31 August 2004

At the last meeting of the County Council, the new Leader Cllr John Davies asked me to accept the Audit Commissions findings on the business relationship between Dr Michael Ryan and Cllr Brian Hall.
Unfortunately, the auditor's report is nothing but a faithful retelling of whatever cock and bull stories he was told, without any attempt to resolve what are referred to as "apparent inconsistencies".
For instance, as the auditor records (para 47): "Towards the end of our review [which took seven months] Cllr Hall also provided us with a copy of a private letter he had written to the Leader of the council [Maurice Hughes] on 20 September 2000 as referred to above. This set out the fact that Cllr Hall was going to set up a company with Dr Ryan who was employed by the council as a consultant."
You might ask what status "a private letter" has in the affairs of a public institution, but that question doesn't seem to have occurred to the auditor.
According to the auditor (para 27): "Cllr Hall initially informed us that he met Dr Ryan for the first time in September or October 2000 [why the uncertainty when he had written to the Leader on 20 September 2000?]. The Chief Executive recalls introducing Dr Ryan to Cllr Hall in a meeting in his office after ORA Ltd had been awarded the contract. From Dr Ryan's correspondence with us, he suggests he first met Cllr Hall when he visited the council between 4-7 October 2000 [three weeks after Hall is supposed to have written his "private letter" to the Leader]."
Must have borrowed Luke's Tardis for the day!
And, if Dr Ryan's story is true, would he have started his letter to Cllr Hall, just 9-12 days later, on 16 October 2000: "I have at last completed my first draft of the business plan which I want you to review"?
Especially as that business plan claimed: "To date Dr Ryan and Brian Hall have been requested to participate in a number of projects such as:
Hotel, Recreation & Conference Centre Project (Masterplanning & Project management).
International Investment Project aligned to Pembroke Dock redevelopment.
European Commission Objective 1 Project Finance Design and Submission.
All in twelve days (maximum)?
Pull the other one!
And there seems no limit to what the auditor is prepared to believe.
A couple of years ago, when I inspected Hall's statutory register of members' interests, I came across an entry dated 13 October 2000, headed: "The following interests are held in the Republic of Ireland."
It read: "Self-employed businessman in Republic of Ireland - Ownership of various business ventures and two companies."
According to the auditor's review: "Cllr Hall declared a business interest in Ireland on 13 October 2000 but this is not in his declaration dated 11 January 2002. Cllr Hall informed us that he owns property in Ireland but has never had any other businesses in Ireland. He could not explain this other than the original declaration was a mistake."
I am at something of a loss to understand how anyone can make such "a mistake" .
It is simplicity itself to make a mistake through forgetfulness.
But to remember something that never happened - that takes real class.

What I find amazing is that neither Hall or Ryan have sued me for defamation.
On December 19 last year I received a letter from Dr Ryan's solicitors demanding a written retraction and formal apology for the "completely unfounded" allegations made against their client on my website.
In addition, I was to pay their clients legal costs "in the sum of £3,295 together with additional expenses to be confirmed by our client shortly."
Cllr Michael Williams received a similar demand making a total of £6590, not including whatever extras Dr Ryan had in mind.
Both letters concluded: "Should we not hear from you in the next 14 days, we will be issuing the Claim Form immediately. We trust this will not now be necessary."
Over the years, Old Grumpy has got used to ignoring these demands for apologies and retractions, but the sight of a pound sign followed by a significantly large number made me sit up and take notice.
So I decided to play my joker and instructed my solicitors to send Dr Ryan's lawyers a copy of the fax their client had sent to Hall on 16 October 2000 which seemed to show the two of them were up to no good.
Since then, of course, the District Auditor has reported and given Hall and Ryan a clean bill of health.
But, despite being six-and-a-half grand out of pocket, Dr Ryan has decided not to chance his arm in the courts.
I wonder why.
Another who appears to have lost his appetite for litigation is Dr Ryan's erstwhile business partner Brian "Tardis" Hall.
When I reported his irregular expense claiming practices to the police in October 2001, I also tipped off my former colleagues at the Mercury who ran the story on the front page.
That brought a furious letter from Hall's solicitors to the Managing Director of the Mercury's owners Newsquest, referring to "unwarranted and unsubstantiated allegations".
In this letter I was accused of conducting a "Jihad or Crusade against Cllr Hall" and at another point of "pursuing some sort of Jihad or Holy War against one man and his family".
As a secular humanist, I found all this religious imagery rather offensive, especially as the letter was written just five weeks after the World Trade Centre atrocity.
The letter did, however, have its lighter moments such as the description of Hall as "a man of exemplary character".
Not the same Cllr Hall, presumably, who was censured by the County Council for threatening two of his political opponents with violence following a council meeting.
Or the same Cllr Hall who made it on to the front pages of the local newspapers when he allegedly shoved a leaflet into the mouth of a disabled woman protesting outside County Hall against the closure of an old folks home.
"We can assure you that these allegations are wholly and absolutely unjustified", the letter continued, "and our client can provide evidence to prove it, if necessary."
I will be writing to Cllr Hall asking him to provide this proof.
When I have his reply, I will publish it on my website for all to see.
You may have to be patient.


I watched the last half hour of the women's Marathon last Sunday week.
When I switched on, a small Japanese lady was in the lead with Kenya second and Paula third.
Brendan Foster, in the grip of a severe bout of wishful thinking, kept telling us that the leader was showing signs of serious distress - constantly looking at her watch; glancing anxiously over her shoulder; and wandering all over the road as her legs began to weaken.
As each kilometre passed, he was scanning the split times to see if Paula; still going strong according to Brendan, was closing the gap.
I make no claim to expertise in the matters but even I could see that she was running as if through newly-laid concrete.
Then the inevitable happened; an Ethiopian padded past into third place, and Paula lost the will to go on.
It was touch and go whether she or Brendan, whose voice took on the tone of a bereavement counsellor, was the most upset.
Clearly, all those carefully polished cliches he had been practicing in front of the mirror, in anticipation of a British triumph, were redundant
Fast forward to Friday when we sat down to watch 10,000 metres.
Would Brendan would be sufficiently recovered to take his place in the commentary box ?
After a few laps Ms Radcliffe was back in the wet concrete and the best she could hope for was to salvage some of her reputation by finishing the race.
Sadly, for Brendan, although he had bravely faced the microphone, the Marathon had taken too much out of him.
Despite what we had all seen with our own eyes just five days earlier, he assured us that Paula was not the sort of person who pulled out of races.
"She will definitely finish this one" he solemnly intoned.
After running on for a couple of hundred metres, she stepped off the track and out of the race.
The cameras lingered on the stricken for runner for a minute or two until she disappeared down the tunnel leaving the cameraman with no alternative but to focus on a group of foreign-looking women, who were still monotonously circling the track in the quest for a gold medal.
As for Brendan, after this below par performance, he could do with a good long rest from serious athletics - better known as the sack.


Adam Price, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinevor, is at the forefront of a bid to impeach Tony Blair for misleading Parliament in the run up to the war in Iraq.
Old Grumpy has received an email from Mr Price's camp in which he sets out the reasons for taking this course of action.
Though it is vehemently denied, there is no doubt this is a political stunt, though a rather a clever one.
Stunt or not, what Mr Price has to say about politics in general is extremely relevant.
He writes: "New Labour, new politics - that was the promise. In Blair's own words in his first speech as leader to the Labour party conference: 'It means being open. It means telling it like it is. Let's be honest. Straight. Those most in need of hope deserve the truth.'
Now, almost a decade later, his words sound like self-parody. And yet there remains a certain resonance about them. Truth is the foundation of democracy. Without truth, there can be no trust, and without trust, politics loses its very legitimacy."
Absolutely true!
And what he has to say about spin and propaganda is also telling:
There is more than one way not to tell the truth: half-truths, omissions and deliberate ambiguities can be just as effective as crude lies if the mission is to mislead.
Spot on!



Can it really be less than eight weeks since I was popping down the greenhouse every couple of hours to check on the progress of the first tomato to show signs of ripening.
That process took about a fortnight, now they ripen overnight.
And I am beginning to get sick and tired of the sight of the things.
Grilled tomatoes on toast for breakfast; cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch; and ratatouille (with tomatoes, for those of you who don't go in for continental cooking) for dinner.
It's almost as bad with courgettes.
I grew six plants, two of which I gave away to one of my left wing friends.
I was at his house the other night and his two plants were each the size of a small coffee table.
Mine are the size of snooker tables.
Little wonder that socialist governments and food queues are such common bedfellows.

My grandfather was a butcher and he once told me: "If ever you see a sign in a shop window saying 'Fresh Meat' you have to hope the man is lying, or you'll be chewing till your jaw aches."
I used to love going to stay at Butcher's, as we called him, because there was always plenty to eat - no small consideration for those of us brought up in the 40s and 50s.
Every day when he returned from the round, my grandmother would take whatever meat was left in the van, trim off the black bits, and put the refurbished joint in the ice-box ready for another trip round the countryside the following day.
The black bits, we used to eat.
And I can tell you, that was the most succulent, tender meat I ever tasted.
So, if you see me hanging around the yellow-sticker counter in Tesco, you can be assured my motivation is epicurean rather than meanness.