Carry on lying

Back in November 2013, I wrote a piece about the roof at Coronation School Pembroke Dock which was supposed to have been completely reslated at great expense.

Time to stop the rotThe photo that accompanied the article seemed to show conclusively that some parts of the roof hadn’t been touched (see Night on the tiles.)

My concerns about this roof found their way into a report to cabinet on 3 December 2013 in response to a notice of motion I had submitted calling for the files on various projects in Pembroke Dock to be open for inspection by elected members.

My concerns regarding the Coronation School were included in the report as follows:

“According to the final account for this project £46,924 was paid to the builder for slate, felt and batten. As far as I know, no one has yet mastered the art of felt and battening a roof with the slates in situ. There is other evidence that these slates have not been disturbed. Then there is the £3,645 included in the final account for ridge tiles.”

The response by council officers rejected my claims:

The roofing works were included in the original tender and were eligible for grant funding. The whole  roof [my emphasis] was stripped off and recovered in a mixture of new and recycled natural slate on new felt and battens. These works commenced in May 2010 and were completed in July 2010 with the works to the chimney stacks happening at the same time the roof was stripped.

Cabinet recommended that my request for disclosure be refused and the matter was sent to full council on December 12 for final determination.

At that meeting Cllr David Pugh – cabinet member with responsibility for these grants – launched a savage personal attack during which he branded me as someone “who didn’t have the truth on his agenda”.
Johnny Allen-Mirehouse weighed in by saying that I wouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

As it turned out, almost everything Pugh said that day turned out to be false, but it was what he and the Leader had to say about the roof at Coronation School that was most interesting.

Following the cabinet meeting, emboldened by the officers’ rejection of my claims, Pugh and Adams, accompanied by the officer who had supervised these projects (referred to later as the quantity surveyor), took themselves off to Pembroke Dock on a fact-finding mission.

This is what Pugh told council on 12 December about what they had seen at Coronation School:

“If you take Coronation School Pembroke Dock, this is Cllr Stoddart’s submission: ‘According to the final account for this project, £46,000 has been paid to the builder for slate, felt and batten. As far as I know no one has has yet mastered the art of felt and battening a roof with the slates in situ’.

Now we looked at that and we also checked with the builders and checked with the building control. The whole of the roof [my emphasis] was stripped off and re-covered in a mixture of new and recycled natural slates on new felt and battens.

These works commenced in May 2010 and were completed in July 2010 – the work to the chimney stacks happening at the same time.

There is photographic evidence of this and there are statements from the builder and subcontractor.

We also have evidence from neighbouring properties and other builders who witnessed that work being done.

I personally have been up in that roof and checked it, as has the Leader. That work has been done to the specification [my emphasis].”

And, at the same meeting, Adams told members:

“I do have in my possession here today signed letters from, for example, the main contractor and indeed the subcontractor for the roof at Coronation School Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock which indicate that entire roof [my emphasis] was stripped and reclad in new and used natural slates on new felt and batten.

And, as Cllr Pugh has indicated, both he and I have been in those lofts and have seen that for ourselves [my emphasis].

I hope, genuinely, that that is a demonstration for Cllr Stoddart of the propriety and probity that has been extended throughout these two grant schemes.

I give you my assurance that the Cabinet member [Pugh] and I have been there; we have seen it [my emphasis] and I hope you can consider your position in terms of this authority.”

My subsequent enquiries revealed that there were only two access points into this attic and that it was not possible to inspect the whole of the inside of the roof without cutting holes in the ceilings.

So, it seems clear to me that Adams and Pugh were not telling the truth when they claimed to have seen for themselves that the whole of the roof had been reslated, though it is not proving easy to get them to admit it.

Recently I have been in correspondence with the council’s chief finance officer about this matter and I achieved something of a breakthrough when he sent me an email with the following:

“In regard to whether the “whole” of the roof had been reslated on new felt and battens, I would no longer state the word “whole”.

I did not work for the Authority when the project was undertaken so I had to rely on available photographs of the work and confirmation from the Quantity Surveyor.

I definitely saw photographs which satisfied myself that reslating had been undertaken on the roof and believe I saw photographs of new felt and battens (albeit I can’t remember if this was on a different property).

I was advised by the Quantity Surveyor that the “whole” of the roof had been reslated on new felt and battens, hence its inclusion in the report. I have since had to question a number of things I was advised by the Quantity Surveyor, hence the reason I would no longer state the word “whole”.”

At last week’s full council meeting, I quoted from the chief finance officer’s email and asked Cllr Adams:

“So would you agree that, when you told this council, [on 12 December 2013] that you had gone up into the roof at Coronation School and seen for yourself that the whole of the roof had been reslated, you were not telling the truth?”

To which the Leader replied:

“No is the answer.

My previous statement was based on information from the quantity surveyor for the works and contractors that the whole of the roof had been reslated as new on new felt and battens, and from available photographs and from what I had seen through the loft hatches at the former Coronation School during a visit with Cllr Pugh and the quantity surveyor.

I understand that officers have since questioned a number of things they were advised by the quantity surveyor. Therefore, I also question whether the works I observed from the loft position had also been undertaken throughout the whole roof.

Of course, this simply will not do.

It is true that part of the Leader’s previous statement was “based on information” provided by others.

And if he’d stuck to that he would be in the clear.

But the important part was based on what he claimed to have seen with his own eyes.

Both he and Pugh thought they had me on the ropes and conspired to destroy my credibility by embellishing what they had been told with a fabricated account of what they had actually witnessed for themselves.

Or, to put it bluntly, they lied.

As Cllr Adams put it during the council meeting on 12 December 2013: “I hope, genuinely, that that is a demonstration for Cllr Stoddart of the propriety and probity that has been extended throughout these two grant schemes.

Sure is! But not the sort of “demonstration” that Adams had in mind.

Which is why the head of finance tells me he has since “had to question a number of things I was advised by the [council’s] Quantity Surveyor” and the police are currently preparing papers for submission to the Crown Prosecution Service.