Lancashire County Council’s leader campaign of witness intimidation

Geoff  Driver (right) and, pictured clockwise from top left, Ged Fitzgerald, Phil Halsall and David McElhinney
Geoff Driver (right) and, pictured clockwise from top left, Ged Fitzgerald, Phil Halsall and David McElhinney
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Lancashire County Council’s leader was involved in a “deliberate and concerted campaign” to intimidate a key witness in a corruption probe, according to police documents to seek authorisation for his arrest.

A newly published court judgment reveals police claims of intimidating behaviour from Coun Geoff Driver, who is currently on police bail.

He was arrested along with three others – former County Hall chief executive Phil Halsall, David McElhinney, the chief executive of the now defunct One Connect and another former LCC chief executive Ged Fitzgerald – in May last year on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation.

Mr Fitzgerald, who is currently suspended from his role as chief executive of Liverpool Council, attempted to seek a judicial review over a judge’s decision to grant permission to search his home and arrest him last May.

His case has been dismissed by Lord Justice Gross and Mr Justice Nicol, sitting at the High Court in London.

Their judgment reveals key details of the long-running investigation, including;

- Allegations that data from seven laptops, six iPads and iPhones had been deliberately wiped during the police investigation and a desktop computer belonging to Mr McElhinney was ordered to be destroyed;

- Allegations that Mr Halsall had advised Coun Driver to change the properties of any Word documents he sent in to PDFs, in order to disguise their origins;

- Allegations that Coun Driver attended a meeting at LCC that he had been advised he should not attend, and attempted to remove documents.

All four men, who remain on bail, are at the centre of a criminal investigation linked to One Connect Limited – the now defunct partnership between LCC and telecom giants BT.

Warrants granted at Preston Crown Court on May 19 last year by Judge Robert Altham, authorised police to search the four men’s homes for “any electronic storage devices”.

Lancashire Police’s original application for the warrants, said: “Circumstances essentially revolve around recent activity by Mr Driver, including his sending emails to a principal witness in the wider case, Ian Young (LCC’s senior lawyer) which led to Mr Young making a complaint to police alleging a deliberate and concerted campaign to intimidate him as a key witness in both criminal and ongoing civil proceedings linked to the criminal case.”

It adds: “Evidence has now been gathered which shows that between 2013 and 2015, Mr Driver in collusion with Philip Hassall, David McElhinney and Gerard Fitzgerald, was involved in activity directed toward a number of principal witnesses... which was clearly designed to intimidate, belittle and undermine them both professionally and, crucially, as witnesses in the investigation.”

The judgment revealed officers had been granted restricted access to Mr Driver’s email accounts in March 2017, and that police claimed Mr Halsall had advised Geoff Driver to change the properties of any Word document he sent into PDF, in order to disguise its origins.

Lancashire Police’s investigation is ongoing and the four men are due to answer bail on May 22. They all deny any wrongdoing and have not been charged.

Lancashire Police, Coun Driver, Mr Halsall and Hogan Brown (Mr Fitzgerald’s solicitors) declined to comment. Mr McElhinney could not be reached.