Labour accused of 'watering down' external investigation promise

Peray Ahmet at full council meeting

Peray Ahmet, Labour leader of Haringey Council, addressed an extraordinary full council meeting, called to demand an external investigation into possible 'fraud and corruption' - Credit: Charles Thomson

Labour councillors have been accused of “watering down” a proposed investigation into a series of Haringey Council property deals. 

Councillors were called to an extraordinary full council meeting on Tuesday evening, February 22, demanded by Lib Dem councillors. 

“We have no faith in this council’s management and decision-making regarding property development,” the group’s leader Luke Cawley-Harrison said. 

His party had called the meeting so that councillors could vote for or against an external investigation into possible “fraud and corruption” at the council. 

The request followed a report published by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) last month, in which the watchdog said the council had withheld evidence about its decision to purchase a house, valued at £850,000, for £2.15m. 

Weeks later, the Ham&High learned that the Metropolitan Police Service had launched a fraud investigation into the development scheme the purchase was connected to.  

Addressing Tuesday night’s meeting, former council leader Joseph Ejiofor claimed the police investigation was specifically linked to the purchase of the house, in Woodside Avenue. 

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He said it was in no way linked to criticisms of his own actions – which he refuted – linked to the same development site.

Joseph Ejiofor at full council

Former Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor addressed the extraordinary full council meeting - Credit: Charles Thomson

Putting forward a motion calling for an independent, external investigation, Cllr Cawley-Harrison said it must not be limited just to the so-called Cranwood development.  

“This is about a culture that has been going on for years,” he said. 

“Any investigation must go much further than this one development.”

Labour Council leader Peray Ahmet, who had emailed colleagues last week saying she backed calls for an external investigation, proposed an amendment.

It asked members to simply “note” that she had already “requested” an external investigation, and resolve to “invite the interim chief executive and leader of the opposition to meet to discuss the scope of the external investigation.” 

She dismissed the extraordinary council meeting as “political theatre”, saying she was was “disappointed” that the Lib Dems had “insisted on calling a meeting to discuss an out-of-date motion... using precious resources to discuss a motion that I have already acted on.” 

But Lib Dems said the meeting was necessary to secure a decision on the issue before the election, as if the leadership changed after the May election – as it did last year – Cllr Ahmet’s promise might not be delivered. 

“We need a complete affirmation that this council is committed to an external investigation, regardless of who is the leader of this council at that time,” Cllr Cawley-Harrison said. 

Lib Dem Dawn Barnes said she feared the Labour amendment might lead to a "whitewash".

She said the council could not complain about wasting resources when it had spent over £2m on a house valued at around £850,000 and had overpaid for Alexandra House by millions. 

She pointed out that councillors were still awaiting the outcomes of investigations which had already been requested into the Alexandra House purchase and into why the council handed control of a business park to a local rapper for zero rent. 

Labour councillor Peter Mitchell, chairman of the Corporate Committee, backed the amendment, despite agreeing that a previous investigation had been blocked.

“Back in August, I proposed that there should be an independent review into Alexandra House, but that didn’t happen," he said.

"But if we pass this amendment I hope that will happen, because there is legitimate public interest in pursuing this. 

“We must have an urgent, independent, external investigation.” 

Cllr Cawley-Harrison said the failure to investigate Alexandra House highlighted why his party had wanted a decision made in a full council meeting. 

“He’s the chairman of the council’s auditing committee,” he said. “Do you not see the problem with that? 

“Where is the report into the land on Station Road that had no paper trail, gifted to a musician? Has it been presented?” 

Cllr Cawley-Harrison said Labour’s amendment amounted to “a resolution for a meeting”. 

“Your amendment is a commitment to nothing serious at all and we will not support that,” he said. 

But Cllr Ahmet said her amendment “includes a full, external investigation”. 

“I do not know what the external investigation will find but we want to leave no stone unturned,” she said.  

She said her party wanted to “draw a line under this and press ahead”. 

A total of 27 councillors voted for the amendment, whilst 11 opposed it. 

For more, read:

'Cover-up': Council withheld evidence from watchdog 'behind leader's back'

Watchdog: Ex-council leader's conduct over housing development was 'flawed'

Haringey councillors demand vote on 'fraud and corruption' investigation

Councillors questioned by police in Haringey fraud investigation