Whitewash

Last week, I analysed the events surrounding the cover-up of Cllr Brian Hall's fraudulent travel claim for 1 February 2001.
This week, I will relate the story of how his dodgy business relationship with Dr Michael Ryan was swept under the carpet.
The two crucial dates are 1 August 2000 (the date of Ryan's appointment) and 16 October 2000 (the day Ryan sent the now infamous fax to Hall), (Hall-Ryan).
The key to unlocking the puzzle is to work out what went on during the 11 weeks in between.
I have documentary evidence of the following.

1 August 2000 - Letter of appointment from PCC head of marketing David Thomas to ORA International (managing director Dr Michael Ryan)

15-18 August 2000 - Ryan visits Pembs (Answers to my questions council meeting 21 Oct 2004).

3 September 2000 - letter from Ryan on behalf of ORA to David Thomas informing him of ORA's intention to set up a UK-based company.
This letter contained a promise that, in order to avoid any conflict of interest, the new company would not trade in Pembrokeshire.

10 September 2000 - Mr Thomas replied saying that the arrangments (not to trade in Pembrokeshire) outlined in ORA's letter would avoid any conflict of interest. Mr Thomas asked to be kept abreast of any developments with the new company.

20 September 2000 - Hall wrote a "private letter" to Leader (Auditor's report paras 28, 33,47) informing him of his business relationship with Ryan

4-7 October 2000 - Ryan visits Pembrokeshire (Answers to my questions council meeting 21 Oct 2004). According to the auditor's report, Ryan claimed that it was during this visit he first met Hall.

16 October 2000 - Ryan sent a fax to Hall which begins "I have at last completed my first draft of the business plan". There is other evidence in the fax to indicate that they had extensive and well advanced plans to trade in Pembrokeshire (Hall-Ryan).

Clearly, if Hall's 20 September letter to Maurice Hughes is genuine, Ryan's claim to have first met Hall during the period 4-7 October simply can't be true.
And, if Hall did write to Hughes on 20 September, why did he tell the auditor initially that he first met Ryan during September/October (auditor's report para 27). It is not, I think, without significance that, according to the auditor's report, Hall produced the 20 September letter "towards the end of our review [investigation]." and that the review went on for seven months.
In answer to my questions to the Leader at the meeting of council on 21 October 2004, I was told that Ryan had visited Pembrokeshire twice between 1 August 2000 (appointment date) and 16 October 2000 (fax date).
The dates of these visits were 15-18 August and 4-7 October.
As the chief executive "recalls introducing Dr Ryan to Cllr Hall in a meeting in his office after ORA Ltd had been awarded the contract." (auditor's report para 27) and they were clearly known to each other on October 16 when Ryan sent the fax, the introduction must have made been during one or other of these visits.
Even if we disregard Hall's September 20 letter to Hughes, the contents of Ryan's fax to Hall rules out the second of these visits as the occasion of their first encounter because there was insufficient time between 4-7 October and 16 October for them to have lined up all the projects discussed in the fax (Hall-Ryan).
And would Ryan have begun the fax "I have at last completed my first draft of the business plan" if their first ever meeting had been only 9-12 days earlier?
So, as Hall introduction to Ryan was in the chief executive's office, they must have first met on the only other occasion that Ryan was in Pembrokeshire i.e. between 15-18 August.
The auditor refers to these two differing versions of the timing of their first meeting as an "apparent inconsistency", though it looks real enough to me.
And, real or apparent, it is rather surprising, given the auditor's blanket access to all documents in the council's possession, that he didn't take any steps to resolve it.
After all, if I was able to discover the dates of his visits to the county, so was the auditor.
It seems that the date of their first meeting was not the only time they were singing from different hymn sheets.
The auditor reports: "This letter [Hall's September 20 letter to Hughes] is not entirely consistent with the details of Dr Ryan's correspondence with us particularly around the date the company name Euro-Ryall Ltd was first considered and the proposed parts of the country the company was likely to trade in."
Note the "not entirely consistent".
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the auditor's report doesn't elaborate on these inconsistencies, nor, apparently, make any attempt to resolve them.
Having recently been elected to the council, I put down questions at the meeting on 15 July 2004 seeking clarification of para 46 of the auditor's report.
I was told: "The chief executive had been informed orally in early-autumn 2000 by Cllr Hall of the latter's discussions with Dr Ryan about the possibility of forming a company."
And, in answer to another question: "The Head of Marketing and communications [Ryan's line manager, David Thomas] had been informed orally by Dr Ryan during October/November 2000 about the intended formation of the company to be known as Euro-Ryall."
All beautifully vague! They don't seem to believe in writing things down in county hall.
For instance: "The chief executive has informed us that the decision to appoint a consultant was discussed and accepted by the management board although this was not recorded at the time" (para 11), and, "Before the contract was awarded [to ORA], the head of marketing and communications took one satisfactory verbal reference from a reliable source known to senior officers. The information and comments received were not formally [or informally?] documented . . ."(para 16)
Regarding Hall's alleged 20 September letter to the Leader, Cllr Michael Williams put down a Notice of Motion to the council meeting on 16 December 2004 calling for its publication.
This request was refused on the grounds that: "The letter referred to was made available to the District Auditor. It was a private letter between Cllrs Hall and Hughes. It was not made known to council officers and therefore formed no part of the council's procedures relating to interests. It is not in the council's possession and it's (sic) wider disclosure or otherwise is, therefore, a matter for the writer and/or the recipient." (see Dual purpose).
Two points about this:
Firstly if it was a private letter, why was it relied upon by the auditor. It is noticeable that it was a letter to the Leader for the purposes of the auditor's report - to Cllr Hughes when arguing for non-disclosure.
Secondly, I would have thought the Leader had a duty to inform the Monitoring Officer; the officer responsible for all questions relating to members interests, of this development.
Cllr Williams' NoM also asked for the exact date of Hall's introduction to Ryan by the chief executive.
The answer given was: "There is no record of an exact date. Information about the meeting is, therefore, the subject of recollection which is limited, particularly as it was more than four years ago."
It seems that the one person kept completely in the dark was the Monitoring Officer who informed me, in a letter dated 13 March 2003, that he had "no information about the timescale of the developing business association between Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan which led to the incorporation of Euro-Ryall Ltd, at the end of December 2000."
But hardest to grasp is how an apparently casual introduction in the chief executive's office in mid-August, grew into the mature business relationship revealed by Dr Ryan's fax just over eight weeks later.
What makes this particularly difficult to understand is that for most of this time Ryan was in Limerick and Hall in Pembroke Dock.
Which brings us to the elephant in the sitting room - Ryan's fax to Hall of 16 October.
This hardly gets a mention in the auditor's report and such mention as it does get is subtly downplayed.
The words in square brackets are what I consider the auditor might have said if he had been a little more robust.
"The communication between Dr Ryan and Cllr Hall dated 16 October 2000 identifies [shows clearly] that they were examining [actively pursuing] business opportunities in Pembrokeshire. This varies [is at complete variance] with the intentions [firm promises] set out in Dr Ryan's September letter to the council."
What is also interesting is that, in their various accounts of what they were told about the Hall/Ryan relationship, nobody mentions their well advanced plans to trade in Pembrokeshire.
So in his private letter to the Leader, Hall "informed the leader that he was going into business with Dr Ryan", while during the chief executive's meeting with Hall in "early Autumn 2000" Hall had "outlined his recently formed relationship with Dr Ryan and their emerging intention to form a company" .
Similarly, Mr David Thomas "had been informed orally by Dr Ryan during October/November 2000 about the intended formation of the company to be known as Euro-Ryall."
This last piece of information came in answer to a question I put down to the Leader and surprisingly, while David Thomas is on the list of those interviewed by the auditor, there is no mention anywhere in the report of his conversation with Dr Ryan in "October/November 2000".
Even more interesting, given the dates, this conversation almost certainly took place after Hall and Ryan had decided to trade in Pembrokeshire contrary to Ryan's promise not to do so.
Of course, the task was difficult because it required a picture to painted that showed Hall and Ryan being completely above board about their relationship, while, at the same time, ignoring the fact that Ryan's fax to Hall dated October 16 2000 proved conclusively that they hadn't.
Between 13 -17 November 2000 Hall spent four days touring around Pembroke Dock with Ryan and a Mr Pat O'Sullivan.
On the fourth day they were joined by Mr David Thomas.
Hall claimed travelling expenses and Dr Ryan was receiving £450 a day in fees plus travelling and accommodation expenses.
Of course, we can't be sure whether Mr Thomas was aware of the Hall/Ryan relationship at this time because, as he was informed in October/November (see above) it leaves open the possibility that he was told some time after 17 November, though you might have expected the chief executive to have informed Mr Thomas - Ryan's line manager - of his "early autumn" conversation with Hall.
I wrote to the district auditor on 1 May 2004 and 23 May 2004 querying whether this tour of Pembroke Dock was an approved duty under the statutory regulations.
In a reply dated 1 June 2004, the auditor told me:
"Members are entitled to claim travel and subsistence expenses incurred 'at the request of the Chief Executive . . . the Leader of council or other group leaders (or their nominated representative(s)) to attend at such meetings for the proper discharge of the business of the authority' "
The Chief Executive informed us that he approved the duties in question and that the Leader requested that Cllr Hall undertake the duties although there is no formal record of this
[again!]. One of objectives of our review was to confirm that any expenses claimed by Cllr Hall when accompanying Dr Ryan were in relation to an approved duty. We were able to satisfy ourselves on these matters.
As set out in our report, we understand from the Council's Chief Executive that Cllr Hall was requested to assist Dr Ryan given his knowledge of the local area and business."

Of course, when the Leader made this request he had, allegedly, through the September 20 letter been aware of the business relationship between Hall and Ryan for almost two months.
Ditto the Chief Executive, presuming that "early autumn" (para 46) is sometime prior to November 14.
That alone, in my opinion, should have persuaded them that Hall was the last person to send on such a mission.
If they had also known that, according to the fax Dr Ryan sent to Hall a month earlier, "To date Dr Ryan and Brian Hall have been requested to participate in a number of projects, such as:
Hotel recreation & Conference Centre Project(Masterplanning and Project Management)
International Investment Project aligned to Pembroke Dock redevelopment (my emphasis)
European Commission Objective 1 Project Finance Design & Submission."
Or that they were lining up a deal with the Purcell bros [then owners of the Cleddau Bridge Hotel] which would "set us up", or that they had plans to take over small Pembrokeshire businesses at knock-down prices thus "inflating our profit margins" (Hall-Ryan) there was absolutely no way they could have approved of Hall's participation.
It is also interesting that, not too long after this tour of Pembroke Dock, Ryan and Mr Pat O'Sullivan also went into business together (See Little by Little).
It is interesting to consider how successive Leaders of the Independent Political Group have reacted to my revelations about this greedy, dishonest pair.
After I first brought their relationship to the public's attention in October 2002 (ORA story) the, then, Leader Maurice Hughes rushed out a press release in which he said: "The council is fully aware of the company Euroryall [but not, apparently, how to spell its name]. Before the company was registered, the principals [Ryan and Hall] approached officers of the council. They (my emphasis) gave firm undertakings that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide any conflict of interest."
It must be remembered that at this time the council didn't know that I was aware of Ryan's fax to Hall, so Maurice thought he could get away with saying anything.
However, it is now clear from auditor's report that the word "They" is misleading because the only promise not to trade in Pembrokeshire was that in Ryan's letter of 3 September 2000 and, within six weeks of writing it, he was despatching a fax to Hall outlining their well developed plans to breach that undertaking.
That sounds like a serious betrayal of trust, but, for whatever reason, not serious enough to have his contract terminated.
In the summer of 2003, the leader of the Plaid Cymru group Cllr Michael Williams began to take a keen interest in the Hall-Ryan relationship; culminating in a notice of motion to the October meeting of full council calling for an auditor's investigation.
Maurice Hughes reaction was to write to Cllr Williams accusing me of leading the police on a "ridiculous wild goose chase" at the cost of "tens of thousands of pounds" over Hall's expense claim for 1 February 2001(Smear-Leader).
You can judge for yourself whether my complaint to the police was based on false evidence by reference to Time Lord.
Incidentally, being accused of lying to the police by Maurice Hughes (Pot and kettle) only increased my determination to root out the truth.
When Hughes fell at the 2004 elections, I honestly believed that his replacement as Leader, Cllr John Davies, would be an entirely different proposition.
After all, in his acceptance speach, he told us he was a good ol' north county Baptist boy and that he would ensure that the council was run to "the highest ethical standards".
So I e-mailed him asking if he could tell me if Dr Ryan's line manager, David Thomas, had any knowledge of Ryan's fax to Hall dated 16 October 2000.
This was important because in response to Ryan's letter of 3 September 2000 (see above) promising not to trade in Pembrokeshire, Mr Thomas had asked to be kept informed of any developments with the new company.
It seemed to me that taking on Hall as a partner; being asked to participate in various projects including International Investment Project aligned to Pembroke Dock redevelopment; hatching plans to take over PBI; and negotiating with the owners of the Cleddau Bridge Hotel (Hall-Ryan) were developments that Mr Thomas should have been told about.
The Leader eventually replied: "Apologies for the oversight regarding the question in relation Mr David Thomas' knowledge of the alleged fax. My understanding is that Mr Thomas had no knowledge of the fax allegedly sent to Cllr Hall from Dr Ryan on 16 October 2000."
This slippery use of 'alleged' and 'allegedly' came despite the fact that nowhere in the auditor's report, of which the Leader had a copy, is there anything which casts even the slightest doubt on the authenticity of Ryan's fax, or the fact that Hall had received it.
No doubt, the Leader thought he was being clever but, if he thought about it, he might realise it is this sort of dissembling that gets politicians a bad name
Of course, the obvious question is why this consultant, who was clearly out to double-cross the county council by telling it one thing and doing another, is still employed at £450 per day.
And, if what I have written about this business is untrue, why hasn't anybody taken me to court?
Back in December 2003, Ryan did threaten to sue Cllr Michael Williams and myself.
The letters from MLM solicitors; posted on 19 December, demanded that, to avoid "vigorous litigation", we must both provide Ryan with an apology, a retraction and a written undertaking not to repeat our libellous allegations.
On top of that we were each to "reimburse our client, via us, his legal costs to date in the sum of £3295.57 (Vat excl), together with additional expenses to be confirmed by our client shortly"
Should we fail to comply within 14 days, the solicitors threatened, "we will be issuing the Claim Form immediately".
Of course, the 14 days covered the Christmas period when it was difficult, if not impossible, to obtain legal advice.
Not that it mattered because I simply sent his solicitor a copy of his "alleged" fax to Cllr Hall, and the guns fell silent.
This despite the fact that, according to a letter Ryan sent to the county council in December 2004, he had run up a legal bill of £14,500 defending himself against my "false allegations" (Freedom come).
With such a large hole in his pocket, you might think that, if he had even half a leg to stand on, he might by now have carried out his threats to sue.
(Web of intrigue) (Shifting sands) (Just a matter of time)