Seize the moment

At this time of year I usually hand out my Old Grumpy Rewards for Excellent Service (OGRES) but the young upstart on that other website has rather upstaged me with his Golden DonQui awards.
However, I am pleased to see that my two main tormentors took gold and silver which makes having to sit through the recent council meeting listening to various members of the IPPG condemning me as either an incompetent or a liar over my postings about the grants in Pembroke Dock a little easier to bear.
But not so much easier that I can allow the attack by Cllr Johnny Allen-Mirehouse to pass without comment.
Cllr Allen-Mirehouse read out a string of bodies that had audited these grants and asserted: “None of them has found the slightest thing wrong”.
This is such a common fallacy that logicians have given it the Latin tag argumentum ab verecundiam, appeal to authority.
Now this appeal to the opinion of experts is a type of argument that we all use, but it should be remembered that, while it might be persuasive, it is not proof.
Einstein dismissed quantum mechanics with the words: “God doesn’t play dice”, but, genius that he undoubtedly was, Einstein was wrong about the probabilistic nature of matter.
Some more recent, and rather more mundane, examples would include the fact that the original expert enquiry into the Hillsborough disaster absolved the police of blame; the police claimed initially that the phone hacking activities at the News of the World were restricted to one rogue reporter and a private detective: and the police interviewed Jimmy Savile three times and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
In all the three cases cited above, subsequently discovered facts have overturned the previous expert opinion.
And, of course, it should be remembered that the fact that the experts in the Wales Audit Office have declared the tax-avoiding pension arrangements for senior officers illegal, hasn’t prevented PCC from engaging an expensive QC to put the contrary view.
According to Cllr Allen-Mirehouse: “I don’t think he [Cllr Stoddart] has yet produced any actual facts. And facts is what we need to go on”
And he ended with a flourish: “But I do say he should not continue with his policy of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.”
This last remark, I take as an accusation that I am lying.
And that’s fighting talk!
I don’t suppose that Johnny bothers to read my website, but just to bring him up to speed I would refer him to my posting of April 25 when I showed as a fact that the grants allocated to projects involving a particular developer, architect and builder were more than three-times greater than those for projects involving a variety of other developers, architects and builders.
Of course, correlation doesn’t prove causation, but when I went in search of an explanation for this huge difference in costs, I happened upon the fact that the rendering at No. 25 Dimond Street was over-measured in the tender by two-and-a-half times and the painting by six times.
There are other items in that tender where the area included in the Bills of Quantities bears little relationship to what is shown on the drawings (see rendered senseless ) and that is by no means an exhaustive list.
It may be that Johnny had concluded that this wasn’t a fact because he had just heard Cllr David Pugh tell the council that he and the Leader had visited the site – presumably in the presence of a council officer – and discovered, or had been told, that I had failed to take into account “a third side elevation” which made the quantities in the tender match those on site.
He will surely now be aware that it was my facts that were correct, not those of Adams and Pugh.
Indeed, Pugh has now issued an “unreserved apology” for suggesting that my failure to notice this non-existent “third side elevation” was either “a deliberate untruth” or “sheer incompetence” through my not checking the facts.
I will not be expecting an apology from Cllr Allen-Mirehouse.
Another thing that he may have taken as evidence of my lack of factual accuracy was Cllr Pugh’s claim that “most” of the retail space at No 29 Dimond Street (Paul Sartori) was taken up by an area at the back of the shop that was given over to “the storage and cleaning of clothes” when in fact the space dedicated to this purpose makes up less than 15% of the total.
And he needn’t take my word for it, or that of Cllr Pugh – it isn’t that far from Angle to Pembroke Dock, so he could go and check it out for himself.
It’s worth a visit, anyway – last time I was in there I picked up a couple of nearly-new Next T-shirts for just a quid each.
While he’s in Pembroke Dock he could make a detour round by Coronation School and check on the truth of what I said on my website (Up the spout) about the non-refurbishment of the cast iron rainwater goods on the front elevation of that building.
But the reason for my annoyance at having my veracity challenged by Allen-Mirehouse goes back much further than the most recent meeting of council.
Back in early 2002 I noticed a report in the Western Telegraph about a debate in the National Park Committee over what became known as “the homes for locals” policy.
Briefly, this involved a proposed change in planning policy to make new consents conditional on the plots being made available to local people.
The aim of this policy was to reduce competition from moneyed outsiders so as to enable local people to build in the National Park.
What struck me about the newspaper’s report was that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse was quoted as strongly opposing this policy.
It occurred to me that, as the owner of a most of the Angle peninsula and a large part of the village, he might have such an interest in this matter that he should have declared it before withdrawing from the meeting.
On making further checks, I discovered he was a director of Angle Development Co Ltd, a company whose stated purpose was “The development and sell (sic) land”.
So I complained to the Ombudsman.
My first surprise was to receive a letter from the Ombudsman informing me that, as the failure to declare a pecuniary interest was a criminal offence, he had referred the matter to the police.
More than two years later I received another letter from the Ombudsman informing me that he was discontinuing the investigation because the police had told him: “He [Cllr Allen-Mirehouse] has stated that he has not applied for permission to develop any land and there is no evidence that he has any land which would be affected by the adoption of the [homes for locals] policy within the National Park.”
Thinking this rather strange, I visited the National Park office and asked to see the JUDP file for Angle.
It took me less than an hour to discover letters from Cllr Allen-Mirehouse’s agents requesting that two plots of land in his ownership should be included in the village limits for Angle.
And some people wonder why I don’t trust the police.
I obtained copies of these two letters and sent them to the Ombudsman who reopened his investigation, though why he didn’t refer the matter back to the police was never explained.
Had he done so the police might also have considered whether Cllr Allen-Mirehouse JP had attempted to pervert the course of justice by making misleading statements during their initial investigation.
In due course, the Ombudsman discovered a third letter from agents acting for Cllr Allen-Mirehouse which sought to bring land within his ownership within the development limits.
The Ombudsman found that he had breached the Code of Conduct by failing to declare his interest and referred the matter to the Adjudication Panel for Wales for determination.
Cllr Allen-Mirehouse was represented by Mr Robin Tolson QC and the Panel found that there had been no breach of the code.
The full decision can be read here.
And my contemporaneous reports on the proceeding can be found at (Whitehall farce) (Two sides to every story) and (Simple explanation)

Of particular interest to anyone interested in British justice are paragraphs 2.4.2 a and 5.1.2.
2.4.2 a deals with the pre-hearing review held on 7 March 2007.
This review, attended by representatives of both the Ombudsman and Cllr Allen-Mirehouse, was designed to narrow down the issues to be determined by the Panel at the hearing.
At the conclusion of the review, only two disputed facts remained, one of which was whether, at the material time, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse owned any land in the National Park that was capable of being developed.
It is not stated who was disputing this fact, but it couldn’t have been the Ombudsman because the whole of his case was predicated on Cllr Allen-Mirehouse’s ownership of such land.
So it was something of a surprise for those of us present to hear Tolson QC tell the Panel in his summing up that it “had never been disputed that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse owned land that was capable of being developed when he participated in the relevant meetings of the National Park Authority [para 5.1.2]”
Even more surprising was that the Panel, a supposedly truth-seeking tribunal, allowed this to pass without challenge.
In the fullness of time, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse applied to the National Park Authority for reimbursement of the £30,000 it had cost him to employ Tolson QC and a firm of Cardiff solicitors.
When the authority met to decide whether to make this entirely discretionary payment Cllr Allen-Mirehouse was present but failed to declare his interest and withdraw.
The minutes of the meeting record:

19. Claim for indemnity of legal costs and expenses

The Member concerned [Cllr Allen-Mirehouse] requested that consideration of the above-mentioned matter be deferred. In support of this request, they [Cllr A-M] stated that they were unhappy with the way in which the Monitoring Officer’s report was presented to Members. They [Cllr A-M] acknowledged that the facts of the report were correct, but considered that the Monitoring Officer had placed the wrong inclination on them. The Member also asked that their Solicitor be allowed to represent them in this matter.

The Monitoring Officer reminded the Member that he had already given them the opportunity to make their representations. He agreed that the matter was one of considerable complexity, and that the Member had been the innocent party in this case, nevertheless it had to be pointed out that the Authority had played no part in the matter either. The Monitoring Officer went on to say that, as the Member should disclose a pecuniary interest in the matter and consequently withdraw from the meeting, it therefore followed that their Solicitor could not be present.

The Member [Cllr A-M] then asked whether the matter could be deferred in order that a meeting could be arranged with the Monitoring Officer to discuss the report, and that the report be considered at the next meeting of Authority. The Member then withdrew from the meeting.

The Members were divided in their opinions, with some wanting to decide the matter that day, whilst others wanted a deferment to enable the Member to meet with the Monitoring Officer.

Following a lengthy discussion, it was RESOLVED that the matter be deferred to enable the Member to make representations to the Monitoring Officer on the content of the latter’s report.

(Ms C Gwyther and Councillors JA Brinsden and M Williams voted against the above-mentioned decision, whilst Mr R Howells abstained from voting.)

The proceedings following Cllr Allen-Mirehouse’s withdrawal lasted the best part of an hour, but are recorded in just four lines in the minutes.
Makes you wonder whether whoever wrote up the record thought there was something serious going on that needed to related in full.
In his evidence to the Ombudsman, the PCNPA Monitoring Officer said: “Following the members’ decision to exclude the public, the members of the public present left the room, but Cllr Allen-Mirehouse remained present. He again (my emphasis) advised Cllr Allen-Mirehouse that he risked “a red card” (by which he meant a breach of the Code) if he stayed because he considered he had a clear prejudicial interest. He also said he advised him that it was a “show and go” situation by which he meant he should declare an interest and leave the room”.
In his evidence to the Ombudsman Cllr Allen-Mirehouse said that he had remained in the meeting “…for a few moments at most”.
You might think that what is recorded in the minutes might have taken a little longer than “a few moments, at most”, but, as Cllr Allen-Mirehouse might say: why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
In the event, the Ombudsman found that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had breached the Code, but that no further action was required because he was of the view that the standards committee wouldn’t impose a sanction.
And just so you have a complete picture of Cllr Allen-Mirehouse’s qualifications for passing judgement on my, or anyone else’s, integrity, I will also have to tell you about the time he fell foul of the National Park Monitoring officer back in 1999.
This concerned a letter he wrote to all his fellow National Park members in which he tried to influence the procedure for dealing with a planning application on land which he owned.
After telling his colleagues: “I am at present the landowner” his letter goes on to say that they should bear in mind that his interest was  “non-pecuniary”.
As the monitoring officer observed, the concept of having a non-pecuniary interest in land which you owned was one he hadn’t come across before.
And the member who once reported me to the Ombudsman for showing disrespect to him and the rest of the IPPG gang, variously described the planning officer’s report on the application as “ridiculous”, “a misrepresentation”, “absurd” and “patently absurd” though, ever the gentleman, he was at pains to point out that: “The above is not to belittle the planning officer”.