Redcar and Cleveland Council says it has implemented several recommendations arising from events surrounding former leader Mary Lanigan and centring on a war memorial in her home village.

Mrs Lanigan was censured by the local authority for code of conduct breaches, but a whistleblowing complaint also alleged internal procedures were not followed within the local authority.

This prompted a separate investigation which was conducted by the council’s external auditor Veritau.

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A report for council members said it had broadly considered:

  • The handling of a noise complaint raised by a resident living close to the war memorial in Easington
  • Health and safety decisions following a reported violence at work incident involving a council worker – understood to be an attack by Mrs Lanigan’s husband Mike in which he threw a tree with an 18 inch ‘root ball’ at the officer’s head, causing soil and grit to enter his eye
  • The procurement process for a boundary fence erected at the war memorial in October 2021, along with the process which saw an electricity socket installed a year earlier.
  • The attendance of volunteers at the memorial to assist with its upkeep, essentially Mr Lanigan in this instance.
  • The removal of trees from land bordering the memorial, planted by neighbour Lisa Miller and her husband Shaun, which was undertaken by council workers and supervised by Mrs Lanigan.

The investigation by Veritau found that the noise complaint was handled appropriately by the local authority.

Referring to the violent incident, it said a letter had been drafted by the council’s health and safety team which initially contained “control measures” including the volunteer – Mr Lanigan – not being able to speak to, or contact, staff.

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But this was later amended on the basis it “may be problematic in the particular circumstances” with contact allowed via two staff who were familiar with the volunteer and happy for such an arrangement to exist.

The content of the amended letter did not match a risk assessment provided by the council’s violence at work guidance with a matrix indicating that control measures should include a ban from premises with no personal, or telephone contact.

There was also no specific process in place for agreeing amended letters/control measures and the amendments to the finalised letter not being accurately recorded on the council’s system.

Veritau noted how a member of staff felt unsupported after the incident involving Mr Lanigan was reported.

There was also nothing in council procedures to cater for volunteers “who might have mental health issues”, the report said.

Regarding the boundary fence, the investigation questioned whether there was a specific need for it and the number of quotes that were sought for the required work.

A similar question mark was also raised over the need for the electricity socket.

Without naming her, the report suggested Mrs Lanigan had used a ward member allowance afforded to her to pay for some of what was put in place, stating: “There was also no identified position in terms of maintenance, or responsibility for ongoing costs and it appeared that some appropriate checks may not have been undertaken in terms of the protocol for ward member allowances.”

There were “general issues raised” about the council’s policy and arrangements around volunteers.

The report also highlighted how council monitoring officer Steve Newton had sent a letter banning Mr Lanigan from the site, although this was later overturned with the latter’s volunteer status being removed completely.

In terms of the removal of the trees, which Mrs Lanigan was captured on camera supervising, it was suggested the position of a boundary – likely the boundary between the memorial and the Miller’s property – was not checked satisfactorily and there were “some issues in terms of the procedure followed”.

Veritau’s assessment of events led to ten recommendations, some of which have been completed with the remainder having been due to be implemented by the end of the year.

The organisation said the council should clarify arrangements for elected members requesting works to ensure that policies were adhered to and interests considered.

A member enquiry system had since been introduced with bosses asked to ensure that requests were directed via this, with its use also signposted as part of a councillor induction process.

Veritau said the council should ensure all entries on a ‘caution advised’ system – used to monitor interactions with potentially aggressive members of the public – were up to date and reflected control measures sent out in any correspondence to individuals.

A review of records on the system against correspondence had now been instigated to ensure they were accurate.

The report said a review of the council’s violence at work guidance had been requested of its health and safety team.

Veritau, meanwhile, said the council should ensure that all line managers were equipped to support staff following any incidence of violence and they should be actively encouraged to report incidents to the police.

Council officers should ensure all aspects of procurement guidance were adhered to when seeking products or services with a review of these arrangements subsequently being carried out.

It said controls on the spending of elected members’ ward allowances should also be adhered to.

The report said: “The community development manager has undertaken work to ensure that all team members are aware of the protocol and the need for supporting documentation to be completed accordingly.  “Checks are made with the monitoring officer as necessary where there may be an issue about the scope of any proposed spend.”

Veritau said the council should consider reviewing any volunteers it engaged on projects to ensure they are correctly registered and being supervised appropriately by the relevant department.

The council, in its report, said one of its directors had been identified to produce a revised volunteer policy to be approved and implemented.

A spokesman for the council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that a “thorough and independent investigation was carried out into [these] circumstances which led to the highest level of sanction available being issued”.  He said: “There were a number of recommendations for the council which we accepted in full and all these have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented.”

Mrs Lanigan, who lost her seat in Loftus in local elections in May, was censured at a full meeting of the local authority in March after a standards panel found she had committed several breaches of the council’s code of conduct.

It found she had failed to treat others with respect, attempted to use her position improperly to secure for herself or another person an advantage, had conducted herself in a manner contrary to the council’s duty to promote high standards of conduct among elected members, and had effectively brought her office and the council into disrepute.

The panel said the “serious” breaches would both reduce the public’s confidence in Mrs Lanigan being able to fulfil her duties as a councillor and adversely affect the reputation of members of the council generally”.

Events in Easington also led in March last year to the conviction of Mike Lanigan at Teesside Magistrates Court for punching and kicking Mr Miller on August 15, 2021 and causing criminal damage, for which he was fined and given a two-year restraining order, later extended to five after an unsuccessful appeal.

Mrs Lanigan told the panel she had “crossed a line” with her behaviour and apologised, also later describing to the LDRS how she had been upset and angry during the “unfortunate” events in Easington and she had overreacted, losing her temper.

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She said: “I feel I should have acted differently, but I did try to avoid any conflict with my role as councillor.

“I accept the findings of the panel and I have already apologised for any upset caused.

“It is very difficult to be removed at times from my role as a councillor while supporting a family member.”

She was accused by neighbour Lisa Miller, one of two residents who lodged a complaint with the council, of a “campaign of harassment”.

She was also recorded on mobile phone footage supervising the removal by council workmen of leylandii saplings Mrs Miller planted on land she said was hers, Mrs Lanigan having asked for letters to be sent requesting their removal as she believed they were in fact on council land.