person aged up to 21 who has helped either their local neighbourhood, an individual, family member or local organisation.

This year, High Sheriff Jeremy Gorick, wants to hear about all kinds of projects; projects that help make local communities safer and better places to live; those which help to regenerate deprived areas; or those which help people to build confidence and unlock their true potential.

BAE Systems are once again title sponsor for this year’s Awards, and are proud to be associated with the scheme.

BAE’s Ian Wood, Operations Director - Combat Air and Site Director of Samlesbury, said: “We know from previous entries across the years that there are a great number of young people in the county who make an outstanding contribution to the communities in which they live.

“It is on that basis, that we are tremendously proud to support these awards and extremely keen to encourage people to put nominations forward.”

The scheme is being administered by the Lancashire Partnership Against Crime (LANPAC) on behalf of the High Sheriff and the closing date for nominations is 31st January 2013.

Winners and runners up are selected by the High Sheriff and a panel of judges from LANPAC, Lancashire Constabulary, BAE Systems and former High Sheriff Rodney Swarbrick, who initiated this Award.

All finalists will be invited to attend a presentation at Lancashire Constabulary Headquarters in Spring 2013 when the winner will receive £250 plus a specially commissioned trophy and certificate from Lancashire’s High Sheriff and Chief Constable. 2 runners up will also receive £100 and a certificate.

Approval of a parent or guardian is needed for the nomination, subsequent publicity and any future events involving the finalists.

• Application forms are available online at www.lanpac.co.uk; alternatively they are available from the LANPAC office on 01772 412733 or they can be collected from local police stations or downloaded at www.lancashire.police.uk

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ever thought of becoming a County Councillor?

Have you ever wanted to really get involved with the way services are provided in your community?

Becoming a County Councillor would allow you to have a major influence in your community, and a special event organised by Lancashire County Council will help you to find out more.

The county council is hosting an information evening for people who are thinking about standing for election as a county councillor.

Voters will go to the polls in May 2013, to choose their county councillors.

This information evening is open to everyone to find out about the process of standing for election.
It takes place at County Hall in Preston on Wednesday 28 November, from 5.30 to 7.30pm. Free parking is ava! ilable on the Arthur Street car park after 5.00pm.

There will be presentations by the County's Chief Executive, council and district elections officers. This will be followed by opportunities to speak informally to officers about the day-to-day work of a councillor.

Prospective candidates will have an opportunity to find out more about the work of councillors, the support that is available and ask questions about the election process.

"Most people could stand as a county councillor," says Phil Halsall, chief executive of the county council. "You don’t need to be from a certain background or have any specific experience. It’s more important to be passionate about helping your local community.

"If you're interested in finding out more about putting yourself forward for election, our information evening will help you to find out more."

You don't have to belong to or represent a political party to stand in the election! s. You can stand as an independent candidate or choose not to have any description.

Many political parties have their own selection processes. It's recommended that people check with the political party if they are thinking of standing as their candidate.

• To book your place at the event and for further information, visit www.lancashire.gov.uk/beacouncillor. You can also call Catherine Earnshaw on 01772 533306.

Jewellery and gold stolen in Carnforth

Detectives are appealing for information after thousands of pounds worth of jewellery, gold bullion and platinum was stolen from a jewellery shop in Carnforth.

Macmillan-Clare Designer Goldsmiths at Greenlands Farm Village, Tewitfield was targeted around 8.30pm on Wednesday 7th November 2012. At this stage, it is not known whether one person was involved or whether it was a group of people.

They gained access to the shop by breaking the locks on the door with what is believed to have been a heavy, possibly bladed, instrument.

Once the offenders entered the premises they stole two safes containing property, including various rings, necklaces and earrings, and it is believed that they were removed from the scene in a vehicle.

DC Tristan Hardwick said: “I would appeal to anybody who was in the area at the time who may have seen anybody acting suspiciously to contact police.

“I am also keen to hear from anybody who has any information at all that they think could help with this investigation.”

Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org.

No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court

 

Fugitive Ivan Leach may have travelled to London

Police hunting fugitive Ivan Leach believe he may have travelled by coach to London.

Officers now have information that Leach caught a bus at Nottingham on October 20th and got off in London. Officers from Lancashire are travelling to the capital to investigate and to distribute wanted posters.

The last confirmed sighting of Leach came from CCTV footage which shows 47-year-old Leach at a Barclay’s Bank cash machine in Nottingham city centre at 11.13 am on Saturday, October 20th.

Police have also received more than 100 possible unconfirmed sightings.

Leach, also known as Lee Cyrus, went missing from North Sea Camp open prison, Boston, Lincolnshire on Tuesday 9th October after going on day release and police forces across England and Scotland continue to work together in an effort to track him down.

Posters have been distributed across England and Scotland appearing on buses, in shops, community centres, hospitals, and in bus and train stations.

Detective Supt Withers said: “We believe that Leach travelled to London by coach in October and got off in the capital. We are making enquiries to try to trace him and I have sent officers to London in a bid to try to trace him.

“We are continuing to liaise with a number of other forces across England and Scotland and have a huge number of resources dedicated to tracking him down but we also need the public’s help.

“I want to reassure people that we follow up every potential sighting of him so I’d urge people to call police if you think you see him or know of his current whereabouts.

“I would also like to warn anyone who may be harbouring him that if they know where he is, and they fail to notify police, action will be taken against them.

‘‘At the same time I would appeal directly to Leach, wherever he is, to hand himself in. Police forces across the UK are alert to the fact that has absconded and given the publicity of the past weeks, his face is now well known within communities across England and Scotland. He should do the right thing and give himself up.’’

Leach was born in Preston and has connections across the city as well as in South Ribble. He is known to have been in the city on a number of occasions since he absconded, but he could be anywhere in the country. Enquiries are also ongoing in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Tayside.

Officers have warned Leach should not, under any circumstances, be approached as he poses a significant risk.

Leach is described as white; around five feet 11 inches tall, of stocky build with cropped hair and hazel eyes. His has a distinctive scar on his top lip under his nose and two distinctive tattoos, one with the name ‘Annette’ on the bicep of his left arm and a figure of a barbarian woman on the back of his right shoulder blade.

Since he absconded he may also have grown a beard and moustache and may change his appearance to evade capture.

Anyone with any information in England is asked to contact police by calling 101 if in Scotland, people are asked to call 999 (the 101 service is not yet available in Scotland). People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

 

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.

Monday, 12 November 2012

County Council: "We See No Otters"

Otters at Halton by Stan Parrott. More pictures: www.polypics.co.uk
Lancaster County Council seems to be getting itself into a spin over the proposed Heysham M6 Link Road, now claiming that otters seen on the Lune near its planned river crossing do not exist – despite photographs taken by locals and reports about their reappearance in the local press.

The presence of otters in the Lune could put paid to the plans as they stand, as the mammals are a protected species and any development work that threatens their habitat will need careful consideration under EU regulations – and might indeed kill the scheme entirely.

Local residents have taken images of up to 15 individual otters around the Lune at Halton, with family groups including three females and seven cubs, over a long period of time. One fascinating video sequence shows a family devouring a 30lb salmon which they have caught.

Several otter experts say that this population at Halton is something they have not witnessed before, and some are busy preparing a new book which will feature the rich otter life at Halton. Their presence apparently is of County significance, and probably of national importance too.

"It is generally acknowledged that otter numbers are increasing because the water quality in the River Lune has improved lately," notes Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe chair David Gate. "This is a glowing commendation of Lancashire County Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to improve water quality to attract otters.

"Yet, strangely, the County Council are denying that otters live here," he notes. "At the recent examination in to the Heysham M6 Link Road, a LCC representative who went to look for otters couldn’t find any, but heard a 'plop' in the river and guessed it was a rat."

The proposed £123 million road would damage the otters’ habitat, and result in a decline in numbers, but unbelievably the County Council has failed to do the surveys which they are legally obliged to carry out, as otters are a species protected by British and European law.

Local resident John Wilding says: “It is extraordinary that the County Council are denying what we are seeing with our own eyes. We are dealing with the so-called 'Environment Department'. It should be renamed the Environment Destruction Department.”

Another local resident Mike Jacob adds: “This is hugely important new evidence that the Planning Examiner will have to take on board. Even County Councils cannot ride rough-shod over national and European legislation.”

Back in 2004, the presence of Great Crested Newts was blamed as the reason for abandonning plans for a Western Bypass of Lancaster – although it is more likely that fierce and well-organised opposition to that road plan had more to do with a change of route.

The Morecambe Visitor reported then that an environmental impact study released by Lancashire County Council concluded that the western route would impact heavily on two species protected by the European Union – the great crested newt and bats. It would also impact on sites of special scientific interest.

The report described the choice of the western route as "perverse" and "lacking in logic" and the chances of it being passed by a public inquiry would be between "0 and 10 per cent".

Rather than investigate traffic reducing alternatives other than a new road, the County immediately focused almost all its energies on making the current route - then known as the Northern Bypass - a reality.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Reindeer return for Lancaster Christmas Lights switch on

After a couple of years without their crowd-pulling attraction, Lancaster's retailers have decided to bring back Santa's reindeer as part of their Christmas Lights switch on later this month.

On Thursday 22nd November Santa's reindeer will be on view in Market Square, once again arriving courtesy of The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd (who of course work with Santa on a regular basis).

Wiggins the Cairngorm Reindeer
Wiggins the Cairngorm Reindeer
The reindeer won't be used in a procession as they have in past years, because the success of those appearances in terms of bringing in enthusiastic shoppers wanting to see them raised some safety concerns.

"We aren't doing the procession, simply displaying them from mid-afternoon until the lights switch-on at 7.30," St. Nicholas Arcades boss Jerry North told virtual-lancaster.

"I've had my arm twisted this year to get them back," he reveals. "I think the fact that they are there for some time will mean that more kiddies will get to see them and certainly in less of a crush than previously."

The switch on events also include the increasingly popular Santa Dash event and other activities in the lead up to the evening switch on.