On Wednesday, I tendered my resignation from the disciplinary committee which is charged with determining whether there is anything in the chief executive’s conduct that would warrant referring the matter to a “designated independent person” for further investigation.
For very good reasons, this committee meets in secret, so you will understand why I have to be guarded about what I reveal.
With regard to my resignation, all I will say is that certain information was brought before last Monday’s meeting which drove me to the conclusion that it would not be appropriate for me to continue to serve.
The main reason the committee meets in closed session is that members discuss “exempt information” in the form of advice from the council’s external legal advisors, Eversheds, and it would clearly not be in the public interest if the chief executive was to have access to this legally privileged information.
The main business of last Monday’s meeting was to hear evidence from Cllrs Peter Morgan and Mark Edwards concerning an encounter they had with the chief executive in his office.
What allegedly happened at this meeting has been widely reported in the press so I will not go any further into the account the two councillors gave to the committee. However, what I can say is that there was a debate as to whether they should testify jointly or separately.
We were told they wished to appear together – to which I objected most strongly.
The chairman was dispatched to speak to them and he returned to tell members that it was jointly, or not at all. The majority view was that half a loaf was better than none, though my own preference was that we should call their bluff.
During this joint interview the discussion wandered away from matters concerning the chief executive and on to reports on the Pembrokeshire Herald’s website about the two members’ discussions with Cllr David Simpson at his home the previous Thursday evening.
Cllr Simpson told the newspaper:
“I decided to go [resign from the Cabinet] because of some of the things that have gone on. Two members came to me, Peter Morgan and Mark Edwards: Mark was very, very concerned that Cllr Rob Lewis the Deputy Leader was trying to intimidate Peter; particularly that pressure was being applied to stop Peter appearing before the Committee [investigating CEO Bryn Parry Jones] next Monday. Rob Lewis was doing his best to dissuade Peter from attending.”
Clearly, Cllr Simpson, who is a magistrate, realised that what was been told amounted to interfering with a witness.
According to the Herald when its reporter spoke to Cllr Morgan he told them:
“I spoke with David [Simpson] last night and said that Rob Lewis has spoken to me about appearing before the investigatory committee. My position is that pressure won’t work on me. I will do what is right. When I spoke to Jamie Adams last night, I told him the same thing.”
When Cllr Morgan was asked about this at Monday’s meeting he repeated the bit about not giving into pressure, but when I pointed out that the issue wasn’t whether he was susceptible to pressure, but whether he had been subjected to pressure, he denied that Cllr Rob Lewis had tried to persuade him to shun the committee.
When I then put it to Cllr Morgan that the remarks attributed to him in the Herald must, therefore, be false he agreed.
The two members then left the committee room closely followed by Cllr Simpson who had been sitting in the back listening to the proceedings.
As you can imagine, Cllr Simpson was not best pleased because what Cllr Morgan had just told the committee made it look like the former Cabinet member’s remarks as reported on the Herald’s website were an invention. I have to rely on Cllr Simpson’s account of what happened next.
According to Cllr Simpson he accompanied Cllrs Edwards and Morgan into the privacy of the empty council chamber where he asked Peter “Why did you say that?” to which he replied “The pressure. I was trying to protect Rob [Lewis]”.
In the meantime, the meeting had been adjourned for a comfort break and I took the opportunity to have a quick smoke by the riverside.
When I returned I bumped into Cllr Mark Edwards on the stairs who told me “Peter now wishes he’d told you the truth.”
Shortly after that, I saw Cllrs Simpson, Edwards and Keith Lewis in earnest conversation on the landing.
It didn’t need much imagination to work out what they were talking about and when the meeting reconvened chairman Lewis announced that Cllr Morgan wished to return to give further evidence. However, when someone was sent out to get him, he was nowhere to be found – he’d departed county hall and sought sanctuary at home in Little Haven.
So, if Cllr Simpson’s version of events is correct, we have a committee set up by the council to investigate serious allegations about the chief executive’s conduct and a senior member of the Cabinet trying to undermine that committee by pressurising an important witness not to give evidence.
And you might also wonder what it was about Cllr Morgan’s conversation with Cllr Jamie Adams that prompted him to tell the Leader “the same thing” i.e. “that pressure won’t work on me”.
By the way, the Herald informs me that it has a tape recording of its interview with Cllr Morgan.
My understanding is that Cllr Morgan has now written to the committee confirming that he was at no time ever put under pressure by Cllr Rob Lewis, or anyone else.
Which is all rather strange given that, according to Cllr Simpson, the main purpose of the two councillors driving all the way up to Clunderwen to see him was to seek his advice on what to do about the pressure Peter Morgan was being subjected to.
And of course it would seem that Cllr Simpson’s resignation from the Cabinet was rather unnecessary – based as it was on his view that this pressure – now said not to exist – was totally unacceptable.
And you also have to wonder why Cllr Keith Lewis told the committee that Cllr Morgan wished to return to give more evidence if he’d already told us all there was to know.
This is beginning to make Alice in Wonderland look like a work of brutal realism.