NI Water: MacKenzie ‘cleared’ according to his own company’s records…

I was away from Slugger Central for most of yesterday, tending to the needs of the day job (sorry!!). One fascinating little story appeared in the News Letter. Sam McBride notes:

…in a move which is highly unusual in FoI responses, the public body threatened to take legal action if the revelation was ‘misreported’. “Any attempt to misreport or misrepresent NI Water’s position in this regard will be dealt with appropriately and if necessary by legal action,” it said.

Misreported, eh? Here’s the company’s official line:

Responding to a further series of questions from the News Letter, NI Water said: “The chief executive deleted the email upon return from leave on 19 July 2010; he had been on leave from 2nd July 2010, for two weeks.”

Asked whether he was aware that the email was relevant to an FoI request when he deleted it, the body said: “The chief executive was not advised of an FoI request regarding this e-mail prior to its deletion. The chief executive was advised of the FoI request on 30 July 2010; NI Water’s records are clear on this.” [Emphasis added]

More specifically:

The publicly-owned utility said that chief executive Laurence MacKenzie was on holiday when the email from suspended DRD permanent secretary Paul Priestly was received and deleted it on the day that he returned to work.

Now let’s be careful here. I don’t for a moment think this is an idle threat, since as we have noted before for MacKenzie the stakes are very high. Were the alleged series of events proven correct, this could all end up in criminal proceedings.

Why? Because it is a criminal offence to dispose of material in the knowledge that it is subject of an FOI request. NI Water say that, based on their records, McKenzie did not have that knowledge. That’s why the company’s reference to records and 30th July are so important here.

But NI Water’s story is not the only possible explanation.

We understand that like many business leaders Mr MacKenzie brought his Blackberry on holiday with him. Mr Priestley’s original email was sent to McKenzie just the day after the two men had taken an unexpected roasting from the PAC. That would be on Friday 2nd July.

Reading an email on the Blackberry would not (see maehara’s note here) have affected its unread status on NI Water’s Microsoft Exchange system, and therefore it is entirely plausible that that email could have been read, but still register unread by CEO’s return to work and its deletion on Monday the 19th July.

If the Information Commissioner’s Office chooses to investigate, they should be able to inspect the back up copies which are made every night and kept separately from the main records at NI Water.

Even then we may still not know for certain whether he had read it, or not. Certainly if Paul Priestley was unwise enough to generate a digital paper trail of his own activities, there is no evidence that MacKenzie ever responded in kind.

Yet there are other complications beyond the vagaries of the Blackberry route. Mr MacKenzie was not the only one in the company to received that request on Saturday 17th July. Slugger understands that Company Secretary Mark Ellesmere was also copied in.

So far the company is treating a request for information on when Ellesmere actually read his copy,  as an FOI application. As such it is currently awaiting a separate response.

A similar request for copies of similar information was lodged with the DRD on Friday 16th July. It initially responded with a departmental statement to the effect that “no such correspondence exists”. Of course it was eventually revealed that Mr Priestley and all the other recipients inside the department had disposed of their copies.

The details of when and how those deletions were made, are now subject to the NICS’s ongoing investigation and unlikely to be released into the public domain before Sir Jon Shortridge concludes his investigation of Paul Priestley by the end of October.

Of course, none of this proves anything directly.  But perhaps both NI Water men ought to be recalled and asked some direct questions by the PAC on the matter?

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  • wild turkey

    mick

    firstly, you are to be congratulated for trying to make some coherent sense out of the NIW “story” and in doing so keeping it live. anyone, corporate or household, who uses the services provided by NIW should be grateful for your work in this respect

    My reading for the summer was Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and FFS, it was a shitload easier to follow than the twist, turns and permutations of this dense NIW saga.

    question Mick. let us imagine for a moment a mythical world where there are no libel/slander constraints, nothing buried under various “ongoing” investigations. in that world could the truth, whatever that beast, about this story, in all its permutations and nuances, be told in a clear and coherent way?

    simple yep or nope will do.

    thanks

  • William Markfelt

    ‘MacKenzie ‘cleared’ according to his own company’s records…’

    [Text removed by request – Mods]

    I presume the CEO looked over these press releases to ensure there was no misrepresentation in them.

    I also trust that, should it come to light that NIW have misreported or misrepresented any -any- element of this story 🙂 then they’re just as happy to be dealt with appropriately, possibly including legal action?

  • Mick Fealty

    yep.

  • maehara

    I have a Blackberry, and have in the past been involved in the admin of a Blackberry server. My handset is connected to the MS Exchange system of my employer, via their Blackberry Enterprise Server. Reading an email on the handset *does* sync back to the Exchange system and mark the message read on the Exchange system.

    I would be very surprised to find any Blackberry install that was not set up to work the same way.

    That said, you can “Mark as Unread” on the handset and have that sync back to Exchange as well. Determining whether that had happened here or not would be somewhat trickier.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for that maehara.

  • Pigeon Toes

    And given that roasting, (with the inevitable fall out) one would certainly expect Mr MacKenzie to have been keeping up with just how much shit was indeed hitting the fan!

  • just sayin’

    i am a current blackberry user and can confirm maehara is absolutely correct. i also [sad!] bring it with me on holiday.

    not reading the email is – to me i stress – inconceivable.

    i would have read and then marked unread simply so it was still showing as needing attention on return. if not reading, why bring the thing with you?

  • Cynic

    Why does NIW feel it necessary to spend public resources to threaten the media that any misrepresentation of the company’s position might result in legal action?

    [Text removed by request – Mods]

    So just why does NIW think that any comments on any such alleged deletion would besmirch its corporate reputation (such as it is after a series of major problems) and on what grounds would it suggest it therefore might take action as a company?

    It’s all very strange and seems to point to a totally defensive and knee jerk mindset.I do wonder if that is what they need right now and if this threat was approved by the Board or someone in the Executive Team. It might be worth asking that question.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Cynic, seems to be a trick they have learned from DRD , in relation to DPA alleged breaches. The individual was considered for legal action, but the Department responded.

    Meh, it’s all in front of them…

  • Cynic

    So why should tax payers pay for it?

    If so, is it a benefit in kind that should be taxed?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘if this threat was approved by the Board or someone in the Executive Team. It might be worth asking that question.’

    I danced around that very issue above.

    I believe it’s unlikely that the PR dept of NIW would do anything than stick to real facts as they wanted to get over. A dry, factual press release framed in the usual PR terms that says a lot without saying anything. Input regarding legal threats is not the usual M.O. of press departments, and certainly not something I would expect to see without some sort of legal and Executive input.

    As a more general point, unless your company is in the habit of blowing millions of gallons of oil around the Gulf of Mexico (and even then it’s possible to leave the name of your hotel with your staff with orders to contact you in dire emergencies), there’s hardly a situation on earth that warrants dickheads taking their Blackberries on holiday with them. It just smells of an innate capacity to look and act like a psychologically damaged prat with their head up their own self-important ass.

  • Pink Lady

    Fawlty Faucets

    The little credibility that Laurence MacKenzie had left after the PAC, UTV programme and suspension of Priestly is draining away – fast.

    Lets look at the hard facts on this latest revelation:

    MacKenzie and Priestly have just a torrid time at the PAC. MacKenzie then goes on holiday, during which time he receives an email from Priestly and FOI requests hunting it out lands at the NIW and the DRD. The whole world now knows that all who received a copy at the DRD were able delete their copies so that the DRD initial statement was able to be to the effect that “no such correspondence exists”.

    Is MacKenzie really expecting anyone to believe that he did not open an email from his joint accounting officer with such a hot topic title?

    [Text deleted by request – Mods]

    Is MacKenzie really expecting anyone to believe that he did not speak to his joint accounting officer, or someone else in DRD, about the PAC and this email over his holiday period? Perhaps a short conversation along the lines of “you got an email, delete it fast”.

    This whole mess could make an award winning black comedy.

    If only I liked black comedies.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Would they not have Professional Indemnity Insurance anyway?

  • Eau Really

    I think firstly it has to be said that we are seeing some really excellent work done by the PAC. Agreed?

    I think it must also be said that MacKenzie’s credibility has, excuse the pun, completely leaked away now.

    I truly believe it is now time the PAC ascertained the facts around MacKenzie and asked him the following questions:

    Why did you delete the e-mail from Paul Priestly on your return from vacation without having read it?

    Did you read it on your blackberry?

    Did you delete it knowing it’s content?

    Did you conspire to delete it and then deny its existence?

    Did you have any conversations with Pat McParland head of corporate affairs and NIW with regard to this mail?

    Did you discuss ways to hide that you had A) Seen it? B) Deleted it?

    What was the meaning of your mail to Peter Dixon entitled “done deal” on the day after you discussed forming the IRT with Paul Priestly?

    How can you justify resigning, then counter-manding that resignation on the basis that all bar one of the non-exec team would be fired due to the seriousnsess of the STA and other purchasing irregularities you found – whilst also telling others that purchasing was “no big issue” in NIW?

    How do you plan to have a meaningful business relationship with the gov appointed regulator when you , and Peter Dixons, refer to him as Dangermouse?

    What did you say to Priestly that would prompt Perer Dixon to say “his eyes must have been popping out of his head”?

    What input have you had in relation to the appointment of the new non execs?

    What steps have you taken in terms of disciplinary procedures internally in NIW to those who have been DIRECTLY reponsible for purchasing?

    Have you set in train other disciplinary procedures against those in NIW NOT responsible for purchasing, and why?

    You drive a nice motor vehicle. What discount did you receive when you purchased it off the list price?

    What volume of business does the company from whom you purchased it carry our with both NIE and NIW and who made the decisions to award them those tenders?

    I think answers to some if not all of these would change the tone of this whole shambolic episode from comedy to tragedy.

    WHile Paul Priestly is suspended and one would imagine that his career as a senior civil servant is at an end, you must admit that every facet of this situation, every lay line, runs across, through, over and from Mr MacKenzie.

    Surely it’s time the board of NIW suspended him pending the outcome of this situation. At the very least it would prevent him from using the weight, if not the public funds, of NIW to issuse threats like the above.

    It’s time they acted.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘WHile Paul Priestly is suspended and one would imagine that his career as a senior civil servant is at an end, you must admit that every facet of this situation, every lay line, runs across, through, over and from Mr MacKenzie.’

    The Civil Service don’t do sackings, so I’m not convinced Priestly’s career has ended. I think the worst we’re looking at is a downgrading of some description, or maybe just a disciplinary warning and returned to active service.

    But you’re right about McKenzie. In all of this, he’s Hamlet.

  • Pigeon Toes

    FFS that also excludes the possibility of a text or indeed a phone call.

    “Larry old, chum might want to have a look at your emails….”

    It’s good to talk 😀

  • William Markfelt

    ‘You drive a nice motor vehicle.’

    With an outstanding lack of legroom for anyone who grew to proper height.

    Is this the real core of the story? That what we’re witnessing is clear evidence of Napoleon (Small Man) syndrome being played out here?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “NI Water’s records are clear on this.”

    That is actually different from saying that the phone and audit trail records are clear on the matter.

    Is that the “official” records?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Next thing you know they will have their barrister claiming legal privilege on documents that said barrister has already stated did not exist. 😀

  • snowstorm

    Well I wonder does the new Board still stand four square behind McKenzie? Maybe it is the case that Mairtin and Padraic don’t really care about their own credibility? If they did then MacKenzie would be out the door.
    Have they the balls to retract from their misjudged statement of support?

  • Said barrister must have been standing on exceedingly narrow ground.

  • Dr Concitor

    William,I think of him as a hybrid of Rab C Nesbitt and Vlad the Impaler.
    To change the subject,has any one else noticed the uncanny resemblance between William Joyce(Lord Haw Haw) and Connor Murphy?

  • William Markfelt

    “Any attempt to misreport or misrepresent NI Water’s position in this regard will be dealt with appropriately and if necessary by legal action,”

    Ooh…someone flexing a muscle?

    Well, we should in that case examine the Misrepresentation Act.

    It includes fiduciary relationships where one party acts for the benefit of the other.

    Do any of the key players in the NIW tale really, really, really want to go there?

    I won’t spell it out, as most commentators here will have their own theories as to the actions of those involved who acted for the benefit of the other.

    As for misreporting, how far is that likely to go down the legal route when certain players have made statements to PAC that are, quite obviously, misreporting in themselves (i.e. the recollections of STAs at NIE)?

    Looked at starkly, this sort of hollow threat simply demonstrates that the hellhounds on their trail are creating a squeaky bum atmosphere amongst several key players.

  • William Markfelt

    I didn’t spot any resemblance between Joyce and Murphy, but there’s one helluva similarity between Lawrence McKenzie and Jimmy Krankie.

    Fan dabi dozie, Dangermouse.

  • Cynic

    ‘Squeaky bum atmosphere”?

    We will have you know that at NIW all our underwear and nether regions are whiter than white, washed thoroughly in expensive Departmental Daz and our own glorious (and free) spring water. Unfortunately, some of that washing has been in public of late but hey ho.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Squeaky bum atmosphere”?

    Yeah, I borrowed that phrase from another autocratic Scot famed for ‘the hairdryer treatment’, who famously changed his mind about quitting his job, has a hate-hate relationship with journalists, and has publicly questioned the fitness of referees.

  • The Northern Ireland Water news archive hasn’t been updated since June.

    Is NIW afraid that that it will misreport or misrepresent itself – or that publication of all of the facts in the NIW fiasco would be followed by damnation?

    Meanwhile, parents beware:

    “It is easy to develop bad habits at a young age, so it is vital to educate children on the damage flushing the wrong things down the loo can do. We gave each child the task of completing a ‘sewer detective’ questionnaire to find out what gets flushed at home.” … April 2010 and serious ‘grime’ in Carrickfergus.

  • Loosening of sphincters comes to mind rather than tightening, William – when the heat is on.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘We gave each child the task of completing a ‘sewer detective’ questionnaire to find out what gets flushed at home.”

    Would it be misrepresenting NIW’s position to revive the urban legend about giant albino alligators swanning around the sewerage system?

    Maybe. Therefore, in the light of NIW’s veiled threats, it’s possibly important to stick, instead, to the incontrovertible fact that there are giant reptiles to be found in the boardroom of Westland House.

  • Jj

    I find the alegation that he deleted the email on his first day back at work literally unbelievable. No senior person I have ever worked with or known would not have many emails awaiting their return from leave. They would normally have kept a watching brief on their mail while on holiday – many scs make a point of emailing either late at night or on leave to show how conscientious (read “sad”) they are. I’ve no doubt he read the email while on leave and the electronic trail for this exists, albeit, as a poster pointed out above, is a difficult trail to follow. An FoI request for CEO correspondence on subject X during the period of his leave, perhaps? 2 July- 18th July or any dates in between will demonstrate this.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘many scs make a point of emailing either late at night or on leave to show how conscientious (read “sad”) they are’

    Yeah. Just part of an attention whore game.

    Do the emails at 3pm while supping tea and contemplating whether or not that wee secretary is a garibaldy. Then just press ‘send’ while watching ‘Big Brother’ or whatever low-brow shit these twats watch.

    Then (just like those who use Blackberries demonstrate a worrying need to tell you they’ve sent you a message via Blackberry) make a point of telling everyone how you were sending around some emails at 12.05am. We’ve all worked with this sort of dickhead, haven’t we?

  • Jj, you don’t suppose he was deleting emails during the course of an Executive Committee meeting, also held that day? Such meetings in the past have commenced at 8am.

  • Jj

    Yup! I inadvertedly found some once when searching on TRIM. Utterly nauseating! 🙂