Thursday, 23 September 2021

Tory chairman in legal threat over email passed on to MP

A FORMER Henley councillor is threatening legal action if the town clerk suggested he had forwarded an email from a resident in breach of the Data Protection Act.

Dieter Hinke has been involved in a row between the council and the man who had his correspondence passed on to Henley MP John Howell without his permission.

The dispute began in November when the council sent an email asking for volunteers to help the steering group which oversees the joint Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan and is chaired by Mr Hinke, the chairman of the Henley Conservatives.

Michael Herriot, of Haywards Close, Henley, responded but when he discovered that his email had been sent on to Mr Howell he complained to the council and asked for an apology.

Town clerk Janet Wheeler insisted the mistake was not made by the council, which Mr Hinke claims implies that he was at fault.

Mrs Wheeler told a council meeting that Mr Herriot’s email was forwarded by “an unknown person” in contravention of the Data Protection Act.

She said that when Mr Herriot complained, she apologised and told him she was certain that neither she nor a member of the town council’s staff was responsible.

Mrs Wheeler continued: “On December 22 I received two emails from Dieter Hinke.

“He stated that if he discovered that in protecting my staff I assumed, hinted or stated that he had forwarded the emails to Mr Howell then legal action would follow.”

She said she carried out an internal investigation in February and found that no email had been sent by town council staff to the MP.

Mrs Wheeler added: “I have written to John Howell and have not received an acknowledgement or reply.

“I have also written to Dieter Hinke. I have concluded my investigation with the threat of legal action still hanging over my head.”

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak (Henley Residents’ Group) told the meeting: “I think the first thing we need to do as a town council is apologise to Mr Herriot.

“It is clear that his email was given to a third party and forwarded to John Howell.”

Conservative councillors Sam Evans and Simon Smith said an apology was not necessary as the town clerk had already apologised.

But Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG) said: “The email went from the town council and then to John Howell by some route.

“That is a mistake and we should take responsibility. We should apologise, the town clerk is not the council.”

Councillor Evans replied: “When I apologise for something I have done wrong I say it wholeheartedly and unreservedly. I believe that is what the town clerk did on our behalf.

“She has not done anything wrong and has apologised on behalf of the council.

“From what Cllr Reissmann has said, maybe it should come from the Mayor? Does that mean more than when it comes from the clerk?”

The motion calling for the council to apologise was defeated by seven votes to four.

Cllr Gawrysiak then proposed a second motion that councillors should apologise to Mrs Wheeler and her staff for having to deal with the threat of legal action.

He said: “I believe we have a duty of care to the town clerk and the staff of Henley Town Council to protect them.

“She deserves an apology and it deserves further investigation. It should be moved to the legal group as it is clear she has been threatened and her staff have been threatened.”

Cllr Reissmann said: “It’s important we protect our staff from unfair accusations, which distract and leave the town clerk and her staff in limbo.

“John Howell needs to respond to her emails. He could resolve any questions on behalf of all those people.”

The motion was passed by eight votes to one with two abstentions.

Mr Hinke, a former town councillor, told the Henley Standard that he was carrying out his own investigation into who linked his name with being the person who forwarded Mr Herriot’s email. He said: “Someone released my name to Mr Herriot and I know that as a fact.

“As of yet I have no idea how this has happened and any further action would depend on getting to the bottom of it.

“I have spoken with Mrs Wheeler and I’m sure it was not her but clearly someone has done it because it got out.

“Now it is out in the open I need to find out who the person or persons are that put my name out there. Someone said I was culpable and I want to know who said that.

“It’s very simple that someone in the town hall gave my name to Mr Herriot, for whatever reason, and of course you can’t make those allegations without any evidence.”

Mr Herriot said he had asked Mrs Wheeler for details of her investigation.

He said: “There could have been an apology from the Mayor, Dieter Hinke, the town clerk or the councillors which said ‘we’re terribly sorry there is a mistake in our code of conduct’ or there could had been an apology saying ‘we made a cock-up’ but I am still awaiting an apology.

“Someone might have the guts to say ‘I am sorry’. This has left a nasty taste in my mouth.

“I don’t know why someone can’t put their hand up and say ‘it was me’ but that is politicians.”

Mr Howell declined to comment.

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