Liberal Democrats face scrutiny over move to fire Richmond’s head of social services
By David Hencke, Mark Conrad, Nick Fielding and David Pallister | 11 February 2013
One told Exaro that it was a political clash, while another claimed that the senior official did not have the appropriate qualifications. A third said that she would have to speak to the police.
Louis Minster, who was director of social services at the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames for nine years until 1984, said that the decision to dismiss him was entirely “political”.
Detectives on ‘Operation Fernbridge’ are examining the background to the dismissal of Minster because it came soon after the period of alleged child sex abuse that they are investigating, which runs from 1977 to 1983.
The Metropolitan Police Service’s paedophile unit is investigating allegations that boys in care were sexually abused at Grafton Close children’s home, which was run by the council, and at nearby Elm Guest House in Barnes, south-west London. Detectives are investigating alleged child sex abuse by MPs and other VIPs at the guest house.
Exaro has established that an emergency meeting of the full council on October 30, 1984 decided on Minster’s sacking after councillors discussed his position behind closed doors at the town hall of the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames.
The then council leader, Sir David Williams, proposed the motion to go into closed session for the discussion, seconded by his deputy, Tim, now Lord, Razzall. Both were then Liberal councillors.
That debate, reported a few days later in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, lasted 40 minutes and was fiery.
According to the local newspaper, one Conservative councillor said that the member of staff in question had behaved correctly.
But a Liberal-SDP alliance councillor “leapt to his feet and accused him of ‘sailing dangerously close to the wind.’”
The chief executive warned the Conservative councillor that he was treading close to matters that could only be discussed in private session.
The Liberal-SDP alliance councillor, “obviously angry, shouted that the damage had already been done.”
The Tory protested, but his Liberal-SDP opponent “shouted across the chamber, ‘This is a staffing matter, the status of the officer is not to be revealed.”
The vote to go into closed session was carried. But records of the meeting show that Razzall then proposed a motion, seconded by Williams, to sack Minster.
Razzall, who for many years was treasurer for the Liberal Democrats, and the party’s business spokesman in the House of Lords, told Exaro: “I have no recollection. All I know is that he left shortly after we took control of the council.”
He was unable to say why the council held an emergency meeting to sack a senior officer who had clashed with political leaders.
He said: “The only recollection I have, as is so often the case when a new political party takes over, the senior executives leave if the relationship with the new management is not working.
“I have no recollection of extraordinary meetings, or indeed why there was an extraordinary meeting.”
“The Tories were opposed to his going. These things are always tricky when senior officers of councils leave. I cannot remember. It is a long time ago. I have had a large political life.”
Williams recollected that Minster was sacked because councillors did not feel that he had the appropriate qualifications for the job.
He did not say why it took the council nine years to realise this, or why it would be necessary to hold an emergency meeting to sack someone who was not properly qualified.
He said: “We found out he had over-rated his qualifications and he was got rid of. Jenny Tonge, then chair of the social services committee, knows more about this.”
Minster denied the charge of “over-rating” his qualifications, saying: “Not at all, no.”
Jenny, now Baroness, Tonge, was a Liberal councillor and chaired Richmond’s social services committee at the time. When contacted by Exaro last month to discuss Minster’s dismissal, she said that she would first have to speak to detectives on Operation Fernbridge.
Since her interview with police, she declined to comment. “Sorry, the police are still investigating,” she said.