Dead letter

What follows is the story of how elected members of Pembrokeshire County Council (PCC) were denied the opportunity to appeal Dyfed-Powys Police’s decision to reject their complaint about the delays in concluding the investigation into the Pembroke Dock grants affair.

It is now four and a half years since Pembrokeshire County Council handed a thick dossier of evidence to the police detailing some £60,000 of alleged irregular payments in Pembroke Dock and to date nobody has been arrested let alone charged.

However the latest hubbub concerns events surrounding PCC’s complaint about the delays rather than the investigation itself.

Last December’s meeting of full council considered my Notice of Motion calling for a complaint to be made to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) about the length of time the investigation was taking.

December’s council batted my NoM off to January’s audit committee which resolved (a) to make a complaint to Dyfed-Police Police’s professional standards department on its own behalf, and (b) recommend that full council make a further complaint to the IOPC.

The audit committee’s complaint in the name of its chairman Cllr Tony Baron was dated 22 February and Dyfed-Powys Police (DPP) responded by way of a letter from a senior CID officer dated 12 March in which he said this was a complex case and there had been difficulties involving a council officer’s lost computer [the dog ate my homework!] and obtaining the co-operation of Barclays Bank.

However, the letter concluded that, though there had been some undue delay, all in all the police’s conduct of the investigation had been satisfactory.

Meanwhile, on 8 March, my NoM had returned to full council where members agreed to follow the audit committee’s recommendation that a complaint be made to the IOPC.

And there matters lay until about six weeks ago, when I decided to find out how our various complaints were progressing.

So I emailed the council asking for copies of the two letters of complaint that had been sent, together with any responses the council had received.

At first the council was a bit evasive (always a sign that there is something to hide) but I pressed on and three weeks after my initial request I was sent a bundle of correspondence including a form which seemed to indicate that IOPC had referred PCC’s complaint straight back to DPP, and that its professional standards division had decided that the CID’s letter to the audit committee (see above) amounted to “local resolution” of the matter.

These documents also revealed that there had been a five week delay between the date of the council resolution to make the complaint (8 March 2018) and the date (10 April 2018) the letter was sent to the IOPC, in the name of the authority’s, then, chairman Cllr Paul Harries.

One thing that made me suspicious was that nowhere in any of these documents was there any mention of a right of appeal against this “local resolution” so I stuck in a couple of questions to full council earlier this month – one of which asked about the almost five week delay in sending the letter of complaint to the IOPC.

That immediately flushed out some further documents from the council including a five-page letter from the senior manager of DPP’s professional standards division addressed to chairman Paul Harries which kicked full council’s complaint firmly into touch – and set out at some length the reasons why it was considered that the the CID’s earlier letter (see above) amounted to “local resolution” of the matter.

“In light of the above information and the confirmed latest position, I have determined that it is not necessary to allocate your complaint to an investigator for further enquiries to be undertaken as there is nothing further that can be added. I am therefore satisfied that the above explanation (as already provided to your senior colleagues in Pembrokeshire County Council) is both a proportionate and appropriate response to your complaint.”

This is a classic case of the police marking their own homework – the very situation the IOPC was established to avoid.

Interestingly, for those conspiracy theorists who suspect collusion between PCC and DPP, the letter gives PCC a mild ticking-off for complaining in this way, because: “Ideally, issues between partner agencies [PCC and DPP] such as these should be addressed professionally via the established partnership communication methods that are already in place.”

Which roughly translated means: We big boys can sort these things out amongst ourselves without those pesky taxpayers who pay our salaries getting in on the act.

This letter was dated 2 May 2018 though it had actually been sent to the council as an attachment to an email eight days later on 10 May, which, coincidentally, just happened to be the day of the May full council meeting.

What was interesting about this letter was that it also informed council of its right of appeal which had to be exercised by 4 June 2018 (29 days from the date of DPP’s letter).

There is some mystery about this because counting back 29 days from 4 June gets you to neither 2 May (the date on the letter) nor 10 May (the day it was emailed to the council).

One explanation is that the police can’t count, but there are others.

Unfortunately, whether by accident or design, elected members were not made aware of the existence of this letter until very recently, so they were deprived of any opportunity to (a) determine whether they were satisfied by DPP’s claim that the CID’s letter had resolved the council’s complaint, and (b) whether to exercise the right of appeal.

Of course, it can be argued that, as the letter arrived on the day of the council meeting (10 May), it was too late to include it on the agenda for that meeting, though there seems no good reason why it couldn’t have been circulated to elected members at the following day’s Annual Meeting.

Failing that, DPP’s response could easily have been emailed to members which would have offered the opportunity to assemble the 15 signatures required to call an extraordinary meeting to debate whether or not to launch an appeal.

Finally, the letter which DPP claims to have resolved the issue was written by a Detective Inspector i.e. a member of the CID whose tardiness in completing the investigation was the subject of the complaint.

As I said above, this is the sort of self-evaluation that has no place in a properly functioning democracy.

There are other disturbing aspects of this case which I am not presently at liberty to disclose.

However, Cllr Jacob Williams was on the case when it came before last week’s audit committee and he arranged for the matter to have an outing at the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 15 November when I hope to winkle out the full truth of what has gone on here.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has proposed a new range of hate crimes including misandry (hatred of men) and ageism.

I read somewhere that he himself had suffered verbal abuse by being called “a coconut” (because of his bald pate?) and worse (because of his religion and ethnic origins).

I have also suffered, having once being called “an English bastard” in a Haverfordwest pub back in the 1970s.

Indeed I can tell you the exact time and date of this racial incident: between 4.30 pm and 5 pm on Saturday 16 March 1974.

Ah! I hear you say, it must have had a traumatic effect, if, more than 40 years on, you can still remember the precise time and date?

Not a bit of it – water off a duck’s back!

Actually, I looked it up on Wikipedia.

As this racial slur followed immediately on an England victory over Wales in the Five Nations, it was easy to identify the precise time and date.