Lancashire County Council 'secretly accessed emails', says former leader

County Councillor Geoff Driver County councillor Geoff Driver said it was an outrageous infringement of privacy

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Councillors' emails have been secretly accessed by Lancashire County Council officials, says the former leader of the authority.

Conservative Geoff Driver CBE said he was "horrified" his emails had been accessed and was taking legal advice.

It was part of an investigation relating to the suspension of chief executive Phil Halsall over the tendering of a contract, he said.

The authority would not comment on the case but said it could access emails.

'Scandalous and outrageous'

A spokesman for Lancashire County Council (LCC) said: "It would be inappropriate for the county council to comment on this specific matter.

Analysis

It is not entirely clear who asked for Geoff Driver's emails to be checked and precisely what they are looking for but it does relate to the suspension of the chief executive, and concerns about the way council contracts were tendered.

The decision to access councillor Driver's emails would need to have been authorised by two of three senior officers, almost certainly including the acting chief executive, Jo Turton. I understand the council leader, Jenny Mein, was not informed in advance.

Mr Driver believes other councillors may have had their emails read, too and has written to all of them warning of a "outrageous infringement of our privacy".

Council sources suggest in reality he might have been the only one.

Mr Driver is not a council employee but an elected representative so it is a serious and unusual move to grant permission.

The wider context is the question about the tendering of contracts.

One side says nothing has been done wrong and this is a fishing trip.

Others hint that there is a wider and serious problem. Either way, accessing a councillor's emails raises the stakes.

"However we do have a procedure in place to allow access to any county council email account when appropriate clearance has been given."

Mr Driver, councillor for Preston North, said he challenged a senior officer on Friday who confirmed to him his county council emails were among those which have been secretly read.

Mr Driver, who was appointed a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June, said it was "scandalous and an outrageous infringement of privacy".

The investigation follows an independent review of the tendering process for a contract to run the council's fleet services.

Mr Halsall was suspended in August.

Interim chief executive

He described allegations as "complete nonsense" and said he was "vigorously" pursuing his reinstatement.

Jo Turton, the council's executive director for environment, has been appointed interim chief executive.

Labour councillor Jennifer Mein was appointed as the new council leader on 23 May after the Conservatives lost overall control in the local government elections on 6 May.

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