April 26 2005

 

Misinformation

Yesterday afternoon, on returning from a few very enjoyable days in Snowdonia with the grandchildren, I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter from the police together with a copy of a statement by the county council's director of finance, Mark Lewis, regarding Cllr Brian Hall's high speed dash from the Severn Bridge to Pembroke Dock on 1st February 2001 (see The Time Lord).
Obtaining this document has been a long uphill struggle and my eventual success is due entirely to the recently introduced Freedom of Information Act.
Regular readers will remember that, at December's meeting of the county council, I tried to persuade my fellow councillors to pass a notice of motion requiring the release of this document.
Having been howled down by Alwyn Luke (see Master Forger) Islwyn Howells and Bill Roberts I was unable to finish making my case.
Just before Christmas, I wrote to Cllrs Roberts and Howells seeking an explanation for their actions (see letters) but have so far not been favoured with a substantive reply.
Finding the democratic path blocked by an avalanche of cant and hypocrisy, I then tried the legal route by applying to the police, under FoI, for a copy.
They wrote back to say that it would not be in the public interest for the document to be released and I appealed, arguing that it would not be in the public interest if the facts about what went on in this case were to be concealed.
Encouragingly, that argument prevailed.
Aside from the contents, of which more later, the date of this statement is of more than passing interest.
I complained to the police on 15 October 2001.
On 3 November 2001, I was telephoned by a Detective Constable Callard who told me the investigation was being dropped because the council's director of finance, Mark Lewis, had told the police that the council did not wish to make a complaint and, therefore, there was "no evidence to put before the court."
According to D C Callard, Mr Lewis had said that Cllr Hall had permission to visit Pembroke Dock that day in order to put an "Irish inward investor" on the ferry.
Later that same day I was rung by Chief Inspector Roger Hughes who informed me that the case was being discontinued because, under the law, the police require a complaint from the "aggrieved party" - in this case the county council - before they can progress a criminal inquiry.
I made my displeasure at this outcome abundantly clear to the chief inspector and told him that, in my opinion, this interpretation of the law was seriously flawed.
"Must make murder investigations rather tricky", I observed.
On 5 November 2001, I delivered a letter, by hand, to Haverfordwest police station in which I outlined, in brief, the contents of these two telephone conversations..
What is interesting is that Mr Lewis statement is dated 9 November 2001 - six days after the police informed me that they had dropped the case.
The conclusion must be that this statement was cobbled together as a backside-covering exercise after it became clear that I was not going to be fobbed off with a cock and bull story about the investigatory powers of the police.
As for Mr Lewis' statement itself, he says: "I have myself examined these [Cllr Hall's] claims and confirm they are correct in every detail and do not believe any fraudulent act has taken place."
All I can say is that his examination cannot have been conducted with any degree of thoroughness because one "detail" he appears to have overlooked is that, according to the receipts that accompanied Cllr Hall's claim, he purchased a meal at the First Motorway Service Station close to the Severn Bridge at 1.08 pm on 1 February 2001 - having crossed the bridge at 12.56pm.
Another "detail" is that, on the same day, his expense claim shows him leaving Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm to travel to a meeting in Swansea.
If both these details are correct it would mean that Hall had eaten lunch and driven 125 miles in the space of 52 minutes; passing the meeting in Swansea, which started at 2.00, on the way.
What is rather surprising is that the police, to whom I had provided these details, seem to have made no attempt to check Mr Lewis' statement against the facts.
It was always possible that Mr Lewis had overlooked some of these crucial details when he examined Hall's claims, so, on 14 February 2002, acting on my instructions, my solicitors wrote to him enclosing copies of all the relevant receipts and expense claims.
The letter concluded: "In light of such evidence, our client would request that you once again investigate this matter and if necessary, contact the local constabulary with a view to providing a further statement."
Mr Lewis' reply gave no indication that he intended to follow that course of action, though just to be sure I have submitted a FoI request to the police asking for the disclosure of any further statements Mr Lewis may have made.
I will report more fully, in due course.


Car wars

News reaches me that the decision of the county council Cabinet to compulsory purchase two field at Withybush for a motor retail park has been called-in by the economic development Scrutiny Committee.
This is only the second call-in of any sort in almost three years of Cabinet government.
I was present at the Cabinet meeting when this was decided and was somewhat surprised to hear Cllr David Simpson (Cabinet member for small business) say that part of the rationale for this move was that the council was urgently looking for a new site for Green's Motors.
Why?
I understand that Green's sold their present site to the Aldi supermarket chain for a sizeable lump of money.
That was a purely commercial decision, taken without any pressure from anyone.
Why the council should feel it has an obligation to provide an alternative site is not altogether clear.
I am told the call-in process itself was not without drama as Cllr John Allen (Lib Dem) had to make a last minute dash to Fishguard to get the fourth signature required to trigger the process.
The rules for call-in are that, within 48 hours of a Cabinet decision being posted on the council's website, either the Chairman or four members must sign and deliver a notice to the council's offices.
The twelve-member scrutiny committees are comprised of eight from the Independent Political Group and four from the minority parties.
Cllr Allen had already signed up Moira Lewis (Plaid) and Kate Becton (Lab) but where to get a fourth.
The other opposition member Ken Edwards (Lab) is vice-Chairman of the committee and he, perhaps thinking it unwise to rock the boat so near the AGM in case he fell out, refused to add his name.
So, with the minutes ticking away, Henry Jones (Ind) from Fishguard was recruited to the cause.
To think, just a few weeks ago I was tipping Cllr Jones for a Cabinet post in the forthcoming reshuffle.
I fear this display of shameless support for the principles of democracy will have done his cause no good at all.

Divided loyalties

I notice that Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion are kicking up a fuss over the appointment of one of the county council's police authority representatives to the vice-chairmanship of the licensing committee.
Plaid claim that this represents a serious conflict of interest because most of the evidence that comes before the licensing committee is provided by the police.
This, they say, violates Human Rights law that guarantees a fair trial.
This is a situation that also exists in Pembrokeshire where Cllr Don Evans is both the county council's representative on the police authority and chairman of the licensing committee.
To make matters worse, Cllr Evans is a former chief superintendent of police.
Old Grumpy has expressed concerns about this issue on several occasions in the past and I am given to understand that certain highly placed persona are worried about the outcome if one of the big pub groups were to mount a legal challenge to a license refusal on the grounds of natural justice.
A mole tells me that, in order to preserve the council's aura of infallibility, Cllr Evans will be "promoted" during the forthcoming reshuffle so that his removal from the licensing firing-line can be presented as a natural progression rather than a hasty retreat from an untenable position.


The mountaineer

This was my first proper visit to Snowdonia and I must say it is almost as nice as my native Lake District.
On Sunday we made it two-thirds of the way up Snowdon, itself, before the conditions forced us to turn back.
There was quite a lot of snow up there and the train driver refused to go any further.

 

Mugged

And finally, I would like to say thank you to the kind gentleman in the gift shop at Llanberis station where my daughter bought a souvenir mug for her husband.
Young Sam (two last week) decided that it would make a handy missile and lobbed it on to the pavement.
Unfortunately, it failed to bounce but the shopkeeper, who must have heard the sound of breaking crockery, immediately came over and provided a free replacement.
What a nice gesture!

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

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