Staff at scandal-hit Liverpool City Council were so scared of being seen to speak out about possible corruption that government investigators had to offer to meet on street corners, the official who led an inspection there has revealed.
Max Caller told workers they would not have to come into council buildings to meet his team because he felt their fears of reprisals were “credible”.
"I made it clear to people that we would meet them on street corners, that we would meet them on Zoom, that they didn't have to be seen coming into any meeting room where I was,” he told the BBC on Monday.
Defending the highly unusual decision not to reveal the identities of those providing evidence during the three-month investigation, he added that staff "felt that if they came forward and were named, there would be retribution".
He said: “I came to the conclusion that to protect the individuals I could publish no names."
Mr Caller spent three months investigating the authority after five men – including the city’s then mayor Joe Anderson – were arrested in December by police investigating allegations of fraud, bribery, corruption, misconduct in public office and witness intimidation.
His subsequent report was published in March and described a culture of dubious contracts, “sketchy” scrutiny and intimidation of those who dared raise questions.
So mired in scandal was the authority found to be that Whitehall civil servants have since been sent in to run a host of departments, including planning and regeneration.
In his first interview since the report, Mr Caller said that he was now optimistic that the council is heading in the right direction and is “committed to being back in the mainstream of local government".
A new Labour mayor, Joanne Anderson – no relation to her predecessor – was elected last week and has promised to clean up the city.
In an interview with The Independent, she said: “What’s happened here was disgusting... It disgusts me when so-called socialists act out of greed. But, as a Labour Party member, I can sit there and moan and bitch, or I can try and do something about it.”
But Mr Anderson himself maintains he did nothing wrong while leading the council for 10 years and has not ruled out a return to politics. He has published a line-by-line rebuttal of the Caller Report.
“I think it’s important to recognise the falsehoods, I want you to use that word, lies: lies and smears,” he told the i newspaper. “It’s absolutely absurd to try to create this impression that Joe Anderson is like the don of Liverpool and everybody comes in. It’s absolutely bizarre; it’s a false claim.”
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