Saturday, 30 July 2011

PAS Conclusion to the Machete Incident

Rikki Garg
Prisoners’ Advice Service
c/o Scott-Moncrieff & Associates LLP
19 Greenwood Place

3rd July 2011

Dear Ms Damji


Further to your email to Ms Down on the 5th May 2011 we understand you do not accept the findings and recommendations following the investigation of your complaint. We note you have requested that your complaint be reviewed by the Full Management Committee.

We confirm that your complaint has now been reviewed by the Management Committee. For the sake of clarity, I should make it clear that the only members of the committee that have reviewed your complaint are the members that have not been involved in any part of investigation of your original complaint or have been part of any proceedings that may have emanated from the recommendations.

 For the sake of completeness we have reviewed the following:

1.      Response to complaint by Ms Down dated 5th May 2011 (including all relevant enclosures)
2.      Your reply to the response of the same date.
3.      Your subsequent e-mail to Ms Down dated the 25th May 2011
4.      The report of the investigation dated 4th May 2011 (including all reports, the initial complaint and the chain of e-mails resulting in the complaint)

We have considered all the documents and agree with the investigation that there are 3 substantive complaints and noted by Ms Down in her report of the 25th May 2011, namely:

                    i.            The correspondence from Matt Evans was dismissive and rude and reverted to abusive and racist stereotyping demonstrating subtle racism which showed a level of ignorance which made him unsuitable for his position.  Ms Damji pointed out that she has never carried a machete nor has been charged or convicted of any crimes to do with carrying weapons or violence.  She considered that Matt’s remarks were based on the fact she was born in Africa and wanted to know the basis on which the comments were made; 

                  ii.            Matt was evasive in his response to her request for the details of those people who PAS approached to be panel members and the  debate panel was picked on “star quality” but did not meet diversity criteria.   Ms Damji therefore asked for clarification of who was approached and their reasons for not attending backed up by evidence of correspondence with the potential participants such as e-mails and records of telephone conversations; and

                iii.            PAS has history of issues with equality and diversity and has no black or ethnic minority trustees. She asked for evidence of discussions at Management Committee level about the composition of the debate panel including copies of the minutes of the meeting and information about how potential BME candidates were contacted and their responses particularly the reasons why PAS was unable to produce any black or ethnic minority panellists for its debate.

We also consider that we should consider the further comments you have raised in your e-mail of the 25th May 2011, namely:

“As stated elsewhere, I do not accept responsibility for any comments made about machetes on the internet, there are five different Twitter accounts proporting to be me and several FaceBook accounts. I have however written to MPAC and I believe they have taken this down. This still doesn't excuse Matt Evans overtly racist, patronizing and demeaning comments and I want this matter investigated fully and for someone else to be given his position as he is quite clearly not qualified or sensitive enough to fulfill the sensitive role in which he finds himself.”[sic.]

Having fully reviewed the matter we taken the following view:

Complaint i.

We agree with report’s conclusion that Mr Evans comments were initially abrupt and dismissive and latterly inappropriate, unprofessional and rude.

We agree with the recommendation that we should consider invoking Disciplinary proceedings against Mr Evans in relation to his conduct.

We hope that you accept that the remit of this appeal is to consider your complaint in light of the report. Therefore, we do not consider it appropriate for you to be notified of what actions have been taken as a result of this recommendation. However, we do wish to assure you that we do take any matter concerning the conduct or failing of, all our staff’s professional duties very seriously and we will always act to investigate any failings.

We consider that this part of the complaint has been upheld with an appropriate recommendation.

We, as an organisation, accept the comments made by Mr Evans were inappropriate and unprofessional and wish to convey our sincere apologies for any distress this may have caused you.  

Complaint ii.

We take the view it is inappropriate to reveal details of who was approached to be on the panel and what their reasons were for declining.

To provide such information would, in our view, be a breach of confidentiality that external stakeholders could reasonably expect from us in such a context.

We agree with the report that it was reasonable to seek to secure a 'star panel' to attract an audience, in order to make the event a success. We should expect to have made reasonable efforts to obtain a diverse panel of 'star' speakers. We are satisfied that we had approached a number of potential BME panellists.

At the event, we did manage to secure two BME speakers with a high profile for the event. We believe the mix of our panel members and the issues that were raised contributed in many the event successful for the organisation.  

Having carefully balanced your complaint, the report’s findings and the ultimate objective of the event we do not agree with your complaint that we did not field a diverse panel or that we had made reasonable efforts to achieve this goal.

However, we do share the reports findings that it was unreasonable not to communicate with you and the comments made were dismissive. We echo the report’s findings and proffer an apology to you for this failure.

Complaint iii.

There is no substance to the complaint that we have no BME members on the Management Committee. There is no substance to the complaint that the Management Committee did not discuss the composition of the panel as you note for the excerpts the minutes that were sent forward to you on the 5th May 2011.

Further complaint from 25th May 2011

We have reconsidered the investigation report and take the view that we have never asserted that you are the author of the comments that you had made threats involving “machetes” and these comments were taken by Mr Evans from the internet. We fully accept these comments were ill advised and inappropriate.  We do not accept or stand by this part of the e-mail exchange.

We wish to make this clear we accept your assertion that you do not or have ever made any threats of violence.    

We have fully reviewed the investigation in this case and you have noted our observations above. We are grateful to you for this bringing this to our attention. We do take every complaint seriously concerning any failure for any of PAS’ staff to act in a professional manner.

We can only reiterate our sincere apologies for falling short of this expectation in your exchange with Mr Evans.

We having now been providing a very good service for prisoners and their families for over 20 years without any substantive complaint against our staff or the quality of service we provide. We are committed to ensuring that all our staff act in a professional and respectful manner to our client base and everyone who has cause to contact our organisation.

Yours truly,

Rikki Garg
Prisoners’ Advice Service

So, a line drawn under it, HRC called off, we all move on. Hopefully Matt Evans will think before he repeats stuff he finds on the internet.