Old Grumpy has been conducting a detailed examination of Cllr Rob Lewis’ interview with the Ombudsman’s investigating officer.
The investigator was particularly interested in the use of Quark Xpress 7.31 for the production of election material on the council’s computer system.
QX 7.31 is an expensive piece of kit and, as the investigating officer points out: “It’s not normally a computer that would be used by an individual, it’s normally held by large organisations. The council also possesses such a large computer.”
Clearly the implication is that, if Cllr Lewis had generated this election material on QX 7.31, he must have been using council computers.
But Cllr Lewis was at pains to knock this suggestion on the head.
So when asked if he had any knowledge of QX 7.31 he replied “No, no!”.
And when asked if the QX documents had therefore been produced by Clive James (the printer of whom more later) he replied: “I assume so, I don’t, I know nothing about QX so”.
Later in the interview it transpired that Cllr Lewis claimed to have sent the documents to Mr James in Microsoft Word format; the printer transformed them into QX and sent them back for proofing.
As Cllr Lewis explained: “To make sure it’s right, which is when I received the Quark, well I didn’t know it was Quark Xpress but it just came back like that, first to read and then say yes that’s fine.”
It should be noted that, at the time he first denied any knowledge of QX, Cllr Lewis still hadn’t admitted using council computers for the production of any of this election literature, though under further questioning he eventually had to accept that he had.
So, the sequence of operations according to Cllr Lewis is that he produced the election literature in Word which was then sent to Mr James who transformed it into QX and sent it back for proofing.
Asked if he then sent the proof-read documents back to Mr James for printing, Cllr Lewis replied: “Well no, we wouldn’t need to pass them back then, we just read them proof read them and make sure they’re correct.”
Presumably, then, printer was given the go-ahead by email or telephone.
There seems to be one serious flaw in this account of events because almost all of the documents in the Ombudsman’s report contain the imprint “Printed and promoted by (name and address of candidate).
So why would Mr James send Cllr Lewis documents with the candidate named as printer when he knew that he was going to do the printing himself?
And, as an experienced printer, he would also be expected to know that the law requires his name and address to appear on election material.
The Electoral Commission provides the following guidance on this subject:
1.26 On printed material, such as leaflets and posters, you must include the name and address of:
any person on behalf of whom the material is being published (and who is not the promoter)
1.27 The promoter is the person who has authorised the material to be printed.
If the promoter is acting on behalf of a group or organisation, the group or organisation’s name and address must also be included.
Indeed, the guidance would seem to suggest that a case can be made that there should have been three names and address on these leaflets.
Perhaps they should have read: Promoted by Independent Political Group, County Hall, Haverfordwest, on behalf of [name and address of candidate] and printed by [name and address of printer].
After all, as he told the Ombudsman’s investigator, Cllr Lewis was the secretary [now chairman] of the Independent Political group and: “Well, as the ruling group, you know, we were 39 [out of 60] pre the election”, and, “I was there to assist members, you know obviously we have an interest in keeping control [of] the council.”
If these election addresses were distributed in the form that appears in the Ombudsman’s report to the standards committee, it is not a trivial matter.
As the Electoral Commission says:
“The Commission stresses in its guidance that the consequences of a breach of the requirements are serious and advises that if it is believed that an offence relating to imprints has been committed this should be brought to the attention of the police.
If the promoter of the material or any other person by whom the material is so published or the printer of the document commits an offence, they are liable to a fine of up to £5,000.”
Now, there’s a thought!