Exclusive: Gowling WLG partner’s ‘disability quip’ nearly collapses misconduct investigation

And nobody laughed

Sandwell Council House in Oldbury, West Midlands

A Gowling WLG-led probe into the alleged misconduct of a senior council official was thrown into chaos after one of its partners made a “disability quip” during a meeting.

In 2015, a probe was launched into the actions of Sandwell councillor Mahboob Hussain. The now ex-deputy leader was accused, among other things, of procuring the sale of council land to family friends below market value, and having parking ticket fines issued to family members revoked.

Keen to get to the bottom of the allegations, the West Midlands-based council instructed international law firm Wragge & Co (now Gowling WLG) to carry out an independent investigation into Hussain’s purported misconduct.

Now, thanks to a recently published High Court judgment, Legal Cheek can reveal that the lengthy investigation was thrown into turmoil after Gowling lawyer Mark Greenburgh made “personal and derogatory observations” about Hussain’s daughter and her children.

According to the judgment, Greenburgh — who was tasked with overseeing the investigation — met with senior Sandwell council officials, including chief executive Jan Britton, in October 2015. It continues:

At the meeting Mr Greenburgh made what was subsequently described by Mr Britton as ‘…a passing quip about the disabilities of Cllr Hussain’s daughter and her children being due to inbreeding’.

When Legal Cheek got in touch with Gowling WLG regarding this, the firm declined to comment. Greenburgh also did not respond when we contacted him.

Despite the employment specialist’s comments creating “serious disquiet”, it was ultimately decided by council officials that Greenburgh, a partner in Gowling’s London office, should continue with the investigation due to it now being in its advanced stages. However, taking precautions, the ruling notes:

[A]ll the evidence and the resultant report should then be submitted to leading counsel for independent and objective advice on the merits of the investigation, the implication of the solicitor’s [Greenburgh] derogatory comments, as to whether the solicitors report should be published, and as to appropriate next steps.

The judgment containing Greenburgh’s comments relates to a judicial review challenge brought by Hussain. He had argued that the council’s decision to “plough on” with the report, despite Greenburgh’s remarks, amounted to “bias”, and placing it in the public domain breached his human rights.

However, rejecting Hussain’s claims, Mr Justice Green ruled that the council had handled the Greenburgh situation appropriately and that there was a “pressing public interest” in the misconduct allegations.

According to a local media report, Hussain — who police found had no criminal case to answer in relation to the allegations — will face a council standards committee in the coming weeks.

Read the judgment in full below:

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14 Comments

Tim

And people act as if I’m the one being unreasonable when I point out the disablist nature of the profession.

This is a guy who is considered – formally – to be the best person for his position and here he is, showcasing the “correct” attitude toward disabled people.

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Anonymous

Who ever said he was acting correctly? Isn’t the whole point that he wasn’t? If we all thought what he did was fine, there would be no article as there would be nothing to report.

You are just a troll.

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Tim

“You are just a troll.”

Keep chanting that, it’s a lot easier than the ugly truth.

And I love how you try to lawyer a fact into an opposite “fact.”

You’re just a clown.

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Tim

I know. I’ve got to get my kicks somehow right? So I thought I’d pretend to be disabled just to rile you all up. I love it.

By the way, I hate clowns, so will insult everyone by calling them one, as if it’s worse than being a sad little troll.

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Anonymous

I wonder if the Labour brand was at stake here. Did this scandal emerge in a Labour dominated Council ? Yes. Would there have been an increased turnout at the general election if the scandal had become a police investigation ? Probably ? Tory voters and disillusioned lsbour switchers to bring the Tories in instead of 3 Labour mps including Tom Watson, deputy leader ? Could be. Can we slow it down comrades with Wragge and co and lobby the police not to actually police the issues in the local court ? Oh no. That is taking it too far. The separation of police power and political power is supposed to be at the heart of our constitution. Wink wink

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Anonymous

What would the charges be on the police investigation? …….. Unfortunately, being a rude little man with opinions is not a hate crime…..

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Anonymous

Woooh ooh. You like mob politics and the race to the bottom, do you ?

I suggest that if the police do not run fraud act section 4 ( abuse of position) in a situation like sandwell it is dead letter law.

Ever thought of trying to be a gentleman and a scholar instead ?

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Anonymous

Who recommended to Sandwell Chief Executive that Goudie could independently review the evidence and Greenburgh’s appalling comments.

Yes you have guess it a Mark Greenburgh!

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