Russell letter to council CEO on ‘spying’ activities – call for independent investigation

From: Michael Russell
Date: 10 February 2012 08:25:56 GMT
To: Sally Loudon
Subject: Today’s Herald

Dear Sally

I am on the boat to Mull and have just read the Herald.  I cannot remember being as angry .  The thought that my constituents have been “spied on” by a senior member of your staff is truely outrageous. And when I consider the likelihood that I was one of these people, then words almost fail me.

If the article is not true I am sure you will tell me that immediately.  If it is true then not only must disciplinary action be immediate but I will also be calling for a full independent external inquiry.

There are  significant issues under the data protection and standards legislation that will require consideration.  In addition I also understand that the activities undertaken by staff may  have included posting comments about opposition political figures on websites so there will need to be a full and open account given of all these “spying” activities and information produced as to where the “product” of this spying ended up.  Who saw it or was told of it?  Did senior officials and administration councillors have access to it?  All these matters demand rigorous investigation with no delay.

Finally all this must be undertaken with total transparency and to that end I am releasing this to the media.

Yours sincerely

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • LinkedIn
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • Ma.gnolia
  • NewsVine
  • StumbleUpon
  • SphereIt
  • Reddit
  • Slashdot
  • Print

28 Responses to Russell letter to council CEO on ‘spying’ activities – call for independent investigation

  1. Well Done Mike for such an immediate and welcome response. Roll on May when hopefully we can elect Councillors who have the intelligence and gumption to take on these out of control mandarins.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Well at least we can never complain that Argyll and Bute is a dull place to live!

    I very much look forward to the outcome of this call for an investigation into ABC’s “spying” activities. We might even get to hear who was behind “Simon”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. I have posted my own initial comment on the “Council now deploys online ‘Spy Accounts’ in covert surveillance of local critics”.

    The intervention of Michael Russell MSP is to be welcomed. I will be contacting Jackie Baillie MSP as the other Argyll & Bute MSP to seek her support for a full and transparent investigation into this serious matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. What a crowd of vioers we have within Argyll & Bute Council. What on earth happened to the old principles of public service, decency, honesty, and above all…transparency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • I guess you meant “vipers” – however, if we are being herpetological then I would suggest that Grass snakes would perhaps be more apt (and they do seem to have established themselves in Scotland).

      It may be that the whole thing turns out to have been merely an innocent but unfortunate nomenclature used by the hapless Ms Smith but I think ABC employees who were active in the schools campaign will be alarmed at the thought that their postings may have been recorded by the Council with the potential for them to be used against them at a later date. Hence the appropriateness of Grass snakes.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • That is a fair point Phill and we would do well to avoid following in the footsteps of the English FA for fear of losing our leader (wait a minute…) however if you read the Herald article (now online at it clearly states

      ‘One fellow communications professional at the event, who did not wish to be named, said: “Ms Smith gave a powerful presentation about the highs and lows of using social media, but there was a sense of shock in the room when she described how she set up fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter to spy on people and groups who oppose the council.’

      which, unless this unanmed professional made the whole thing up, is a pretty damning statement as it means Ms Smith actually described to an audience of people that she did it.

      However the the quote from , Gary McGrow, Scottish Health Services Researcher at Scottish Health Council, does suggest there are two ‘schools of thought’ about the motivation of Ms Smith in her behaviour and possibly what the accounts were used for.

      That, obviously, is what an investigation will focus on and we should be careful not to jump the gun regarding conclusions.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Phill: Innocent until proven guilty I agree. However, regardless of the truth behind the outrageous possibility that the Council may have been covertly spying on opponents, the fact is that this is a PR disaster for ABC and it has been caused entirely by their head of communications – whose job is to ensure that the Council avoids PR disasters.

      So the outcome of this story will either be that officers will be found to have been acting illegally or that at least one of them is cack-handed.

      I had an operations manager working for me who had mistakenly ordered the wrong components which could not be returned. This cost the company about £6,000. As soon as he discovered the error he came to me and offered his resignation (despite having a wife and child at home with another one on the way).

      If this mess is down to Ms Smith being silly at a seminar then she should consider offering her resignation. The cardinal sin of a communications manager is to become the news story. If there really was spying going on then, regardless of who knew and who didn’t, then this is a resignation matter for the CEO.

      (and no, I didn’t accept the resignation of my Ops manager but it was noble for him to offer)

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. It is most unfortunate that the top beaurocrats within this Council appear to lose all sense of purpose as to their actual role of serving the people as soon as they assume any position of power or prominence . Their arrogance and conceited sense of self importance shines through the facade that they present to the public. To effectively spy on your own people and then pop off tae Glasgow to brag about it to your peers, simply underlines a stunning disregard for any sense of vulnerability. Does anyone ever get truly sacked for incompetence in A&BC I wonder?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Hi Mike, I thank you for your intervention in this unbelievable and treacherous situation. I do believe, however, as a victim of Jo Smith and Argyll & Bute Council, that she may not be the only person within the council involved in this story. Due to the pressure that Oban Fm put on me, I eventually quit my programme as I was not willing to go on and withhold the truth from the listeners. However I have in my possession an email from Oban FM to Jo Smith saying that it was their intention to remove me from air for good. This matter has resulted in outrage from listeners throughout the Oban area. I do believe that the original complaint to Oban FM came from the councillor involved in my accusations, I also believe that this complaint was not authorised by any committee within Argyll & Bute Council. My colleague, Neil MacIntyre, has asked on three occasions for a FOI regarding the name of the guilty councillor, this has been refused each time. I also know that Jo Smith used my name on slide No. 6 without my permission at her presentation. I look forward to the investigation that you are mounting. It is, in my opinion, every bit as dangerous a situation as phone tapping/hacking and that the legal authorities must become involved ASAP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. So George what you are saying is that you have quit Oban fm totally?
    Have you done this before?
    Will you ever be back? Your prog would have been good in the lead up to the elections.
    I am glad your good wife has not been affected by any of these allegations and continues her excellent Sunday scottish programme which is always delivered in an excellent laid back manner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Only slightly off the thread, I wonder whether the evidence triggering the ongoing ‘spygate’ furore should be sufficient encouragement for Oban FM to see sense and apologise publicly and fully to George Berry – and to their audience, and hopefully to persuade George to give the local radio another go. I can’t see any councillor having the brass neck to raise it’s head above the parapet in the current circumstances.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • You cant turn back the clock. Time to broach new horizons for George who i feel would make a fine A and B councillor given his local charity/community background.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. For Integrity.
    The reply we got from Ian Jackson the Governance Officer was that this would be (personal information) which is excempt from disclosure.So the councillor can hide behind section 38(1)(b)of FOISA.So that is the quality we have representing us and the officers play along.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Integrity,
    you’re kiddin’ yourself. I’ll bet, from what we now know, the Kilmory cat knows your e-mail address!
    The response by Mr Russell is all good and well, but telecommunications is a reserved matter, has there been a response from Alan Reid yet does anyone know?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. CSB, there is no doubt that Alan Reid will know exactly what is going on. It may be that he prefers to keep a low profile on this issue given that his Lib Dem colleagues (Cllr Morton, Cllr Hay, Cllr Currie, Cllr Reay, Cllr Nisbet and Cllr Colville) are all at the heart of the ConDemAll administration.

    By keeping a low profile, it allows him to avoid condeming a practice that it is alleged took place on the watch of his own Leb Dem colleagues.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

All the latest comments (including yours) straight to your mailbox, everyday! Click here to subscribe.