After the Labour party’s long delayed suspension of Cllr. Richard Marshall, there are signs that the party may, at last, be starting to put its house in order. So far it’s only a little light dusting rather than a full spring clean and this has only been done under pressure.

Ex Sandwell mayor and former councillor Derek Rowley appears to have been knocked off his perch and suspended. The immediate cause seems to have been a fracas at the meeting to select Labour’s candidate for the Great Bridge ward in the May, Sandwell council elections.

The allegation is that Rowley tried to prevent Cllr Joanne Hadley, whose term of office ends in May, entering the meeting in a crude attempt to prevent her re-selection as Labour’s candidate. Cllr Hadley suffered a leg injury in the process and it’s understood that the police are examining an allegation of assault.

Rowley is secretary of the Sandwell Local Campaign Forum and so had a significant influence in the selection of Labour councillors. As a supporter of the Eling junta, he appears to have had a particular concern in blocking the candidacy of anyone who might have been critical of Eling, his methods or entourage. Cllr. Hadley has not hesitated to voice reasoned and proper criticisms of abuses she’s encountered, putting her in Rowley’s firing line.

Rowley has some form for complaints of bullying and also faces allegations of abusive behaviour to a Tipton pensioner on her doorstep.

In January 2017 Sandwell council’s Audit Committee considered “concerns” that Rowley “had sold a number of council owned containers to a member of the public”. The fact that by then he was no longer a councillor meant that Rowley was not susceptible to internal council disciplinary proceedings. Despite a report finding that ”There was a breach of the council’s financial regulations and procedures” the matter was not referred to the police. In this, Rowley was more fortunate than other Sandwell councillors who faced police interviews and investigation for other matters.

The reasoning of the report prepared by the, then, interim Director of Resources, was “Due to the level of conflicting information, the sums involved, the lack of clear evidence of any criminal intent…. There may be little advantage to be gained from pursuing this matter further at this stage” His report also noted “there are conflicting opinions on the state, value and ownership of these containers.”

The four containers were sited in Sandwell’s Jubilee Park, Tipton and how there could have been any question over their ownership is unclear. There was some video evidence and it is unusual not to detect any prima facie evidence of criminal intent in circumstances where a person appears to be selling someone else’s property, without clear authority.  

However, without any complaint from the council, the police could do nothing. It is legitimate to question the propriety of the approach taken, whether it reflected Eling’s boast to be clearing the swamp and what encouragement it offered to Labour councillors to avoid sleazy dealing.

The current allegations again reflect badly upon the Sandwell Labour party, its choice of council candidates and party officers.