As I suspected, the young upstart had good reason to be looking pleased with himself when I bumped into him during my recent visit to the election office in Goodwick.
What he had discovered was that the story Cllr Rob Lewis told the Ombudsman about paying Clive James £90-£100 for printing his election leaflets in 2012 had some rather large holes in it.
Readers will remember that back in the summer of 2012 the Pentlepoir pretender published the “Partygate” files which seemed to show that Cllr Lewis and his Cabinet colleague, ex-Cllr David Wildman, had been using the council’s computer system for the industrial-scale production of election material for Independent party candidates during both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
One particular candidate (Byron Frayling) stood out because he was standing against Cllr David Bryan in Haverfordwest Priory.
Cllr Bryan was a long-standing member of the Independent party, so, as you can imagine, he was not best pleased to discover that the leadership were supporting his opponent.
Having obtained copies of the files, Cllr Bryan made a complaint to the Ombudsman who produced a report outlining 21 occasions when Cllr Lewis had misused council computers.
I should add that this was a fairly small sample because it dealt only with the 2012 election – taking the two elections together I count some 90 files with Cllr Lewis’s name on them.
The case came before what a recent piece in Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” column described as “the amusingly titled standards committee” which upheld the Ombudsman’s findings and handed down an amusingly titled penalty of two weeks’ suspension.
Among the reasons for this leniency was Cllr Lewis’ “forthrightness” i.e openness and honesty, in his dealings with the Ombudsman.
One of the matters which Cllr Lewis had been “forthright” about (allegedly) was his relationship with the printer of these election leaflets, Clive James.
According to Cllr Lewis’ account, he had generated this election material on the council’s computer system using Microsoft Word.
These had then been emailed to Mr James who transposed them into Quark Xpressformat before sending them back to Cllr Lewis for proofing.
Once Cllr Lewis was satisfied that they were all present and correct, Mr James was given the nod to set the presses running.
In the case of his own leaflets, Cllr Lewis told the Ombudsman, he had paid Mr James somewhere between £90-£100 pounds for his services.
However, as the young whippersnapper has discovered, in what might be described as the icing on the “Partygate” cake, this doesn’t sit very well with what Cllr Lewis told the returning officer about his election expenses which show that he spent £55.96 on paper and inkjet cartridges – presumably so that he could print the leaflets on his own, or someone else’s, computer.
Interestingly this election expenses return which was completed on 6 June 2012, when these events were fresh in his mind, contains the signed declaration containing the words: “…to the best of my knowledge and belief it is a complete and accurate return as required by law”.
The difficulty is that members are also “required by law” to tell the truth when interviewed by the Ombudsman.
It is also worth paying attention to what Cllr Lewis told the Ombudsman about other members’ election addresses produced by the same process.
The conversation, which is not easy to understand, went as follows:
Lewis: I … off the top of my head, Mr James obviously who was printing a load of stuff had the format set out and then he would just change it because of the photos he’d would already had off different ones.
[What this piece of strangled syntax means, I think, is that Mr James had a template into which he inserted the photographs provided to him by the various candidates.]
Ombudsman: Right, which would explain the similarity in the wording?
Lewis: Yeah, similarity in the wording, same wording and everything else and…
Ombudsman: And then you would pay Mr James for these separately?
Lewis: Yeah, we sort that out with Mr James, that’s something different, you know totally different.
I take it that the reference to Mr James “printing a load of stuff” and “we sort that out [the payment] with Mr James” concerns all the other members for whom Cllr Lewis produced election material.
And that would be on all fours with stories I have heard about Mr James dropping off boxes of leaflets at county hall on his way to work in the morning.
The difficulty is that, among the election returns of those listed in the Ombudsman’s report, the only invoice I could find with Mr James’ name on it was in that submitted by Cllr Peter Stock.
All the others, with the exception of Cllr Ken Rowlands who provided an invoice from Cleddau Press, purported to purchase paper and ink cartridges, presumably for printing at home.
So either Cllr Lewis’ statement to the Ombudsman about Mr James printing “a load of stuff” simply isn’t true, or Mr James did print “a load of stuff” and for whatever reason was paid by some other means than via an invoice, or Mr James did print “a load of stuff” and provided an invoice, which, for whatever reason, the recipients decided not to disclose to the returning officer.
So, Cllr Lewis would seem to have two choices: (a) come up with some plausible explanation for this discrepancy between the election returns and his testimony to the Ombudsman, or (b) resign.
If he decides to tough it out, it will be interesting to see how the IPPG block vote holds up when, as he surely will, he faces a no confidence motion at the next meeting of council.