December 21 2004

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

 

Shouted down

Last Thursday's county council meeting descended into near farce as, one after another, leading members of the Independent Party jumped up to interrupt me as I tried to make the case for the publication of the Finance Director's statement to the police regarding Cllr Brian Hall's high velocity performance on 1 February 2001 (The Time Lord).
As I pointed out, because we have never seen the Director's statement, our knowledge of what he said is restricted to what the police have told me.
This includes the explanation that Cllr Hall took the scenic route, Magor to Penllergaer via Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock because he had to deliver an "Irish inward investor" to the ferry.
As I wondered aloud if this might be the same inward investor who had helped Cllr Hall to put away £51-worth of special chow mein and egg fu yung in the Mandarin Kitchen, London W2 on the evening before his high-speed dash (see Short shrift), Cllr Alwyn Luke was on his feet, on a point of order shouting "disgraceful" and "this has got to stop, Mr Chairman".
He carried on this incoherent rant for several minutes without ever telling us what his point of order was about.
An amateur psychologist has suggested to me that the Monster Muncher had become emotionally destablised by the thought of somebody else enjoying all that lovely free grub while his own ambition only stretched to a mundane £6.25 gammon and chips (or two) (see the Master forger).
I must say, you need a cast iron stomach to keep your breakfast in situ while listening to Luke giving a lecture on standards in public life, but I am proud to report that I made it - just.
My advice, if he wants to improve the quality and quantity of his intake, is to get himself an inward investor to accompany him on his travels.
I'm sure his chum Cllr Hall has one he can borrow.
After all, they already share the Tardis.
Another who worked himself up into a lather was Islwyn Howells; Cabinet member with responsibility for education.
He seemed to be suggesting that the council's constitution should be changed in order to stop me raising these awkward questions in meetings.
Interestingly, one of my moles in the Independent Party tells me that this rather authoritarian notion was floated at their secret, pre-meeting meeting.
However wiser counsels prevailed and it was decided that this would not be adopted as official party policy..
Unfortunately, it seems, in the heat of the moment, Cllr Howells' instincts got the better of him.
Then we had former head teacher Cllr Bill Roberts who got up a fair head of steam as he accused me of wasting the council's time with these questions.
As I explained to him, it was he who was wasting time if he thought I was going to allow myself to be bullied into silence by the likes of him.
Indeed, such tactics are entirely counter-productive because they only serve to increase my conviction that it is every democrat's duty to resist what, earlier this year, one of their own number, ex-Cllr George Grey described as an "autocracy" in a letter to the Western Telegraph.
I will be writing to Cllrs Howells and Roberts promising never again to mention the subject of Cllr Hall's unorthodox expense claiming practices provided they can produce a mathematically sound explanation for his movements that day.
I will let you know when I receive a reply.
But don't hold your breath because I wrote to Maurice Hughes in the same vein in October last year, and to his successor on 4 December, and have yet to receive an answer.
Trouble with long-division, perhaps!

On the Carpet

 

We were also treated to a lengthy peroration relating to my activities from the chief executive during which he accused me of bias and lack of objectivity.
Whether it is appropriate for a council employee to attack an elected member in this way, during a council meeting, is a subject I will return to in the future..
But what is rather flattering is that he and the Monitoring Officer "both trained lawyers" had been discussing my case and had concluded that something must be done.
As evidence for this conclusion he relied, in part, on the fact that someone had told him that I had expressed the intention to "get" certain individuals.
As a semi-house-trained lawyer, myself, I can tell Mr Parry-Jones that recycling what you have been told is known as hearsay evidence, which the courts, in the interests of due process and fairness, deem inadmissible. .
It wouldn't be hearsay, of course, if whoever has been trying to ingratiate himself with the great man by creeping up to his office to relate this tittle tattle, were to have the courage to come out and say it himself.
In any case the council chamber is not a court of law and, though I absolutely deny that I am biased, except in favour of the truth, it wouldn't matter if I was.
The law on the matter is to be found in the famous case Horrocks v Lowe, in which, my battered old law book records: "A Labour councillor in Bolton was sued by a Conservative councillor for slander on account of a speech at a council meeting at which the defendant had made critical but inaccurate remarks about the plaintiff: the council meeting being an occasion of qualified privilege, the House of Lords held that however prejudiced the defendant had been, or however irrational in leaping to conclusions unfavourable to the plaintiff, he honestly believed in the truth of what he said and the defence of qualified privilege succeeded."
What the chief executive may have been driving at is that qualified privilege is destroyed as a defence if the plaintiff proves express malice on the part of the defendant.
While it is tempting to use qualified privilege to say things in meetings that I wouldn't repeat outside, it is not something I have ever done because I consider such tactics to be ethically dubious.
Anything I have to say, I am more than happy to put on this website, where qualified privilege does not apply.
Furthermore, by making my views known in writing, I risk being sued for libel, whereas anything I say in the council chamber is mere slander.
Ethics apart, the reason I choose not to hide behind the shield of qualified privilege is that I go to great lengths to make sure that what I write is factually accurate.
And the truth, of course, however motivated, and however damaging, can never be defamatory.
So far, this policy has served me well.
Too well, in fact, because there is nothing that would suit my purposes better than to have the issues surrounding Cllr Hall's expense claims examined in a court of law.
And nothing he and his supporters would like less, which is why he doesn't sue.
If the purpose of Mr Parry-Jones' tirade against me was to make me slink away like a whipped cur with my tail between my legs, he has made a serious misjudgement because it is my intention to go on repeating these allegations until such time as either I unearth the truth, or somebody mounts a successful action against me for libel.



Under the carpet

Mr Parry-Jones also accused my of interpreting the facts to suit my own purposes.
Unfortunately, as I have said above, my efforts to get both the Leader and his predecessor to provide me with the "correct" interpretation have fallen on stony ground.
The facts can be found at The Time Lord, and if any reader than think of an alternative conclusion to my own, without resort to Star Wars or Dr Who, I would like to hear from them.
The other great issue is, of course the cover-up that came after I complained to the police.
The best evidence for that is to be found in what went on at the meeting of county council of 13 December 2001 when the Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Joyce Watson, submitted four written questions to the Chairman under Standing Order 10.
Cllr Watson wrote:
"As the recent allegation of expenses fraud made against Councillor Hall has the potential to to damage the good name of the council will the Chairman, in the interest of open transparent government state:

1. Which senior officer (or officers) gave statements to the police.
2. Could members be provided with copies of the statements.
3. Who was the "Irish inward investor" that necessitated Cllr Hall's attendance to accompany hi to the Pembroke Dock ferry which left at 3pm [actually 3.04 pm] on 1 February 2001.
4. Was this journey authorised in advance of the day. If not when was it authorised, by whom and can a copy of the authorisation be provided to members."

Now, you might think that, if Standing Orders give members the right to ask questions, they have a right to expect answers.
Apparently, you would be wrong, because the Chairman, Cllr Rosemary Hayes (MBE. JP) stood up and read the following statement:
"A complaint was made to the police about travelling allowances claimed by Councillor Hall. The police have investigated the matter and discovered no evidential basis upon which to consider further action. The police are entitled to prosecute cases of this sort whether or not the County council believes an offence has been committed.

The relevant facts are that Councillor Hall undertook approved duties and can establish that he actually made the journeys (my emphasis) for which he claimed travelling expenses."

The first sentence of this statement is true. The second is, at best, half true because the police investigation involved a detective constable going to County Hall and being told by the Director of Finance that no criminal offence had been committed. The third sentence is exactly the opposite of what the police told me. And the last sentence ...?
Well, I have written to Cllr Hayes on more than one occasion enclosing the various bits of documentary evidence that I believe show that Cllr Hall claimed £63 for journeys which he couldn't possibly have made.
I have also asked Cllr Hayes for information about these "relevant facts" of which she speaks, all to no avail.
It is also my understanding that this statement was written by an officer and not by Cllr Hayes, herself, but she refuses, point blank, to say which officer was involved.
I am prepared to concede that Cllr Hayes believed the statement to be true when she made it.
After all, why should she doubt the accuracy of something written by an officer.
However, having been given all the facts, her consistent refusal to put the record straight means she has now made this statement her own.

Sleeping with the enemy

David Blunkett is yet another Labour Minister who has resigned for doing nothing wrong.
However, according to what Old Grumpette overheard while out shopping, some diehard Labour supporters are not too concerned whether he fast-tracked his girl friend's nanny's passport, or misused government rail warrants.
"What is really inexcusable," she heard a socialist shopkeeper say, "is that he was sleeping with a Tory from the Spectator."
Having taken a keen interest in events at the magazine, I did think of writing to Boris to see if he had any need of a freelance writer like me.
However, I gave up on the idea when I realised the potential for misunderstanding if I asked Old Grumpette, my former editor at the Mercury, to provide a reference.

 

Sisters at war

A mole in Haverfordwest tells me that something close to civil war has broken out in the Preseli Labour Party following the decision to adopt Sue Hayman as the candidate for the Parliamentary seat ahead of local girl Joyce Watson.
I will make further enquiries and report back later

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