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JFNF Response to Scrutiny Report

The Justice for New Ferry campaign welcomes the publication of the scrutiny review which highlights many failings of Wirral Borough Council (WBC) in their management of the New Ferry Explosion. The scrutiny report, published on 11th January 2020, can be found here.

JFNF also thanks the cross-party Scrutiny Panel: Cllrs Jo Bird, Dave Mitchell, Mike Collins and Steve Hays for all their hard work in ensuring that the truth is uncovered, and lessons learned from this disaster.

Failings highlighted in the report and its recommendations are:

  1. Head of Safer Wirral (Mark Camborne) failed to update the WBC’s All Hazards Emergency Plan since 2011

  2. WBC’s former Chief Executive (Eric Robinson) failed to follow the Council’s All Hazard’s Emergency Plan, including not fulfilling his responsibility to call a Major Incident nor attend any off-site SCG meeting. He failed to respond to questions from the Scrutiny Panel.

  3. WBC’s emergency managers, including the Assistant Chief Executive (David Armstrong), did not attend any off-site SCG meeting, nor call a Major Incident.

  4. The JFNF and the Scrutiny Panel have failed to receive any documentary evidence from WBC that any Gold Command meetings were ever held as, contrary to policy, no minutes were ever taken of any SCG meetings.

  5. If WBC had declared a Major Incident, this would have ensured all-partner agency involvement and highlighted to both media and national government that it was of the magnitude that required government assistance. Failure of WBC to declare a Major Incident resulted in the disaster being downscaled and ignored, leaving the victims with no help from government.

  6. Contrary to policy, Head of Safer Wirral (Mark Camborne) left the scene 2 days after the explosion and did not consider any humanitarian needs of the victims after that time.

  7. Contrary to guidelines, WBC failed to apply for the Bellwin Scheme within the designated timescale of one month. Despite later promises in July 2017 and October 2018, WBC have failed to provide any documentary evidence that any such retrospective applications have ever been made, suggesting that despite many verbal promises from WBC, they never fulfilled their promises.

  8. WBC have not provided details of whose decision it was during the first month to not apply for the Bellwin Scheme and have not explained why they acted in contradiction to government policy by deciding their own eligibility.

  9. WBC failed to give appropriate immediate financial assistance to the victims. Had they done so, and had they applied in good time for the Bellwin Scheme (within one month), their total expenditure would have exceeded the threshold for government assistance via the Bellwin scheme. National government could then not have denied the magnitude of the incident and would have had no option but to give financial assistance commensurate with other emergency-hit areas.

  10. In July 2017, WBC failed to provide adequate financial assistance to the victims because they turned a humanitarian disaster into a political debate and votes were cast along party lines controlled by the party whip. WBC therefore failed to adhere to its statutory obligation to provide humanitarian assistance.

  11. Despite holding full details of all concerned, WBC failed to provide adequate lines of communication between victims, councillors, council officers and other partner agencies, leaving many victims with no help.

  12. WBC held meetings for victims. However, these were poorly advertised, at inaccessible times, and provided little practical information for the victims. Even though Assistant Director of Housing (David Ball) was present and aware of all the issues raised at those meetings, no evidence has been provided that he passed this information to his superiors, and no action was taken in response to any of the issues raised by the victims.

  13. Even though some victims faced language barriers, WBC failed to provide translators for any victims at any meetings.

  14. WBC failed to provide enough proactive support for traders. They did not communicate at all with traders regarding the impact, nor did WBC make any attempt to quantify loss of trade for national government assistance, and they waited 8 weeks before putting up “business as usual signs” to assist those businesses still open despite repeated requests from traders.

  15. Assistant Director of Housing (David Ball) chose to send hefty and threatening bills from Council to many explosion victims for the works they carried out without prior consent of the victims. WBC have continued to blame some victims for being under-insured and have failed to rescind the bills sent to them, let alone apologise for the distress and debt caused by these bills.

  16. WBC has failed to improve the distressing sight of the explosion site for example through hoardings.

  17. WBC has provided no apology for their failings.

We, the Justice for New Ferry Campaign, request that all of Wirral’s councillors support the motion to agree ALL of the recommendations made in the scrutiny report at the Business Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting on 23rd January 2020 with no retractions or amendments, to ensure that in the event of any emergency anywhere in Wirral, all of its citizens can be assured of complete protection from the All Hazards Emergency Plan, no matter where in Wirral an emergency might occur.

We, the Justice for New Ferry Campaign, demand that all bills sent to victims who were not insured be immediately rescinded.

We, the Justice for New Ferry Campaign, demand the resignation of Mark Camborne and David Ball for failing to do their jobs to any level of competence or within statutory policy; failures which, for some victims, directly led to significant debt, marriage breakdown, irreplaceable loss of business, bankruptcy, severe depression and suicide attempts.

We, the Justice for New Ferry Campaign, demand a full and unequivocal apology from Wirral Borough Council for its failure to manage the aftermath of the explosion effectively with regard to and compassion and consideration for the victims. We also demand that this apology must be just as public as WBC’s previous misrepresentative and dismissive statements.

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