Computer tested for illegal access

COUNCIL technicians stripped the computer used by tenants leader Ron Butcher to see if it has been accessed illegally prior to the ballot for control of Fenland s 4,000 council homes. We have established that at least one other person has had access to

COUNCIL technicians stripped the computer used by tenants' leader Ron Butcher to see if it has been accessed illegally prior to the ballot for control of Fenland's 4,000 council homes.

"We have established that at least one other person has had access to Ron's computer," said Councillor Kit Owen, Fenland District Council's portfolio holder for housing.

Authorisation to send in experts to check the computer was given by Tim Mills, the council's director of housing, following claims by those opposed to the transfer that Mr Butcher had given them information.

Robert Pinnock, one of the main opponents of the transfer, claimed this week: "I was systematically provided with e-mails and other items by Mr Butcher that were not in the public domain."

Cllr Owen insists it was Mr Butcher who called in the council to check his personal computer. "I am aware that in other transfers computer trickery has been a feature of an anti-campaign," said Cllr Owen.

The shock revelation that Mr Butcher, currently chairman of the shadow Roddons Housing Board, may have given information to opponents of transfer has caused a stir among other tenant groups in Fenland.

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Irene Henson, chairman of Whittlesey and District Tenants Association, called for an urgent investigation by Fenland Council and Circle Anglia, the housing association directly responsible for Roddons.

"I am prepared to do whatever it takes to find out the whole truth," she said.

Evidence of the scale of the correspondence between Mr Butcher, who became chairman earlier this year following the death of George Hawkins, was provided by Mr Pinnock himself.

The Wisbech Standard and Cambs Times have seen copies of some of the e-mails between the two men, reflecting on issues as diverse as the final sale proceeds - £44million - and general gossip about the proposed sale.

In one e-mail, Mr Butcher apologises for breaking an appointment with Mr Pinnock since he writes that he has to attend Wisbech Police Station with a council tenant wanting to make a statement about anti-social behaviour.

"They [the tenants] cannot read or write but are being left out in the cold as no-one will help them in their quest to live a quiet life," wrote Mr Butcher.

"It has taken me almost a month to get them to complain," said Mr Butcher. "To me this is what life is all about. Sod FDC, sod Circle Anglia, sod all the papers."

Cllr Owen said: "Ron has asked the council to request sight of the e-mails to enable further investigations. Regrettably the newspaper has failed to provide access.

"The only information provided was the alleged content of one e-mail that Ron does not recall sending, but in any case does not disclose any information.

"Until we have sight of those e-mails, we cannot look into the situation further. Ron has openly acknowledged that he knows Robert Pinnock and this has always been known to the council."

Mr Butcher's 'sod all the papers' comments were made in September, only weeks before Fenland Council and its advisers finalised the final ballot paper in advance of the transfer vote.

Mr Butcher said this week he strongly urged Fenland tenants to vote for the transfer, and denied he had done anything wrong in passing on information.

"I believe passionately in social housing," he said. "I do also believe in other things - freedom of speech, openness, honesty and democracy.

"That is why I have answered questions and provided information for anyone who has asked for it, irrespective of whether they oppose housing transfer like Mr Pinnock, or support it. I will continue to do so."

Mrs Henson claimed Mr Butcher last week threatened to resign after allegations of 'leaks' surfaced but was persuaded by Fenland Council officials and by Circle Anglia to remain in post.

However Mr Mills said: "The council would like to point out that the tenants forum gave full support to Ron at their meeting on November 15.