August 10 2004

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

The Time Lord

Having finally learned to use the scanner, Old Grumpy is feeling rather smug.
This new-found skill allows me to bring you the, hitherto unpublished, primary sources of evidence concerning Cllr Brian Hall's wanderings on 1 February 2001.
This is an issue that has baffled some of the finest minds in the county since the facts first came to light during the public audit inspection in October 2001.
Now it is your chance to see the evidence for yourselves and see what you make of it all.
The facts are really rather simple.
On 31 January 2001, Cllr Brian Hall went to London to represent the Fire Authority at a House of Commons' reception.
After an overnight stay at the Jarvis International Hotel in Hyde Park, he paid his bill at 10.13 am on 1 February and pointed the Mercedes down the M4 towards Wales.
The receipts he provided to support his expense claim show him crossing the Severn Bridge at 12.56 pm before pulling in at the First Motorway Service Station, near Magor, where he purchased a "Large Fizz and Daily Special" (see receipt below) at 13.08 pm (eight minutes past one in old money).
Invoice submitted in support of claim for "meals" .

 

 

The next sighting, allegedly, is in Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm that same day when his expense claim shows him setting off to attend a meeting of South Wales Integrated Transport Consortium (SWITCH) at the offices of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council at Penllergaer (see expense claim below)

Extract from Cllr Brian Hall's expense claim for 31 January/ 1 February 2001

 

 

Even if we believe it possible to eat lunch and drive the 125 miles from Magor to Pembroke Dock (via Haverfordwest) in the 52 minutes between 1.08 pm and 2.00 pm (125 mph excluding munch time - 178 mph allowing 15 minutes to eat) we still have to give him a black mark for punctuality because, as the minutes record (see below), the SWITCH meeting kicked off just as he was leaving Pembroke Dock some 60 miles away.
Indeed, on any realistic time scale, his fellow Switchers were already half an hour into the meeting the first time he (allegedly) drove past Penllergaer, en route from Magor to Pembroke Dock.

Minutes of SWITCH meeting held on 1 Feb 2001

 

Now, it is always possible that Cllr Hall made a mistake when he entered his alleged time of departure from Pembroke Dock.
However, what is not in doubt is that he claimed 130 miles at 49.5p for this supposed journey.
The next accurate fix on Cllr Hall's space-time coordinates is at 3.45 pm in Neath Port Talbot's offices when he is signing out at the end of the SWITCH meeting (see extract from visitors' book below).
Mr R G (Rhodri) Jones of Ceredigion County Council, who was also at the meeting (see minutes above), signed out at the same time.

Extract from visitors' book of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council offices where the SWITCH meeting was held

What this shows is that Cllr Hall arrived at Penllergaer at 3.45 pm at the very latest.
That was when he was at the reception desk on his way out of the building but, as we know, he actually attended the meeting so he must have arrived some time before 3.45 pm.
The time lapse between 1.08 pm, when Cllr Hall paid for his "Daily spec", and 3.45 pm, when he left Neath/Port Talbot's offices, is 2hrs 37 mins (2.62 hrs).
So, even assuming he threw his lunch into the nearest bin; jumped straight in the car; drove from Magor to Penllergaer (via Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock); and arrived at the council offices just in time to sign out, he would have had to average 75 mph.
On the more reasonable assumption that he bought lunch with the intention of eating it; took 15 minutes to do so, and then spent at least 15 minutes at the SWITCH meeting (we know from the minutes that he was present) the average speed shoots up to 90 mph.
Presumably he went to Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock for some (time-consuming) purpose and any time he spent in those two places would result in a corresponding increase in the average velocity required.


You may think that the most obvious explanation is that Cllr Hall called in at Penllergaer on his way back from London and then claimed (and was paid) for 130 miles at 49.5p to which he was not entitled.
Old Grumpy has already floated that theory several times in this column, but the weight of authority is against it.
One apparently unimpeachable authority being churchwarden, Magistrate and former Chairman of the County Council, Cllr Rosemary Hayes who, in response to questions put by Labour Leader Joyce Watson told the council on 13 December 2001: "The relevant facts are that Councillor Hall undertook approved duties and can establish that he actually made the journeys for which he claimed travelling allowances."
When Cllr Watson protested that this statement didn't answer her questions, Cllr Hayes countered that my allegations were "...based on a series of assumptions about the speed with which Cllr Hall undertook a number of journeys on a particular day."
Actually, the only assumption involved is that which forms the basis of the speeding fines handed down by Cllr Hayes and her fellow magistrates on a daily basis: that miles travelled, divided by hours taken, equals average speed in miles per hour.
If you find Cllr Hayes less than convincing, what about the Monitoring Officer who, in a letter dated 14 December 2001, in response to questions from Cllr Tom Sinclair, wrote: "The relevant facts are that Councillor Hall undertook approved duties and can establish that he actually made the journeys for which he claimed travelling allowances."
At least they were both singing from the same hymn sheet, though it is noticeable that neither of them offered any suggestions as to the advances in mathematical theory - the solution to Fermat's Last Theorem, perhaps - that allowed them to state with such certainty that Cllr Hall could "establish" that he "actually made the journeys for which he claimed ..."
Then there was the letter the Director of Finance, Mark Lewis, wrote on 3 January 2002 in which he said: "For the record, Cllr Hall's attendance at the Fire Safety Seminar in London on 31 January 2001 was an approved duty. Accordingly, Cllr Brian Hall was able to recover the costs associated with travelling to and from this meeting (home to London and return), in accordance with statutory mileage rates, if such duties were performed and expenditure directly incurred. The same would apply to the SWITCH meeting held later that day."
[Mr Lewis also made a statement to the police, which I later obtained under FoI, which makes the same claim (Mark Lewis statement)]
I instructed my solicitors to write to Mr Lewis pointing out that the SWITCH meeting was at the same time that day, not "later", as he claimed, so, unless Cllr Hall was driving his car along the M4/A40 while sitting in Board Room in Penllergaer, there was no "expenditure directly incurred"
I must say, I was disappointed that the Director of Finance, who controls the Council's £350 million budget, was unimpressed by my feeble attempt at logic.
Despite these denials of any wrongdoing by those in high places, Old Grumpy still clings to the notion that Cllr Hall diddled the Council out of £63.00.
Having done hard sums at university, I am supremely confidence that my calculations, and the "assumptions" on which they are based, are sufficiently robust to prove that there was insufficient time available for Cllr Hall to have made all the journeys for which he claimed expenses.
But the real clincher is that, in spite of my repeating these allegations over the past three years, I have not heard a peep out of his solicitors.
For someone who rarely misses a chance to send m'learned friends into battle, this shows remarkable self-restraint.
Perhaps he and his minders realise that the standards of truth demanded in the High Court are rather more exacting than those in day to day use in County Hall.
An account of the part the police played in this cover up can be found by clicking on The untouchables

Having studied Cllr Hall's expense claim, the the more alert among you will be wondering how he came to spend £58.18 on "meals"
Well, we have already seen the receipt for £7.18 for the "Large fizz and Daily Spec" at the service station.
As for the other 51 quid, that was blown away in the Mandarin Kitchen (see below) where, on the night of 31 January 2001, Cllr Hall was calling for drinks all round on the taxpayer.

 

It seems that all this free booze made Cllr Hall rather talkative because when he returned to the hotel he made two phone calls at our expense.
The first timed at 11.13 pm cost a mere £1, but he must have had something extremely important to tell the recipient of the second late night call because that set us back a fiver.

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

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