December 17 2001
The Time Lord
Events surrounding my complaint to the police about Cllr Brian Hall's expense claim for February 1 this year (see Oct 15) are becoming increasingly Orwellian.
Dyfed Powys Police say: "They [Pembrokeshire County Council] have conducted their own investigation and told us no crime has been committed as far as they are concerned. Consequently, there is no evidence to take further action or bring any prosecution at this stage"
The County Council say: "A complaint was made by a member of the public about travelling expenses claimed by Cllr Hall. The Police have investigated the matter and have discovered no evidential basis upon which to consider further action."
The Police have told me that unless they receive a complaint from the injured party - in this case the Council - they are powerless to act.
The Council say: "The Police are entitled to prosecute cases of this sort whether or not the County Council believes an offence has been committed"
George Orwell understood this sort of thing.
"Doublethink," he wrote, " means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind at the same time and accepting both of them."
However we have not yet reached the world of Big Brother depicted in '1984' (quite) so, in the meantime I will continue to work on the basis of Aristotle's notion of logic; that two contradictory propositions can't both be true, though both might be false.
So, I will continue my quest to discover the truth, by whatever means.
The story begins when I lodged a formal, written complaint to the police regarding, Cllr Brian Hall's claim for 1 February this year, together with copies of expense forms and timed receipts.
Full details of his supposed movements that day can be found on this website (October 15).
Suffice it to say that, according to his claim form, he stayed at the Jarvis International Hotel in Hyde Park London on the night of January 31 and the following day- February 1 - he drove back to Pembroke Dock.
Also on February 1, his expense claim records, he left Pembroke Dock at 2.00pm to drive to a SWITCH meeting in Swansea, claiming 130 miles at 48.5p per mile for the return journey.
From the evidence of timed receipts, submitted in support of his expense claim, it is clear that this account of his movements simply can't be reconciled with the laws of motion as currently understood.
These receipts showed him paying his bill at the Jarvis International Hotel at 10.13 am on February 1, crossing the Severn Bridge at 12.56 pm and purchasing a meal at the First Motorway Service Station near Magor at 1.08 pm, leaving him with the impossible task of eating lunch and driving 125 miles in the space of 52 minutes if he was to leave Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm.
In any case why didn't he call in at Swansea on his way back from London rather than making a 130-mile detour via Pembroke Dock?
At about 9.15 am on Saturday November 3, I received a phone call from a Haverfordwest Police Station to tell me that the police were dropping the investigation into my complaint.
According to the police they had interviewed a "senior member [officer]" of the County Council who had told them that Cllr Hall had permission to make the detour by way of Pembroke Dock to drop off "an Irish inward investor" at the ferry and, as no criminal offence had been committed the Council did not wish to make a complaint.
In the absence of a complaint from the Council, I was told, there was "no evidence to put before the court".
I made it clear that I was not satisfied with this "explanation" because, as will be seen later it stretched credulity to breaking point.
A couple of hours later I had another call from the police when it was explained to me that before they could progress a criminal enquiry they must have a complaint from the "aggrieved party"; in this case the Council.
"Must make murder investigations rather tricky for you", I responded, to this novel enunciation of the criminal law.
As I have pointed out to the police, the tale of the inward investor doesn't bear even the most cursory scrutiny.
What we are asked to believe is that Cllr Hall had this very important person in his car and needed to put him on the ferry in Pembroke Dock at 3.00 pm (incidentally I have checked and the ferry sailed that day at 3.04 pm).
Why, then, did he delay his departure from London until 10.13 am leaving only 4hrs 45mins to complete the 260-mile journey?
And more importantly, why, having crossed the Severn Bridge at 12.56, did he call in at the service station for lunch, thereby abandoning whatever slim chance he had of making it to Pembroke Dock on time?
The problem is that without the mysterious Irish investor there is no justification whatsoever for Cllr Hall's trip to Pembroke Dock.
Assuming he took 20 minutes to eat his lunch; attend to his other biological needs; and make his way back to the car, he would be leaving the First Motorway Service Station at about half-past one.
I have recently travelled that road and it took me approximately 1 hour to drive from the service station in question to the first exit for Swansea. Add another 20 minutes (at least) to drive into Swansea, park the car and walk to the meeting and Cllr Hall would have arrived at about ten-to-three.
My enquiries reveal that the SWITCH meeting started at 2.00pm, so even taking the most direct route would have made him 50 minutes late. Travelling to Pembroke Dock (via Haverfordwest) and back, as his expense claim indicates, would have added a further 2hrs 30mins (at least) to the trip, getting him back to Swansea at 5.10pm by which time the meeting was over.
And, in any case, if he didn't get to Swansea until gone 5.00pm he couldn't possibly have been back home in Pembroke Dock at 5.45pm - the time shown on his expense claim - especially as he returned from Swansea via Haverfordwest, presumably to be debriefed (see last week's column).
To summarise, what his claim shows is that he left Magor at about 1.30pm and travelled to Haverfordwest (for debriefing) then on to Swansea (to a meeting) via Pembroke Dock, and finally returned to Haverfordwest (for another debriefing) and home to Pembroke Dock at 5.45pm. Or put another way, he drove 250 miles; and attended two debriefings and a meeting, all in the space of four-and-a-quarter hours.
Whichever way you look at this you can't escape the conclusion that Cllr Hall's expense claim for February the 1st is replete with inaccuracies.
At last Thursday's meeting of the County Council, Labour Leader Joyce Watson attempted to throw some light on these mysterious meanderings by putting a series of written questions, as she has a right to do under Standing Orders.
You might imagine that the right to ask questions implied the right to expect answers.
Well, that might be the case where the rule of law prevails, but this is Pembrokeshire under the rule of the Independent Political (sic) Group.
In response to Mrs Watson's enquiries the Chairman Cllr Rosemary Hayes) read out an anodyne statement which avoided the issues altogether.
That statement includes the words: "The relevant facts are that Cllr Hall undertook approved duties and can establish that he actually made the journeys for which he claimed travelling expenses".
Unfortunately, the Council has declined to give the police permission to release a copy of the statement made by the "senior member [officer]" to me.
Nor, it seems, are elected councillors to be allowed to see it.
This is a pity because if there is a scientifically coherent explanation of how Cllr Hall managed to collapse the space-time continuum on February 1, its author must be in line for a Nobel Prize for physics.
Brian the Snail he certainly ain't.
And if every thing is hunky dory, as the Council say it is, isn't it strange that I have not had one of those belligerent letters from Cllr Hall's solicitors that have become his trademark.
Perhaps he is waiting for the New Year so as not to spoil my Christmas.
At a recent meeting of the County Council, the authoritarian behaviour of THE LEADER, Cllr Maurice Hughes, prompted Plaid Cymru's Michael Williams to ask: "Who does he think he is: God Almighty?"
A letter written by THE LEADER has recently come into my hands, which suggests that the answer to Cllr Williams' question is in the affirmative.
This letter was sent to the three members of the Liberal Democrat Group on the Council, who had dared to put out a pamphlet challenging the Politburo's views on local government reform.
It is worth quoting at length, if only to show that a surfeit of power has resulted in Cllr Hughes outgrowing his boots.
" I am informing you that I shall return to this matter [the offending pamphlet]at the Council meeting on 13 December 2001". He writes.
"At that time, I shall be requiring each of you to
1. make a full apology to the Council for the incorrect information contained in the leaflet and for the deliberate attempt to mislead the people of this County and for trying to disrupt the democratic process.
2. publish a leaflet similar in design and quality which publicly corrects the misinformation, and apologises to the people of Pembrokeshire for trying to mislead them.
3. distribute the new leaflet to every household which received the original leaflet and it must also be distributed to the same newspapers as the original leaflet." Later THE LEADER tells the three delinquents: "I shall be sending a copy of this letter to the Monitoring Officer as I believe all three of you have committed a serious breach of the Code of Conduct and I shall be asking Mr James to investigate urgently."
A mole tells me there was a heated discussion about this letter at the recent secret meeting of the Independent Political (sic) Group.
The hard liners wanted Cllr Hughes to bring the matter up at the Council meeting and humiliate the Lib Dems.
Presumably wiser counsels prevailed, because, in the event, no mention was made of the matter.
That was something of a disappointment to Old Grumpy because I was looking forward to pointing out that THE LEADER had no power to "be requiring" the Lib Dems to do anything, as the Code of Conduct only applies to members acting in an official capacity, and had he done so the Lib Dems could have reported him to the Ombudsman for making a vexatious complaint.
Next week this website will be updated on Sunday 23 December as I will be too tired and emotional on Christmas Eve. Don't forget to log on, when I hope to be able to tell the story of Bill Philpin and the Jumbo jet, and, provided my mole delivers the promised information, reveal the identity of the Council Officer who acted as political advisor when THE LEADER carpeted Cllr Mark Edwards for daring to go against Independent Party policy by having his photo in the Mercury signing a petition in favour of an elected Mayor.
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