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15.07.2005 Diaspora News

Councillor suspended over people smuggling conviction


A row was deepening today after a £60,000-a-year council officer was suspended following disclosures that he had been jailed for people smuggling. Bright Oduro-Kwateng has been backed by his union, Unison, after he was suspended from his position as Newcastle City council's head of social inclusion.

The authority acted after it found out the 49-year-old had been jailed for his part in a scam to smuggle people into the country using passports in the names of dead babies.

He was jailed for a year at Woolwich crown court in 1998 for attempting to defraud the Home Office by falsifying documents over a seven-year period. The Ghana-born employee lost his job with Greenwich council following the case.

Mr Oduro-Kwateng was appointed to the Newcastle role nine weeks ago, despite having stated on his CV he was dismissed from a previous council post for "misconduct".

Kenny Bell, Unison's Newcastle branch secretary, said the officer did not have to disclose his prison record on his application form but Mr Oduro-Kwateng "alluded" to it in interview.

Mr Bell said the panel of three senior officers did not pursue this line of questioning.

A council spokesman said today: "As a result of these findings coming to our attention, a member of staff has been suspended from work.

"The appointment was made by officers in accordance with procedures laid down by the Local Government Act 1972.

"An investigation is on-going and it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Peter Arnold, the Liberal Democrat council leader, said: "I was briefed on this by the chief executive and I hope and expect there will be an internal investigation."

The handling of the case was criticised by Labour deputy leader Nick Forbes, saying the officer's criminal past was easily accessed on the internet.

He said today: "I think it shows appalling incompetence on behalf of the council in terms of its recruitment process.

"Any investigation needs to be broader and look as a matter of urgency at the recruitment process to make sure this astonishing incompetence does not happen again."

But his union insisted Mr Oduro-Kwateng had done nothing wrong.

Mr Bell said the officer signed passport applications for people when asked "in good faith".

The union official said Mr Oduro-Kwateng had already performed well in the short time he had spent in the new role, and was twice employee of the year when he worked for Basildon council.

Mr Bell alleged that figures at Newcastle city council tried to "discredit" the official because he had challenged the local authority in his role as head of social inclusion.

His job was to work on behalf of the ethnic minorities, the disabled and others and others who may be ignored by mainstream society, including ex-offenders.

Mr Bell said: "He has done nothing wrong.

"The way this individual has been treated is absolutely disgraceful. He is hurt and angry. He committed himself to coming to Newcastle from London and was excited about the challenge. He thought he could make a difference.

"He is absolutely clear he will fight this, clear his name and return to work."