No one should be surprised that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has dropped its investigations into the major property scams visited upon Liverpool. For many years, “Private Eye” has ridiculed this agency, describing it as the “Serious Farce Office” because of its repeated failures in dealing with major fraud cases. The reason given in the case of Liverpool – that there was insufficient evidence – strikes seasoned observers as absurd. However, what is done is done. We now must look to Merseyside Police for action. The prognosis is not good.
Local police are pursuing Operation Aloft, looking at corruption in the city council. Whether that will stretch to covering frauds which have primarily fleeced investors and contractors remains to be seen. After all, the original arrests under Operation Aloft involved Joe Anderson and a range of senior council officers none of whom have, to date, been prosecuted, never mind convicted. Given that there are twenty staff on Operation Aloft, one must wonder where this investigation is now headed.
It is worth considering another investigation, this one conducted by Lancashire Police, and known as Operation Sheridan. Their findings were, I believe, submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision on prosecution, over three years ago. There is still no confirmation as to what is to happen in that case. It was this precursor to Aloft which led to the arrest of four people, three of whom had strong links at a very senior level, to Liverpool City Council, including former chief executive Ged Fitzgerald, together with Phil Halsall and David McIlhenny. As with the suspects in Operation Aloft, those involved also lost their highly paid jobs (except Tory Councillor Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council!) They all appear to be in a juridical limbo.
I have repeatedly pointed out that the push for resolving the mess in Liverpool City Council has been fragmented into three areas. We don’t know, as we have seen, where, if anywhere, the criminal justice path will lead us in effecting prosecutions and, hopefully, convictions. The national government’s intentions are wholly unclear. Jenrick has gone and Gove has taken his place as the responsible minister. Only the Caller Report remains as a blueprint for future action. Will that action be forthcoming? Then we have the Labour Party.
In some ways, the Labour Party reaction has been the most disappointing of all. It began with the fact-finding Hanson inquiry. Then came the less than enthusiastic noises off about Caller’s case for a radical overhaul of the number of wards and of councillors in the city. Liverpool Labour turkeys will not vote for Christmas. Even during this past week, many were disturbed at the outcome of the selection of candidates for vacancies in three safe Labour wards. Two of the three went to former councillors, dashing the hopes of those who hoped for an infusion of fresh political talent. There is nothing new in this merry-go-round for seats on the council, but there were expectations post Caller that a message had gone to Labour to get its own house in order. This has been seen as business as usual.
More telling of the atrophied Labour Party thinking was the appointment of Sheila Murphy to oversee local Labour parties in the city. A former party hack (I was one myself!) prior to retirement, she ended up working for former MP, Luciana Berger, and along with her apostate boss, defected from the Labour Party. Such an anti-Corbyn gesture will be long remembered by a traditionally “left” Liverpool Labour Party. As a result, there will be little faith in Ms Murphy’s political impartiality.
As Liverpool staggers on, I note that Peel’s much-vaunted Wirral Waters is now welcoming “prefabs” on site. This is far removed from the grandiose claims that were being made for this alleged Wirral showpiece. I have nothing against prefabs; I do have an objection to gross exaggeration of development claims. Also, I hear that Andy Moorhead – close political ally of Joe Anderson and former leader of Knowsley Council – has resigned his seat on Knowsley Council. Finally, the “Echo” – principally through the work of journalists Tom Duffy and Nick Tyrell – is now starting to look seriously at Scam City issues. It is a pity that the so-called political editor, Liam Thorpe, has abysmally failed to do so.