South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has vowed to stay in her position for as long as voters want her - as local Labour officials have referred her online open letter to constituents to party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The MP’s statement on her Facebook page comes in the aftermath of an ombudsman’s report into the handling of a safeguarding alert raised to South Tyneside Council against her husband Simon Buck - who now works as a parliamentary assistant for his wife - dating back to his time as a care worker.
Senior party chiefs in South Shields have deemed what they have called “unsubstantiated attacks” on Labour members within the letter to be “so serious” they have now referred it to Mr Corbyn and deputy leader Tom Watson.
In the letter, the MP claims her husband was “hounded out of his career” as a careworker as part of a “vendetta” against her by “certain senior members of the local Labour Party”; that South Tyneside Council had declared him guilty of the “charges” against him and that it was someone from the council who had leaked his name to journalists. The local authority has denied all those claims.
The row erupted after the council branded Simon Buck a “perpetrator of elder abuse” after it was asked to pay out £400 compensation to him in an ombudsman’s report, which found the local authority had made procedural errors – despite a probe ruling Mr Buck had abused a vulnerable elderly man.
In a statement issued to the Gazette after the report was published, Mr Buck said the accusations were “entirely fictitious”.
The ombudsman confirmed from his report, There is no evidence the Council had any vendetta against Mr Y or his wifeCouncil spokesman
However, the council has said it will neither apologise to Mr Buck nor pay the compensation recommended by the ombudsman.
The abuse claim dated back to 2014 – but came to light after Mr Buck complained to the Local Government Ombudsman about the council’s procedure during its investigation.
The ombudsman’s report details how the allegations were made by the elderly man’s wife – who claimed Mr Buck, referred to throughout the report only as ‘Mr Y’, had “swore at” and “neglected” her husband.
Mr Buck was suspended by South Tyneside Home Care – the agency he worked for – in July 2014 following an allegation from the wife of the man he had cared for.
He was subsequently given a written warning – but the man’s wife made a safeguarding alert to the council, which launched its own probe.
Mr Buck resigned from his post and secured a job as an auxiliary nurse at South Tyneside District Hospital.
But it withdrew its offer of shifts after it discovered there were safeguarding concerns.
As the probe continued, documents seen by the Gazette showed how Emma Lewell-Buck rang the council’s chief executive demanding to know why the investigation was taking so long.
The ombudsman’s report states how Mr Buck claimed he was the victim of a “witch hunt” – but after a meeting in September 2014 the council found that he had neglected his elderly patient.
He was sent a letter informing him of the results in October that year – but asked for a further review.
A hearing was held in June 2015, which he attended with his MP wife, who went along for what the report says was “emotional support”.
Before the meeting, the council instructed an independent social worker who met with Mr Buck and reviewed the evidence and concluded that there was “no evidence” abuse had occurred.
But despite this, at the multi-agency meeting, the council revealed it had decided the incidents reported by the elderly man’s family did happen.
And where as the swearing they found to have taken place did not cause the patient any psychological harm, not changing a continence pad until prompted by the family constituted abuse, according to the report.
In her open letter, Mrs Lewell-Buck launched a passionate defence of her husband.
She wrote: “About his work I would say this; he works longer hours because he’s my husband. He tries harder to help with the problems faced by constituents because he’s my husband. He and I make sure everything about his pay and conditions is completely transparent, because he’s my husband. And for those worried about those so-called abuse claims, he has passed both a DBS check (police analysis of a person’s fitness to work with children or vulnerable people) and the even more rigorous screening needed to get a job in Parliament.
“This campaign of hate against my husband and I has left him in a deeply troubled emotional state and I have feared greatly for the safety of the man I love. The people behind it will stop at nothing to destroy me because I will not be their creature.”
She added: “I am your MP and I will stay your MP as long as you want me.”
In response, a senior spokesman for the party said: “This letter is so serious, it’s so untruthful that there has to be some serious intervention.
“Firstly, our first concern of the South Shields Labour party members has been and will continue to be to the victims of this abuse.
“Secondly, there are such serious inaccuracies in Emma Lewell-Buck’s letter that the letter has been referred to the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Labour party. Given that some of the inaccuracies are potentially actionable in court.
“Thirdly, there is a feeling now in the South Shields Labour party, in order to detract attention of the issue that two independent panels conducted by professionals found that abuse did occur, this letter is carrying out unsubstantiated attacks on the hardworking labour members.”
A council spokesperson said: “The ombudsman confirmed from his report “There is no evidence the Council had any vendetta against Mr Y or his wife”.
“The Council is responsible for ensuring all safeguarding alerts are considered and, where appropriate, investigated under the statutory multi–agency safeguarding framework and to take all necessary action to protect vulnerable adults in South Tyneside. The panel was made up of multiple-agencies who unanimously agreed abuse had occurred. Councillors were not involved in the process.
“The Independent Social Worker was not a decision maker. Her remit in the investigation was solely to ensure Mr Y’s views were represented at the reconvened meeting in respect of one element of only one of the allegations raised. The multi-agency panel unanimously upheld that abuse did occur having taken into account all of the evidence available to them.
“Section 30 (3) of the Local Government Act 1974 requires the Ombudsman to report without naming or identifying the complainant or other individuals. Therefore, the report does not disclose the names of the people/organisations involved and the Council cannot and has not disclosed them either. This is standard practice with reports by the Ombudsman. The Council considered the allegations against Mr Y in accordance with the Local Safeguarding Adults Framework at that time.”
Emma Lewell-Buck’s open letter to South Shields residents - posted on her Facebook page.
Some time ago, allegations were made against my husband, Simon, in his job as a care worker. These allegations were completely false and he denied them as he continues to deny them with my wholehearted support and belief.
He was hounded out of his career as part of a vendetta against me by certain senior members of the local Labour Party who wanted a Member of Parliament who would do their bidding rather than what I thought I should do for the people in South Shields. For example, followers of the campaign to protect our local hospital will know well that I have clashed with councillors on many occasions over this issue which is central to our community. Their behaviour caused the entire constituency Labour Party to be suspended in March 2016, to the detriment of everyone who wants to see jobs and services protected from the effects of government policy.
The Local Government Ombudsman investigated the council’s treatment of Simon and found them to have been unfair to him in a number of ways. The council declared him guilty of the charges against him, even though the only “proof” was in the form of hearsay. An independent social worker who also investigated the claims found no evidence any abuse had taken place.
People should know that the Ombudsman published the report, as usual, with all individuals’ names removed. Someone from the council saw fit to leak those details to journalists under its control. By the time Simon and I were approached by these journalists to respond to the findings, the council had already given them a statement badmouthing us both in the most foul way. Only we and the council knew who the report was about. They leaked it purely as a means of attacking me.
Not content with destroying his career, councillors have now voted not to accept the findings of the Ombudsman’s report nor to pay him the compensation which it said was his due, and which Simon had already said he would donate to the South Tyneside Hospital campaign.
Once they made sure he could not do the job he loved, the council criticised me for employing Simon in my office as your Member of Parliament. About his work I would say this; he works longer hours because he’s my husband. He tries harder to help with the problems faced by constituents because he’s my husband. He and I make sure everything about his pay and conditions is completely transparent, because he’s my husband. And for those worried about those so-called abuse claims, he has passed both a DBS check (police analysis of a person’s fitness to work with children or vulnerable people) and the even more rigorous screening needed to get a job in Parliament.
This campaign of hate against my husband and I has left him in a deeply troubled emotional state and I have feared greatly for the safety of the man I love. The people behind it will stop at nothing to destroy me because I will not be their creature. I would like to thank those many local people who have taken the trouble over the past five years, and the past week in particular, to express their support and confidence in me. It means a lot. Most of all, I want to thank my husband, Simon, for sticking by me throughout this miserable, unnecessary, destructive experience, even though he has suffered greatly for doing so.
I am your MP and I will stay your MP as long as you want me, and not on a timescale dictated by a few wicked, self-serving individuals, whose only concern is their own good fortune, and not that of the people of South Shields.