July 29 2003

The untouchables

Last week I was informed by Dyfed Powys Police that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute Cllr Brian Hall following my complaint about his claim for travelling expenses on 1 February 2001.
The grounds for this decision, I am told, is that "there was insufficient evidence, and in any event that it [prosecution] was not in the public interest."
I must admit that "insufficient evidence" is a bit hard to swallow.
I provided the police with copies of timed receipts and an expense claim obtained during the public audit in October 2001. One receipt showed Cllr Hall paying his hotel bill at the Jarvis International in Hyde Park at 10.13 am on the morning of 1 February 2000, having travelled to London the previous day to attend a reception in the House of Commons.
I also provided a ticket for the Severn Bridge which timed his re-entry into Wales at 12.56pm. He then called in at the First Motorway Service Station near Magor where the receipt recorded that he paid £7.18 for a "Large Fizz" and a "Daily Spec" at 13.08 pm.
Cllr Hall had other duties to perform that afternoon - a meeting of the South Wales Integrated Transport Consortium (SWITCH) held at the offices of Neath and Port Talbot County Borough Council in Penllergaer, just north of Swansea.
That meeting was due to start at 2.00 pm so, as he started to tuck in to his "Daily Spec[ial]" at about 1.10 pm, he was already running late.
However, his expense claim, which I also gave to the police, shows him leaving Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm on February 1 to drive to Penllergaer, a round trip of 130 miles for which he claimed £62.40.
The shame is that, now the CPS have decided against prosecution, we will probably never hear Cllr Hall's explanation as to why he drove past Penllergaer, where the SWITCH meeting was already in progress, and all the way to Pembroke Dock via Haverfordwest and back again.
Nor, sadly, how he managed to complete the 130 miles from Magor to Pembroke Dock via Haverfordwest, assuming he took ten minutes to polish off the "Daily Spec", in less than three quarters of an hour.
With regard to the "public interest" grounds for dropping the case, I notice that the CPS website lists among the "common public interest factors in favour of prosecution" : "the defendant was in a position of authority or trust".
Although it should also be said that among the public interest grounds for not prosecuting is a long time lapse between the alleged offence being committed and the case being heard.
So, the fact that the police "investigation" took 20 months to complete may have some bearing on the issue.
Indeed, as the following exchange of correspondence between myself and Chief Inspector Hughes of Haverfordwest Police amply demonstrates, the police were more than happy to see the matter swept under the carpet.
I lodged a complaint with the police on 15 October 2001 (see Time warp?).
At about 9.00 am on Saturday 3 November 2001 I received a phone call from a DC Callard informing me that the police were not proceeding with the case for the reasons set out in my letter printed below.
I left DC Callard in no doubt as to my dissatisfaction with this outcome.
At about 11 am on the same day, I was called by Chief Inspector D.R. Hughes who told me "Under the law we need a complaint from the party that has been aggrieved against" and "In this scenario the aggrieved person is the council."
Also that: "Under the criminal law we must refer it to the aggrieved party" and A senior officer of the council [Mark Lewis director of Finance] told my officer [D C Callard] that they didn't wish to make a complaint".
"Must make murder inquiries rather tricky!" I said.

I wrote to Chief Inspector Hughes on the Monday following.

5 November 2001 - by hand

Re: Councillor Brian Hall.

Dear Chief Inspector Hughes,

I am writing with regard to our telephone conversation of Saturday 3 November 2001 in the course of which you explained to me why the police had decided to take no further action in respect of my allegations of false accounting and theft against Cllr Brian Hall.
My understanding of the reason for your decision not to proceed with the investigation is that, under the law, for the police to progress a criminal enquiry they require a complaint from the "aggrieved party" which, in this case, is Pembrokeshire County Council.
Pembrokeshire County Council, in the person of Director of Finance, Mark Lewis, has declined to make such a complaint and, therefore, you told me, there is no legal basis on which the police can take the matter further.
Some two-and-a-half hours before you contacted me, I was telephoned by your colleague Detective Constable Callard who also told me that the enquiry was being dropped because the Council did not wish to make a complaint against Cllr Hall with the result that there was "no evidence to put before a court".
DC Callard told me that he had been assured by Mr Mark Lewis that Cllr Hall had permission from the Council to undertake both the return journey from Pembroke Dock to London on 31 January/1 February 2001 and the return journey between Pembroke Dock and Swansea on 1 February 2001.
According to DC Callard, Mr Lewis's explanation for this rather circuitous route was that Cllr Hall had to transport "an Irish inward investor" to the ferry [the scheduled sailing time is 2.30 pm and on the day in question it sailed at 3.04 pm so, having stopped for lunch, Cllr Hall couldn't possibly be in Pembroke Dock in time to catch it] and, because of this 130 mile detour, had not arrived at the SWITCH meeting in Swansea - scheduled to start at 2.00pm - until 3.30 pm.
I would be grateful if you could confirm that my account of these two telephone conversations is accurate.

Yours sincerely

Mike Stoddart


12 November 2001

Dear Mr Stoddart,

RE CLLR BRIAN HALL

I refer to our recent discussions concerning issues you raised with regards to Councillor Brian Hall. I can now confirm that we have received a formal statement from a senior member of Pembrokeshire County Council. The statement states that in their opinion, no criminal act has been committed and that they are the injured party in this case. Having reviewed the circumstances I can confirm that the Police should not take any further action in this matter unless there is further significant evidence available.

I have asked Mr Lewis [Director of Finance] whether he would consent to releasing a copy of the statement provided to yourself. However, at this stage that consent has not been provided.

As we discussed, if you are not satisfied with the Council's position, then that is an issue that must be referred to Pembrokeshire County Council.

Yours sincerely

D.R. Hughes (Chief Inspector)


 

13 November 2001

Dear Chief Inspector Hughes,

Re: Councillor Brian Hall

Thank you for your letter dated 12 November 2001.

Unfortunately, your letter does not address the points raised in my letter - delivered by hand to Haverfordwest Police Station at 9.30am on Monday November 5.
I would be pleased if you could now confirm that the account contained in that letter, of my telephone conversations with both yourself and DC Callard, on the morning of Saturday 3 November 2001, is accurate.

 

Yours sincerely
Mike Stoddart


16 November 2001

Dear Mr Stoddart,

RE: COUNCILLOR BRIAN HALL

I refer to my previous communication with you and the legal position concerning your original information to the Police. You will appreciate I was not present during your conversation with Dc. Callard and cannot comment on accuracy or otherwise. Unfortunately, I do not believe I can be of further assistance, as outlined in my previous communication with you.

Yours sincerely

D.R. Hughes (Chief Inspector)


`

 

27 November 2001

Dear Chief Inspector Hughes,
Thank you for your letter of 16 November 2001.

I am disappointed that, despite my two requests, you have still not confirmed my account of our telephone conversation of the morning of Saturday 3 November as set out in my letter of 5 November 2001.

As you claim not to be able to speak for your subordinate DC Callard, I have written to him, directly, in the same terms as my letter to you, dated 5 November 2001.

I would also be grateful if you could inform me whether the Council has responded to your request for a copy of the statement, provided to the police by the Director of Finance, Mr Mark Lewis, to be released to me.

 

Yours sincerely

Mike Stoddart


3 December 2001

Dear Mr Stoddart,

RE: COUNCILLOR BRIAN HALL

First of all my previous responses to you (attached) sufficiently explain the evidential and prosecution issue. Essentially, the Local Authority has reviewed the issue you have raised and stated that no criminal act has occurred or loss to the Authority. To maintain clarity, I will be the only Officer dealing with your referral to the Police.

No authority (as previously stated) is given to release a copy of the statement provided to the Police.

I must again inform you that this matter is concluded and you should pursue your grievance through Pembrokeshire County Council.

Yours sincerely

D.R. Hughes (Chief Inspector)


 

In a statement published in the Mercury the police said: "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"

 

As I wrote at the time (see Right and wrong) Chief Inspector Hughes's claim that the County Council had the final say over what was, or was not, a criminal offence was clearly wrong.
It was only after the then Cllr Barrie Woolmer and I went to Haverforwest police station and met the Chief Superintendant that the position changed.
He started to tell us this stuff about needing a complaint from the victim before the police could investigate, but when I interrupted to inform him that I had a law degree and I knew that was bullshit he rather changed his tune (see Right and wrong).
My point was proved when a letter, dated 3 March 2002, arrived from Detective Chief Inspector S. J. Powell of the Fraud Squad informing me that his department had now taken over the investigation and in due course I was interviewed by two of the squad's officers.
Why the Fraud Squad came to be involved in what was an essentially straightforward case involving £63 one can only speculate.
Why it took them over a year to complete their investigation, when I had already provided them with all the relevant evidence, is a mystery.
And, of course, I have no idea what this "insufficient eveidence" submitted to the CPS amounted to.
What is certain is that, given their initial reluctance to investigate, a successful prosecution would have left the police with some explaining to do.


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