I have had sight of the 239 pages of the report of Wilkin Chapman Solicitors into the allegations concerning Mayor Andy Preston and the images discovered on his personal computer in his Mayoral Office on Friday 31st January 2020. I have also seen Mr Preston’s ridiculous comments and allegations.
The contents of the report are truly staggering. It should be published in full so that Councillors and indeed the public can come to their own view.
The facts are that indecent images were observed by a number of officers and members of staff on Mr Preston’s computer. At the time that these rolling indecent images were observed on his computer, Mr Preston was elsewhere.
A senior Council officer, on viewing the Mayor’s computer screen, was very clear about what he saw when he said: “there’s porn on Andy’s computer”
Tony Parkinson the Council’s Chief Executive Officer said the naked woman he observed on the Mayor’s screen was “exposing herself” and that on asking Mr Preston’s personal assistant to take the images down said “it’s inappropriate, steel yourself”
The relevant senior officer of Middlesbrough Council in his evidence to the inquiry made it crystal clear saying that “the Mayor was solely responsible for the security of his personal device (including lock screen) and was “solely responsible for the images on view in this incident”.
It would seem from the report that once this investigation was underway, Mr Preston not only retained the hard evidence- namely the iMac computer concerned- but then embarked on his own forensic investigation instructing a number of consultants to interrogate the device.
The report of the investigators Wilkin Chapman says nothing about continuity of evidence in terms of who had possession of the hardware and when, but it would appear from the report that forensic investigations commissioned by Mr Preston, were conducted before the device was handed to the inquiry investigators for them to conduct their investigations.
Mr Preston says that he took the iMac home together with his other personal property. He instructed Keith Burroughs of Modulo 2 who then commissioned Damon Dove of Sector Forensics Ltd to prepare a report.
If that is the case, I have to say that in all my years of legal practice and in politics, I have never ever known the subject of an investigation retain possession of the evidence in issue and then embark on their own investigations. If that is not the sequence of events, then hopefully the Council or the investigators can say so.
It is somewhat rich for the Mayor to criticise the length of time this report has taken and to invent his own figures for the cost of the investigation when his own actions were the key to the delay in its completion.
The report contains a most alarming transcript of the investigator’s interview with Mr Preston which is truly breath-taking.
I have to say I never read such self-serving, self-obsessed, self-pitying garbage.
Suffice to say we’ve been subjected to a great deal of narcissistic nonsense from this Mayor ever since his election, but these chaotic ramblings take it to a new level altogether.
The transcript of his interview recites a torrent of incoherent gibberish from a Mayor who purports to provide the political leadership of our Council.
Mr Preston told the investigator that he received “hundreds of thousands” of messages or perhaps “a million messages” in the course of a year and “sometimes you get messages from accounts that have been hacked. Sometimes you get spam, business stuff, yeah, sure, yeah, that happens. I think it happens to all of us that sort of thing.”
He goes on: “there might be material there of all kinds and I use the word material deliberately, where there’s material that I don’t think has been appropriate, so you either delete it or withdraw from the group or both.”
I have to tell Mr Preston – it does not, as he says, “happen to all of us.”
I shudder to think how much time Mr Preston spends in front of computer screens given the number of messages he apparently receives, but what is clear is that the practice of people using their own hardware to link into the Council’s IT services has to stop.
As it is, Middlesbrough Borough Council is headed by a Mayor incapable of discharging the duties of his office. As a result, the local authority is politically dysfunctional as is evidenced by his own handpicked independent executive resigning some months ago.
The disclosures in this report only serve to reinforce my own view that Mr Preston is utterly unfit for public office and the sooner this chaotic ego trip comes to an end the better it will be for Middlesbrough.