December 16 2003
Game, sett and match
Old Grumpy reads that county councillor Norman Parry, a leading light in the ruling Pembrokeshire Independent Group, has been fined £2,000 + £560 costs for deliberately damaging a badger sett on his land near St Florence.
That might seem a lot to money to you and me but it will not make too much of a dent in the £14,000 he gets for doing the non-job of vice-chairman of the Elderly and Infirm scrutiny and overview committee.
What was striking about the newspaper report on the case was that the magistrates found that Cllr Parry's testimony under oath: that he was not aware of the presence of badgers on the site, was, um, er, "unreliable".
Indeed, evidence was given in court that he had taken a WPC Gibby to see the sett in April of this year when he had told her he was aware of the relevant regulations.
Feeling that sense of deja vu all over again, I headed down the shed to consult my library of Ombudsman's reports.
Sure enough, in the 1996 Ombudsman's report on the Princes Gate waste transfer station fiasco, I discovered that this was not the first time Cllr Parry has tried to lie his way out of trouble.
In that case Cllr Parry - then a South Pembs District Councillor - was the landscape consultant for the Princes Gate project and, when interviewed by the Ombudsman, admitted he had an interest to declare.
He told the Ombudsman that, following his appointment as consultant, he "withdrew from all subsequent meetings at which the site was discussed ...".
Unfortunately, for Cllr Parry, the council's minutes told a rather different story.
They recorded that he had attended 14 meetings where the site was discussed.
As the Ombudsman reported: "Those minutes neither record a declaration by Cllr Parry of his personal interest in this site nor do they record that he left any of these meeting during consideration of the site."
Just to be sure, the Ombudsman checked the committee clerk's notes and found that Cllr Parry had actually spoken at two of the meetings, on one occasion on a matter directly relating to the landscape scheme.
You might think that someone who deliberately tried to mislead the Ombudsman would be a political dead duck.
But Cllr Parry survived unscathed.
For a brief period around 1997 he took to the moral high ground by leaving the Pembrokeshire Independent Group and declaring himself an independent Independent but he was soon lured back into the fold by the offer of the chairmanship of the Cultural Services Committee.
As this is the committee in charge of libraries and museums, the Independent Group hierarchy can't be accused of lacking a sense of humour.
From there, he progressed to vice-chairman of the Planning Committee, despite loud (but not loud enough) protests from Labour leader Joyce Watson that his conduct during the Princes Gate affair made him unfit to hold such a responsible post.
In 2000, Cllr Parry became embroiled in more controversy when he opened up the site at St Florence without bothering with such tiresome formalities as applying for planning permission and after complaints from local residents he had to apply for retrospective permission. Perhaps realising that this was inconsistent with his involvement in the planning process, the Pembrokeshire Independent Group removed him from the firing line by switching him to vice-chairman of the Elderly and Infirm overview and scrutiny committee.
He seems to have taken his responsibilities rather too literally because last year he was bound over by the magistrates after getting into a scuffle with a 72 year old man who was protesting outside the site.
No adverse political consequences followed from that little escapade, either, but surely with the new Code of Conduct in force he will not be so lucky this time.
Section 6(1)(a) of the Code provides that: "Members must not in their official capacity or otherwise commit a criminal offence or cause one to be committed."
And Section 6(1)(c) requires that: "Members must report to the Local Commissioner for Local Administration in Wales [Ombudsman] and to the authority's monitoring officer any conduct by another member which they believe involves or is likely to involve a failure to comply with this code of conduct."
Assuming that all the other members have read the local papers, I calculate that the Ombudsman and the monitoring officer are due 59 letters each.
As if the postmen didn't have enough to do at this time of year.
It will be interesting to see whether His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, rewards Cllr Parry's mendacity with a well deserved order of the boot.
In any normal political situation that would be the expected result.
But, given Cllr Hughes' own difficulties with the truth, it is much more likely that he will let things limp along to next May's elections and hope the voters of Carew do the decent thing.
Indeed, one of my most reliable moles tells me that the Pembrokeshire Independent Group has already taken steps to bring about the desired outcome.
According to my mole, senior members of the group have been scurrying around the county looking for someone to stand against Parry at the next election.
I am told that they have approached a well-known person with impeccable business connections.
This is not the first time that Old Grumpy has heard stories about this non-political, political party's efforts to recruit a slate of candidates ahead of next May's poll.
Can we look forward to a manifesto?
My enquiries are ongoing and I hope to report more fully nearer the election.
Mickey mouse cowboy outfit
Old Grumpy has been keeping an eye on the County Council's inward investment website (www.choosepembrokeshire.org.uk).
This first came to my notice in October 2002, when, during my annual trawl through the County Council's accounts, I discovered that the P R company, Golley Slater, appeared to have been paid the best part of £70,000 to design and promote it. (see Webysmal and Old story).
When I last wrote about this issue, in October 2002, the most up to date entry in "Pembrokeshire News" was dated February 2001, some 18 months previous.
Today, when I logged on, the latest "news" is from March 2003 - a mere nine months ago.
Progress of a sort, I suppose.
This website is the first port of call for businessmen looking for inward investment opportunities.
Old Grumpy wonders what they think when they read under "Labour availability" that "With 42,000 residents currently recorded as economically inactive there is a large potential labour force who can be tempted to join your organisation."
Are they contemplating the return of child labour or are the residents of old folk's homes to be sent to the production lines?
And this isn't some amateur blag - this is an authority with a £160 million budget.
It is time our highly paid elected representatives got a grip.
The council's other flagship website (visitpembrokeshire.co.uk) has also featured in this column because of the huge number of errors in its content.
These included a water driven flower mill: the famous artist Augustas John: and the navel defences at Pembroke Dock, as well as typos, misplaced apostrophes and spelling mistakes too numerous to mention.
I must say there has been some improvement recently, though I did notice "gefore" and an "it's" [Milford Haven's].
And how many people knew that the Landsker Line "Formally divided" the north of the county from the south.
"You're not coming down here dressed like that", I can hear the Norman border guard telling the bewoaded Welshman.
With the capture of Saddam Hussein there is much talk in the media about he principles of justice and the rule of law.
Can an Iraqi court give the evil dictator a fair trial?
There, you see, even Old Grumpy can't avoid making prejudicial comments.
Not that anything I might say is likely to cause a substantial risk of significant harm to the prospects of a fair trial in far off Baghdad.
In a sophisticated legal system like that of the UK, justice is not always done or even seen to be done.
We all recall the Mr Justice Caulfield's summing up in the Jeffrey Archer libel case when the judge asked the jury to consider whether it was likely that Archer would resort to "cold unloving sex" in a "seedy hotel room" when he had the "fragrant" Mary waiting for him at home.
But my favourite slanted summing up is that of Mr Justice Cantley in another high profile case: the trial of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe on a charge of conspiracy to murder his alleged gay lover, Norman Scott.
The judge could apparently see no reason why a man of Thorpe's standing should have been charged with anything, when those ranged against him were such low-life vermin. Here he is on the character of Norman Scott : "He is a fraud. He is a sponger. He is a whiner. He is a parasite. But, of course, he could still be telling the truth. It is a question of belief."
Not surprisingly, Thorpe was acquitted.
Cynics rule. OK!
I have just heard on the radio that Labour's National Executive has put in train a set of manoeuvres to let Ken Livingstone back into the party.
And they wonder why people regard politics and politicians with such utter contempt.
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