First reported by the Liverpool Echo.
Liverpool council has been accused of “intercepting” emails between a resident and an elected councillor.
Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Makinson received an email from community campaigner and former councillor Josie Mullen, but not before it has been seen and added to by a council officer.
Cllr Makinson has described the move as “extremely disturbing” and said everyone should be entitled to confidential discussions with their elected representatives without “council snoopers” looking over their shoulder.
But the city council said it has been forced to treat Ms Mullen’s contact with the authority in a specific way because of her “scattergun” approach to raising concerns.
Ms Mullen – a former Liberal Democrat councillor who has also campaigned for the Green Party – had contacted Cllr Makinson with emails that raised concerns about developments in the city – including the failed New Chinatown project – as well as questioning the actions of the council’s building control teams.
But this email did not go directly to Cllr Makinson – instead being diverted to the council’s customer feedback team manager, Andrea McGuire, who works in the chief executive’s office.
This was then forwarded to Cllr Makinson with additional comments from Ms McGuire, who attempted to address the concerns raised.
The email explains: “Please find attached correspondence, which has been sent to you by Josie Mullen.
“Ms Mullen’s contacts with the council are being dealt with under the Managing Unreasonable Behaviour Policy and her emails are on a divert to my team.”
The email ends by stating: “In line with Ms Mullen’s vexatious status with the Council, we would not expect you to respond to Ms Mullen, although ultimately that is a matter for you to decide.”
Cllr Makinson was outraged at the interception of an email sent directly to him.
He said: “It’s extremely disturbing that the council are now preventing councillors from receiving information from potential whistleblowers.
“Everyone should have a right to confidential discussions with their elected representatives without council snoopers looking over their shoulder.”
He added: “We’re constantly told by Labour that the council has no money to provide basic services, but they can waste money employing a team to intercept messages and then tell councillors what to think about them. No wonder people worry about the state of democracy in Liverpool.”
Responding, a spokesman for Liverpool City Council said: “Liverpool City Council is committed to dealing with all customers fairly and impartially. We do not normally limit the contact customers have with us, however in a small number of cases, customers pursue their concerns in a way that is unacceptable or unreasonable, which is when we apply the Managing Unreasonable Behaviour policy.
“Under the policy – which is never used lightly – we do not stop anyone from contacting the Council or from accessing services, although we may apply restrictions to the way in which they do this.”
He added: “In Ms Mullen’s case, she was advised to use a single point of contact.
“Ms Mullen ignored this advice and adopted what we consider to be a ‘scattergun approach’ where she raised the same concerns via multiple routes.
“In light of this, the council took a decision to divert all emails from Ms Mullen to the single point of contact mailbox.”
Ms Mullen – who said she is considering legal action over her treatment by the council – denies that her complaints have been vexatious or repetitive.
She said: “If you look at my Freedom of Information requests – every single one is different.
“I have sent countless emails to Ged Fitzgerald and the council about the failure to respond to these requests.
“None of these messages are abusive or obsessive and I will be taking my case to a solicitor.”