Portsmouth City Council’s scrutiny management board chair has resigned over the chief executive’s refusal to allow him to investigate the council’s role in the Ashya King case.
The dispute raises issues about the limits of what scrutiny committees may inquire into, with chief executive David Williams insisting that a local safeguarding board probe must take precedence.
Ashya, aged five, who has a brain tumour, was removed by his family from Southampton General Hospital last month, sparking an international police hunt until the family was found in Spain.
The hospital and police asked Portsmouth to seek an order to make Ashya a ward of court, as the family live in the city, though the council did not assume parental responsibility for him.
Alistair Thompson (Con) said he resigned because Mr Williams refused to allow the scrutiny to take place until the safeguarding board’s investigation was complete.
Cllr Thompson told LGC: “I think the chief executive’s refusal to allow the scrutiny panel of councillors to proceed with a review makes my position untenable.
“It means that we cannot question officers, but nothing we wanted to do prevented a safeguarding review too.
“I think the legal advice I had was very clear that there was no requirement for us to wait until after the safeguarding panel before councillors can review this.
“There are the public, siblings and concerned family members wanting to know what happened. This was a seriously ill child parted from his family, and all fairly traumatic.”
An email from Mr Williams to councillors, seen by LGC, said legal advice showed it was “not appropriate for the scrutiny management board to instigate a review of the handling of the Ashya King case at this time, and therefore the council will not be facilitating the meeting which Cllr Thompson is seeking”.
Advice to Mr Williams from deputy monitoring officers Peter Baulf and Robert Parking stated that director of children’s services Julian Wooster “in the performance of his statutory duty, has invoked a Local Safeguarding Children Board [which] must be allowed to complete its work and issue its public report without any participant in that process placing their role in a prejudiced position”.
This meant Cllr Thompson’s proposed scrutiny “cannot be [held] at this time”, they said.
Leader Donna Jones (Con) said in a statement: “It’s my opinion, and that of the chief executive, that it is entirely right for the safeguarding board to run the investigation and produce a full and comprehensive report which will be published in full.
“It is inappropriate at this time for the council to hold its own investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Ashya King case.”