South Tyneside Council defends handling of probe into abuse allegations made against husband of South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck

Simon Buck
Simon Buck

A senior South Tyneside councillor has said he would have involved police over an allegation of abuse on an elderly person made against the husband of South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.

Coun John McCabe spoke out during a Town Hall meeting to discuss an internal review into the council’s safeguarding policies and procedures.

Coun John MCCabe

Coun John MCCabe

The review was requested by the local authority following an Ombudsman’s report sparked by Simon Buck - known throughout that report as Mr Y - when he complained over how his case was handled after the council found he had abused an elderly patient during his time as a care worker, in 2014.

Mr Buck, who has always denied the allegations, claimed safeguarding procedures were not followed correctly and that the council had failed to tell him of the allegations made against him, provide an opportunity for him to refute them or provide supporting evidence.

The Ombudsman’s report found that the council had failed to follow some policy and procedures when conducting its investigation – but it did not question the council’s finding of abuse, or that the procedural error had undermined any of the decisions the multi-agency panel came to.

Speaking at a Peoples Select Committee meeting, held at South Shields Town Hall, chair of the committee and a Labour representative for Hebburn South ward Coun McCabe, said: “Reviewing all the information as part of the scrutiny committee, I must make the following comment - abuse did occur. And that was upheld by the Ombudsman.

Mr Y is an abuser and I can say as a member of the public, if it was my relative or a friend or a neighbour or that it was someone I knew was being abused, I would be informing the police and that is the final comment on this particular case.

Coun John McCabe

“The abuse had occurred and the abuser was Mr Y. There has been subsequent red herrings and protestations used by Mr Y in various forms, mainly on social media, to detract from this investigation.

“I am satisfied that the safeguarding policies are robust and were robust at that particular time and the minor procedural fault, although regrettable, did not have any bearing on the abuse that was found.

“Mr Y is an abuser and I can say as a member of the public, if it was my relative or a friend or a neighbour or that it was someone I knew was being abused, I would be informing the police and that is the final comment on this particular case as far as this committee is concerned unless other information is brought forward.”

The internal review into the council’s safeguarding policies and procedures was as a result of a motion passed at an extraordinary meeting of the council, held in March, to discuss the report issued by the Ombudsman.

Delivering the review report, John Pearce, corporate director of Children, Adult and Health, said: “The Ombudsman’s report did not challenge in any way the decision of the multi-agency panel, nor did it find any of the procedural errors undermined any of the decisions it came to.”

He also clarified there had been “no political involvement in the case” after he was questioned by Coun Anne Hetherington, and that elected members only became involved when the council’s Cabinet was asked to look at the outcome of the Ombudsman report.

Coun Lynne Proudlock queried whether the relatives of any alleged victims were still able to go to the police, of which he replied, they could.

The abuse claims date back to 2014, but they only came to light earlier this year, after Mr Buck complained to the Local Government Ombudsman about the council’s procedure during its investigation.

The Ombudsman’s report detailed how the allegations were made by the elderly man’s wife, who claimed Mr Buck, had “swore at” and “neglected” her husband.

Separate allegations were also made by a whistleblower.

Mr Buck was suspended by South Tyneside Home Care – the agency he worked for – in July 2014 following the allegations. He was 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.

Mr Buck attended a meeting in June 2015, along with his MP wife, after he asked for a further review following the council’s decision, in September 2014, that he had neglected his elderly patient.

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.

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 the continence pad until prompted by the family constituted abuse, according to the report.

No further investigations or hearings were held in relation to the further allegations made by whistleblowers.

Mr Buck lodged his own complaint to the Ombudsman, claiming the council had failed to follow some policy and procedures and that safeguarding procedures were not followed correctly.

He claimed it failed to tell him about allegations made against him, or provide an opportunity for him to refute the allegations and provide supporting evidence. He said officers from the council failed to update him, and a staff member threatened him.

He also claimed there was a data breach by the council after he alleged they gave his wife information about the investigation before telling him. He added the council’s failures led to his rejection from a university course, and losing hours from a work placement.

The Ombudsman probe did find that the council had failed to follow some policy and procedures when conducting its investigation – but did not question the council’s finding of abuse or find there was any data breach. It also did not find it affected his career prospects.

The Ombudsman asked the council to pay Mr Buck £400 compensation and apologise to him to recognise “the impact of avoidable delay, distress, uncertainty and time and trouble.” But at the extraordinary meeting of the council, a decision not to pay Mr Buck was taken.

The Peoples Select Committee meeting heard three areas were looked at as part of the internal review, sparked by the case, including the council’s safeguarding policies and procedures; council safeguarding training and safeguarding and commissioned services.

As a result, staff have been reminded of the importance of robust and accurate recording within safeguarding work, including meetings and decision making after the report found the council was unable to evidence from historic, administrative records it had shared minutes with the complainant prior to an investigation meeting or that it could evidence from its administrative records it had put in writing the full reasons for the multi- agency panel’s decision - although it was noted the complainant did attend the meeting in person with his wife.

Mr Pearce said: “There were three strands, the multi-agency panel process which looks at the safeguarding which this refers to, there was also the legal process and the complaint process.

“Looking at the records, there was information shared through the legal strand but not through the multi-agency panel process.”

He added: “Where there are different processes running at the same time, it is important for officers involved to cross reference, discuss and evidence how they are meeting the requirements of the different processes without creating unnecessary administrative duplication.”

The internal review also highlighted the use of independent professionals to ensure there is a much clearer explanation of their role and remit, so they know what is being asked of them.

It comes after an independent social worker was asked to represent Mr Buck’s views when a meeting was reconvened into one element of the allegations raised.

The Gazette has contacted the Lewell-Bucks for comment.

A comment attributed to Mr Y - sent to the Gazette via email from Emma Lewell-Buck’s address - said: “Today the council investigated itself and unsurprisingly found its conduct to be blameless, unlike the official Ombudsman, who found it significantly at fault in various important elements of process.

“I am still innocent of the allegations made against me. Nothing has changed.”

Previously, Mr Buck spoke of a ‘vendetta’ against him and described the allegations as ‘entirely fictitious’ - however, this is something South Tyneside Council say the Ombudsman’s report found that there was no evidence of a ‘vendetta’ against him.

In a statement to the Gazette earlier this year, he said: “I’m delighted the Local Government Ombudsman has told South Tyneside Council to compensate me following its investigation into my treatment at the local authority’s hands.

“It’s a shame the Ombudsman has no powers to say anything publicly about the facts of my case but I repeat, as I have from the beginning, that the allegations against me are entirely fictitious.

“It’s also pleasing that the report states several areas where the council was clearly at fault during its investigations and it is quite apparent that the process which ended with my losing a job I loved was in no way fair or just.

“I note with some sadness that even today, the council cannot admit how wrong they were and are still using inappropriate and offensive language about me.

“This has never been about money for me but about mudslinging towards an innocent man. Accordingly I shall be donating the £400 to the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign – one which the council would have done better to get behind from the outset, rather than wasting council taxpayers’ money on a vendetta against me.

“This has been a tough and upsetting battle which has absorbed much of the past couple of years of my life and I am glad to be vindicated and hope that my family and I can now finally put it behind us.”