Cornwall Council has admitted blocking emails to councillors from ‘vexatious’ members of the public. The council’s solicitor Henry Gordon Lennox told a committee it was policy after Redruth councillor Stephen Barnes demanded: “I want to know who’s agreed to censor my emails.”
The matter was raised at a meeting of the council’s customer and support services overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (June 6) when Conservative councillor for Padstow Stephen Rushworth said he had received an email from an individual to his private email address but it hadn’t come through to his council email.
He said: “I know it was about a very contentious issue … but it’s rather concerning we are having emails filtered without our knowledge.”
Labour’s Cllr Barnes agreed: “I think these are very important points – I want to know who’s agreed to censor my emails. As far as I’m concerned, as a Cornwall councillor if somebody sends me an email to my Cornwall Council address it should come through. How many of my emails are blocked?”
The council’s solicitor and monitoring officer Mr Gordon Lennox explained the individual concerned had three email addresses blocked previously and has a habit of changing email addresses “hence why we blocked three of them and that’s not an unacceptable action to take when someone is being dealt with in accordance with the policy. That is a filter that is put in and outside of that there is no interference with members’ inboxes”.
He told Cllr Barnes he could not answer how many and what emails had been blocked. “There is a policy in place which is entirely right. If there is a wider concern about the security and application of emails that’s something that has to be looked at by our IT team.”
Mr Gordon Lennox added someone can be deemed to be ‘vexatious’ through the standards committee, and then go on a list. “There is no list currently as there are no vexatious people currently designated as such.”
Independent councillor for the Roseland Julian German asked that all councillors be sent the policy about blocking individuals and a list of people affected by it. “Some people have used the term ‘vexatious’ and then we’re told there isn’t a ‘vexatious list’.”
Cllr German added: “We’ve got a policy which says you can only block the emails of people that are on the vexatious list, there’s no one on that list but we’re still blocking people’s emails.”
“This was done historically and I’ll take away and look at whether those emails should still be blocked,” Mr Gordon Lennox responded about the individual concerned.
The solicitor then replied there are actually two lists: “Vexatious is one thing, a safeguarding concern is another, from people who may present a risk to councillors. That is different from someone who is deemed as vexatious because of the way they interact and behave with the council.”
Conservative Cabinet member Richard Pears said the council is targeted by hundreds and thousands of spam emails every single day and also has “various nefarious ‘actors’ [an entity responsible for a cybersecurity incident] attempting to hack into the council’s system. We’re actually attacked by a state-level ‘actor’ – that’s actually an entire country attempting to attack us – at least once a week, so of course our security systems are very, very high”.
Earlier in the meeting, concerns were raised about comments made at the last committee meeting not being recorded in the minutes, which were understood to be about Spaceport Cornwall.
Cllr Barnes said: “I raised certain points in the last meeting and they are not included.” He was told that not all comments are minuted. Cllr Rushworth said he would not sign off the minutes as they did not reflect what happened at the meeting.
Independent councillor for St Columb Minor John Fitter replied: “I do believe this council is in danger of being brought into disrepute if we are seen to be suppressing items that would normally be recorded in the minutes. I am aware that a London broadsheet has been picking this up and it does not do any of us any good if what might be considered our dirty washing is aired in public.”