Inside ex-council leader's legal fight with government ombudsman

Cllr Joseph Ejiofor

Former Haringey Council leader Joseph Ejiofor is attempting to take legal action against the Local Government Ombudsman - Credit: Sam Volpe

Court papers have revealed further details of an attempt by the former leader of Haringey Council to instigate a legal action against the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

Joseph Ejiofor is seeking permission for a judicial review of the LGO’s decision to name him in a critical report.

Both parties have declined to comment on the specifics of the legal claim, but the Ham&High has obtained legal papers outlining each side’s case.

Cllr Ejiofor claims the decision to name him had a “profound” impact on his political career.

It directly led led to his removal as a Labour candidate in this month’s council election, his lawyer contends.

He wants the High Court to quash the report and publicly declare it “unlawful” and “irrational”. 

The LGO says his claim is meritless and should be thrown out.

The background

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In 2014, Haringey Council told residents of Woodside Avenue, opposite Muswell Hill's former Cranwood care home, that it was considering demolishing their homes to make way for a new estate.

The LGO was asked to investigate in 2020 by a resident – known as Mr X.

Mr X said that after years of stress, he and the council had been on the verge of agreeing a price for his house, only for council leader Joseph Ejiofor to suddenly halt the scheme.

Some residents had collected 5,000 signatures opposing the demolition.

The LGO found Mr Ejiofor made a “unilateral” decision to stop the demolition in a meeting with those residents.

Mr Ejiofor says his decision was also based on the discovery of sewers and water mains which would complicate the works, and alleges that a developer had obtained the right to sell Mr X’s home for him and was trying to charge the council a “premium”.

The LGO published a report in January saying Mr Ejiofor had made his decision “without proper scrutiny” and with a “lack of adequate analysis and consideration”.

It said it had decided to name Cllr Ejiofor “in the public interest”.

102-18 Woodside Avenue. Picture: Polly Hancock

These houses in Woodside Avenue, Muswell Hill, faced demolition until Cllr Ejiofor's change of heart in 2020 - Credit: Polly Hancock

The complaint

“For the purposes of these proceedings, the claimant challenges only the decision to name him,” says Mr Ejiofor’s legal filing, dated April 8 and written by barrister Leo Davidson, from 11KBW chambers.

Mr Davidson says that in order to name Mr Ejiofor, rather than just using his job title, the LGO had to find it was “necessary” – but argues that there is no evidence the LGO applied that test.

He adds that naming Mr Ejiofor had a “substantial additional impact on his privacy and reputation”, worsened by “procedural unfairness”.

“The ombudsman failed to take appropriate or sufficient steps to notify the claimant of its proposed decision to name him, or afford him an opportunity to make representations,” claims Mr Davidson.

“At no point prior to the publication was he aware that the ombudsman proposed to name him personally”.

Cranwood Nursing Home has been disused since 2012

Haringey Council planned to demolish a row of houses as part of its regeneration of the former Cranwood care home site - Credit: Polly Hancock

The defence

The LGO’s legal filing, dated May 3, says that “the claimant’s grounds of claim are wholly without merit”.

It calls on the court to throw the case out and order Mr Ejiofor to pay £2,805 in legal costs.

Correspondence documenting the LGO’s decision-making over whether to name Mr Ejiofor shows staff felt identifying him was unavoidable, as only the council leader could have taken the decision in question.

“The claimant was the decision-maker who decided, unilaterally, not to proceed with the purchase of the property by the council, and it was the quality and content of that decision-making which was the subject of the complaint,” the filing says.

"The report would need to refer to the claimant as the leader of the council... That would mean that the claimant would be clearly identified and it would be impossible to anonymise the report.”

The LGO says it forwarded the draft report to Haringey Council in October 2021 with a letter explaining the importance of ensuring Mr Ejiofor was shown a copy.

The council provided the LGO with proof it had forwarded the draft to Mr Ejiofor.

But Mr Ejiofor’s legal filing says he didn’t read it “due to the provenance, lack of apparent importance and personal circumstances at the time".

It says: "The claimant had only just returned to frontline politics after being narrowly, and acrimoniously, ousted from his position as leader.”

It adds: “Had the ombudsman emailed the report to him directly, the claimant would have recognised the importance and acted accordingly.”

A judge must now decide whether the case should proceed.

For more, read:

Haringey: Ex-council leader launches legal action over ombudsman criticism

Former Haringey Council leader removed as Labour Party election candidate

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

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