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Miles Story – GBC Complain But Fail to Check Their Facts

Published on: 24 May, 2012
Updated on: 24 May, 2012

GBC's Millmead Offices

by Martin Giles, Publisher, The Guildford Dragon News –

An attempt to muzzle The Guildford Dragon News reporting on the suspension and sudden resignation of two senior council officers, Jim and Elaine Miles, appears to have backfired. Guildford Borough Council has now asked TGDN not to publish a letter of complaint it had originally demanded was published in full.

On 10 May, TGDN received the complaint, entitled ‘Cross Party Letter’, sent by all three local political leaders, Tony Rooth, (Con, Pilgrims) David Goodwin (LibDem, Friary & St Nicolas) and Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke) and the deputy council leader, Stephen Mansbridge, (Con, Ash South & Tongham). Strangely, the complaint, sent apparently on behalf of GBC, was not on their usual, official, headed notepaper.

The letter accused TGDN of sloppy journalism, attacked the integrity of the Publisher of TGDN, and claimed that facts had not been checked prior to publication of website articles on 11 Apr, 3 May and 9 May. Oddly, only one error was detailed, the status of those who had escorted Mr and Mrs Miles out of the Millmead offices.

The complaint also claimed that published readers’ letters were inaccurate as was the description of Chief Executive David Hill’s behaviour at a recent Scrutiny Committee meeting, stating that Mr Hill spoke ‘at the Chairman’s invitation’.

As well as less-than-flattering descriptions of two authors of readers’ letters, the councillors included a demand that their letter to TGDN was published in entirety on our website, and threatened legal proceedings if this was not done, implying further legal action if the TGDN did not refrain from ‘publishing any further inappropriate, inaccurate and ill-advised stories in future’.

TGDN has provided email evidence showing that proper, journalistic practice had been carefully followed, and a series of questions had, in fact, been put to GBC prior to publication. But GBC spokespersons, apparently under direction, had ‘stone-walled’, refusing to ‘comment on staff matters’, nor would they even answer a simple statistical enquiry. Reliable, independent sources had corroborated each other on the facts contained in our reports.

On 3 April, TGDN sent an email directly to Chief Executive David Hill and that is attached here. No reply was received from him.

The email sent to GBC Chief Executive, David Hill on April 3rd

On 14 May, with such TGDN evidence, and after meetings and discussions with unhappy party colleagues, David Goodwin and Angela Gunning withdrew their support for the letter of complaint.

Then Alderman Gordon Bridger and Julian Lyon, named in the original complaint as authors of TGDN letters the councillors considered unfair, informed GBC that they were considering legal action.

On 15 May, TGDN wrote to Cllrs Rooth and Mansbridge: ‘…On every occasion that I have been preparing an article on Jim Miles I have put the allegations to the council and been brushed off with the statement that you could not comment on staff matters. I am afraid that when we are talking about public officials, employed at public expense, and there is prima facie evidence of improper conduct, this blanket refusal is not acceptable.

‘Regarding Mr Hill’s behaviour at the Scrutiny Committee meeting; I was present and saw what happened for myself. Clear evidence can be obtained from others present including the Committee Chairman.

‘…I shall maintain my interest in this matter and any further articles will be researched and presented with the highest concern for fairness and accuracy. Accordingly, I am unable to furnish you with the undertaking you request.’

On 17 May, TGDN published a minor correction to the only specified inaccuracy to our original story, relating to the status of those who escorted Mr and Mrs Miles from the council offices.

On 18 May, in a article headed ‘Council quashes Miles rumours’, The Surrey Advertiser quoted a council spokesperson as saying that the council was ‘understandably disappointed and concerned about the inaccuracies and distress it [TGDN’s report] had caused staff, councillors and partner organisations’. No attempt was made by the newspaper to contact TGDN to provide balance to what appears to be an unchecked GBC press release.

On 21 May, TGDN received a letter from the GBC Interim Head of Legal Services not only withdrawing their threatening demand to ‘publish in full’ their complaint but requesting TGDN not to publish it at all. GBC acknowledged that Cllrs Goodwin and Gunning had withdrawn their support but stated that Cllrs Rooth and Mansbridge ‘are not minded to withdraw their support for the letter’.

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test One Response to Miles Story – GBC Complain But Fail to Check Their Facts

  1. Gordon Bridger

    May 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Thank goodness for The Guildford Dragon News. At least one part of our local media is reporting this appalling story properly.