Protection racket

The foyer in county hall is presently festooned with posters for International Fraud Awareness Week.
On visiting the website, I find Pembrokeshire County Council is listed as a supporter of this worthy cause.
Can there ever have been a greater gulf between theory and practice?

I might have given the wrong impression when I said last week that Brian Hall had been forced to cough up £3,500 after I served him with a writ for libel.

I should have mentioned that almost two grand of this went to cover my solicitor’s bills and the rest has long gone to prop up the Chilean wine industry. So no more begging letters, please!

Which reminds me of the old joke about the two chaps who won a million on Littlewoods.

“What shall we do about the begging letters?” one asked.

“Oh, just send them out as usual”, the other replied.

Over the past few days, I have been rooting around in my back numbers for evidence of the close relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and the county council’s former chief executive. And, quite by chance, I came across a piece from 11 years ago which seems to indicate that people being given the hairdryer treatment in the chief executive’s office was nothing new.

This concerned the strange business of the council’s chauffeur who claimed that he had been asked by the head of marketing and communications, David Thomas, to report any untoward behaviour by members using the official limo.

Much to Mr Parry-Jones’ annoyance, mischief-makers in the Labour group had gone running to the press with this story.

The group’s leader, Joyce Watson, together with a few others had been summoned to the chief’s office, where, according to Joyce’s version of events (On the carpet), she had been subject to a fifteen minute “tirade” that left her feeling intimidated.

I came across this story while looking for my account (Sauce for the gander) of a strange incident back in October 1998, which, you may recall, was almost exactly one year after Cllr Hall’s performance during a censure motion tabled by the then Labour leader, David Edwards.

Anyway Cllr Hall had some information about Cllr Edwards which he was keen to share with the press and he rang me at the Mercury to tell me all about it.

How he came by this stuff is not altogether clear, but according to what he told me (Sauce for the gander) it seems to have come from Mr David Thomas.

So, on the face of it, we have PCC receiving confidential information as a creditor which someone in county hall had passed on the the bold Brian so that he could leak it to the press in order to damage the leader of the authority’s main opposition group.

It should be explained that Mr Thomas, known in county hall as “The Henchman”, had accompanied Mr Parry-Jones from Llanelli when PCC was resurrected in 1995.

Clearly, following Hall’s performance with the pantomime sword the previous year, it had been decided that it would be handy to have someone scruple-free to carry out any dirty work that needed doing.

That was the day I came to understand the sheer nastiness of the regime that had taken control of county hall.

This was the same David Thomas who had my website taken down in February 2001.

Although I didn’t know it, there were other interesting things going on at that time because it was on 1 February 2001 that Cllr Brian Hall made his high-speed dash from the motorway service station near the Severn Bridge to Pembroke Dock which is chronicled at Time Lord.

On that occasion he was fortunate to have the protection of Director of Finance, Mark Lewis, who gave the police a statement in which he said that Cllr Hall’s expense claim was “correct in every detail”.

“Every detail” included making the journey from from the Severn Bridge to Pembroke Dock in 45 minutes (max).

Mr Lewis’ statement was based on the startling claim that meetings attended, rather than distance covered, should be the basis for travelling expenses.

And the police also cooperated by asserting that, as the Director of Finance didn’t wish to make a complaint, they were powerless to investigate.

It was during the public audit inspection in October 2001 that I first became aware of Cllr Hall’s peregrinations the previous February which were recorded on my website under the title Time warp.

The, then, leader of the Labour group, Joyce Watson began to take an interest in the subject and she submitted a written question to the December meeting of council.

Strangely, for whatever reason, this question didn’t appear on the agenda sent out by Mr Parry-Jones.

However Joyce Watson did provide me with a copy which began: “As the recent allegation of expense fraud against Cllr Brian Hall has the potential to damage the good name of the council, will the Chairman, in the interest of openness and accountability state:” followed by four specific questions.

Though it wasn’t on the agenda, the question was dealt with at the meeting because the minutes record:

529. ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS SUBMITTED UNDER PROVISIONS OF STANDING ORDER NO. 10(2)
The Chairman formally presented the answer to questions which had been submitted by Councillor Joyce Watson prior to the meeting in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 10(2).

So future historians will have to look to Old Grumpy’s website for any mention of either Cllr Hall, or the substance of the question.

In fact, the chairman, Cllr Rosemary Hayes (JP and churchwarden) didn’t actually answer the questions. Instead, she read out a statement prepared for her by a senior council officer – whose identity we can only guess – in which she claimed:

“The relevant facts are that Cllr Hall undertook approved duties and can establish that he actually made the journeys for which he claimed travelling expenses”.

Both Mrs Watson and I wrote to Cllr Hayes pointing out that Hall couldn’t possibly have made the journeys in the time available. But Chairman Hayes wasn’t impressed. She replied that our assertions were based on “certain assumptions” about Cllr Hall’s travelling arrangements.

Like, there are 45 minutes between 1.15 pm and 2 pm, and it is roughly 120 miles from the Severn Bridge to Pembroke Dock, so, if you do the calculation, it works out at 160 mph, which, as Cllr Tony Brinsden pointed out, outpaced Michael Schumacher when winning that year’s British Grand Prix.

This corrupt political system has persisted for almost 20 years because, regardless of the objective truth, there has always been a majority of your elected members prepared to put their hands up for whatever the IPG/IPPG Leadership decreed.

And so it remains to this day, though the majority is much reduced.

With regard to the closure of Murco, I am pleased to see that Cllr Paul Miller has posted a very thoughtful piece on his website in which he sets out the economic background to the refinery’s demise.

Unfortunately, oil refining is a global industry; influenced by economic forces beyond the control of politicians, and politicians do themselves no favours by pretending otherwise.