13 April 2004

Spiderman!

 

O what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive.
(Sir Walter Scott)

I'm afraid the following attempt to unravel the web of deceit surrounding the Hall/Ryan affair is rather long.
I am sure if you read it through your patience will be rewarded because it will give you a valuable insight into the workings of our democratic county council.
Six weeks ago, armed with a copy of a letter supplied by Old Grumpy, the Mercury led its front page with a story about the business relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and the county council's Irish-based economic development consultant, Dr Michael Ryan.
What the letter showed was that, despite the county council's insistence that it had a contractually binding agreement with Hall and Ryan, that their company Euro-Ryall Ltd would not create a conflict of interest by trading in Pembrokeshire, the two men were conspiring to do just that (see Hall-Ryan)
Hall and Ryan are the sole directors shareholders in Euro-Ryall Ltd which was incorporated on 30 December 2000 just four months after Dr Ryan's appointment on 1 August 2000.
As we know from Ryan's letter to Hall their relationship dates from well before the company's incorporation (see Hall - Ryan).
That letter is dated 16 October 2000 and the opening words "Dear Brian, I have at last (my emphasis) completed my first draft of the Business Plan, which I want you to review." indicate that they had been plotting for some considerable time before that.
Indeed, it is entirely possible that they knew each other prior to Dr Ryan's appointment.
Tacked on to the end of the Mercury's story was a response from the county council.
It read: "The company Euro-Ryall gave a commitment to Pembrokeshire County Council that it would not trade in Pembrokeshire and has never done so. We understand that the company has now been wound up."
Tenby county councillor Michael Williams (Plaid Cymru), an avid reader of Old Grumpy and the Mercury, was interested in the council's press statement.
Cllr Williams' interest was understandable because Dr Ryan was threatening to sue him for libel over an email, casting doubt on Dr Ryan's credentials, which the Tenby councillor had sent to Mr Kefin Wakefield, the county council's head of Economic Development.
This e-mail was forwarded to Dr Ryan by his line manager David Thomas, the council's Head of Marketing and Communications (spin doctor), together with the advice that not only was Cllr Williams' e-mail offensive but, also, libellous.
Cllr Williams knew that I was disputing the council's line on Hall/Ryan/Euro-Ryall's "commitment" not to trade in Pembrokeshire and he knew that the only documentation the authority could produce in support of this commitment - described by the Monitoring officer as a contractually enforceable agreement - was a letter dated 3 September 2000 from ORA International Ltd, signed by Dr Ryan as managing director (see Hall-Ryan).
As Euro-Ryall was incorporated on 10 December 2000, four months after ORA's letter was written, it could obviously not be bound by ORA's pledge.
So, on 8 March 2004, Cllr Williams wrote to Mr Thomas quoting the press release published in the Mercury, adding: "The only correspondence that I am aware of on this issue is from ORA International dated 3rd September 2000. This letter makes no mention of Euro-Ryall or Cllr Hall.
Furthermore, it was written before Euro-Ryall was incorporated so it cannot be a commitment from the, as yet, unborn company.
Therefore would you please answer the following questions:
(1) When was the commitment given?
(2) Was it in writing? If so, please may I have a copy?
Four weeks later, Cllr Williams again wrote to Mr Thomas repeating his earlier questions and threatening to report the matter to the Ombudsman if he didn't receive a reply within seven days.
The prospect of having the Ombudsman investigate this murky business seems to have galvanised Mr Thomas because the following day he e-mailed Cllr Williams with the following message:
"You are correct. The statement should have made it clear that the commitment of 3rd September 2000 was made by Dr Ryan who subsequently set up, with Cllr Hall, the company called Euro-Ryall.
As it happens, a colleague dealt with this enquiry from the Mercury.
The response was shown to me before transmission to the Mercury, however, and I should have picked up the error and corrected it."

Now, whenever the county council owns up to a mistake, it is time to start counting the spoons.
Mr Thomas admits that he read the 31-word press statement before it was transmitted and that he "should have picked up the error and corrected it".
Why, then, did it take him a month to correct the error after Cllr Williams alerted him to it?
And, having been alerted, what steps did he take to correct the misrepresentation printed in the Mercury?
Or was he happy to leave the readers of the Mercury in blissful ignorance of the truth?
And who was the junior colleague who wrote the press release, and where did they obtain the information on which it was based?
And, even if we accept that Mr Thomas played no part in composing the press statement, it is difficult to believe that, when he read the document prior to transmission, our £60,000-a-year Head of Marketing and Communications failed to grasp the significance of the first sentence?
This is especially so because, on examining the evidence, I find that the county council has been making this same "error" for almost 18 months.
Indeed, I have had extensive correspondence, of which Mr Thomas must have been aware, with the Leader and Monitoring Officer on this very point.
This particular "error" has a pedigree that can be traced back to 6th November 2002 when, in response to something I had written on the Hall/Ryan business, Mr Thomas' department put out a press release, in the name of His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes.
Following a long dissertation on Dr Ryan's qualifications, the statement said: "The Council is fully aware of the company Euroryall (sic). Before the company was registered the principals (my emphasis) approached officers of the Council. They (my emphasis) gave firm undertakings that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide any conflict of interest."
When this press release appeared in the papers, I had already had sight of Dr Ryan's October 16 2000 letter to Cllr Hall (see Hall-Ryan) so I knew that either the press release was designed to deceive, or that Hall and Ryan were conspiring to trade in Pembrokeshire regardless of their "firm undertaking" not so to do.
It is inconceivable that the press statement was issued without reference to David Thomas, indeed my bet would be that he actually wrote it, so it is difficult to see how, this "error" crept in.
I sent five e-mails to the Leader querying this passage and all I received in return was a curt reply that his press release was comprehensive and "I have nothing further to add."
I then entered into a protracted exchange of letters with the Monitoring Officer who assured me that there was a contractual enforceable agreement that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire.
In three of my letters, I quoted directly the extract from Cllr Hughes press statement printed above.
However, what the Monitoring Officer did reveal was that the only documentation on the subject of which he was "aware" was the letter from ORA International Ltd, dated 3 September 2000, signed by Dr Ryan in his capacity as managing director.
As I repeatedly pointed out to the Monitoring Officer, this letter; written some four months before Euro-Ryall was incorporated and containing no mention of either Brian Hall or Euro-Ryall Ltd, couldn't possibly support the use of the words "principals" and "They" in the Leader's press release.
It is inconceivable that the Monitoring Officer failed to consult with Mr Thomas before replying to my letters, so why didn't Mr Thomas, who is, after all, in control of Dr Ryan's contract, point out the "error" at the time?
On 5 October 2003, I e-mailed Cllr Hughes again drawing his attention to the discrepancy between his press release and the facts.
My e-mail concluded: Given that the letter of 3 September 2000 makes no mention of Cllr Hall it would seem that the use of the words "principals" and "they", in your press release of 6 November 2002, was, at best, inaccurate.
In his reply dated 14 October 2003 the Leader sticks rigidly to the party line, informing me: "I am satisfied that Councillor Hall and Dr Ryan gave undertakings that their company would not trade in Pembrokeshire.".
Well, I have now published Dr Ryan's letter to Cllr Hall and we know the last part of that statement is untrue.
And we also now know that Hall gave no suchundertaking.
So why did the Council continue to peddle this line through thick and thin before finally putting their hands up and admitting it was a mistake.?
Well, one explanation is that, now that I have published Dr Ryan's letter to Cllr Hall, the wheels have fallen off the council's lie-making machine.
Better to confess a mistake than admit to deliberately trying to mislead the public - even if the claim of "error" is, itself, a blatant and obvious attempt to deceive.
Next week, I will give a full account of the smear tactics used by Maurice Hughes in his attempt to sustain the cover-up on which the council had embarked.

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