Council leader sued for £416,000

Date published: 22 April 2013

Rochdale Council and Council Leader Colin Lambert are being sued for libel by two private care home operators after Councillor Lambert suggested vulnerable children would not be safe in the town.

Meadows Care and Pathfinders Childcare say that Colin Lambert’s comments, in the wake of the trial of nine Asian men for sexual offences against children in care, led to them losing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of business.

Following the trial held in Liverpool last year, Councillor Lambert repeatedly expressed his concerns regarding privately-run children’s homes in the press, on radio and on TV.

According to case papers lodged at the High Court in London, by law firm Manleys, acting for Meadows Care Ltd and Pathfinders Childcare Ltd, Councillor Lambert said, Rochdale was the “wrong place” to send vulnerable children in light of failings exposed in the trial and that their safety was not being “guaranteed”.

Meadows Care and Pathfinders Childcare, which both run small childrens’ homes in and around Rochdale but were not involved in the grooming case, say several councils pulled children out of their homes following his remarks.

They claim that Mr Lambert’s remarks have led to “serious reputational and financial loss” for them and are jointly suing both Councillor Lambert and Rochdal Council for £416,000 in alleged lost business, plus reputational damage potentially worth even more.

It is claimed two county councils - Lancashire and North Yorkshire - and six metropolitan boroughs - Calderdale, Doncaster, Ealing, Kirklees, Rotherham and St Helens - stopped placing youngsters with the care firms in Rochdale as a result of Mr Lambert's remarks.

The writ alleges Meadows lost £260,000 as a result of the remarks while Pathfinder is said to have lost £156,000.

They say that Mr Lambert’s words suggest that the homes they run, which have been highly rated by Oftsed, were “dangerous, unsafe and damaging both to vulnerable children and society”.

Rochdale Council is understood to maintain that Councillor Lambert’s comments have been misinterpreted.

Linda Fisher, Deputy Chief Executive at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “The council is taking the matter seriously and the action will be defended.”

In a statement, the two companies said they had launched the action as a last resort after attempts to get a public apology were unsuccessful.

They said: "We feel Councillor Lambert's attack on our services came without any warning or foundation and has directly affected children in our care.

"His comments have had an ongoing detrimental effect to our businesses and the dedicated people who work with us to provide the very best services to the children we look after.

"These things were said without knowledge of our work and without ever visiting either company."


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