July 29 2009
Money for jam
On Wednesday the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park committee agreed to pay £8,000 of Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse's £40,000 legal bill. The lawyers' fees were run up by Cllr Allen-Mirehouse defending himself against allegations that he breached the councillors' Code of Conduct by failing to declare an interest at a Park meeting where the controversial "homes for locals" policy was debated (Interesting times) (Strange developments) (Open secret).
Voting in favour of making the payment were Cllrs Lyn Davies, Mike Evans, Robin Evans, Rob Lewis, Peter Morgan and Leslie Raymond (all members of the county council's Independent Political Group) Richard Howells and David Ellis (WAG appointees) and Simon Hancock (Labour).
Against were Cllrs Tony Brinsden (unaligned), Michael Williams (Plaid Cymru), Richard Hancock (Conservative) and WAG appointees Christine Gwyther and Fiona Lanc.
Earlier, members decided by 11-2 (Cllrs Tony Brinsden (unaligned) and Michael Williams ( Plaid Cymru) dissenting) to meet in secret session with the proviso that, if it was decided to meet Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's costs, in whole or in part, the documents presented to members would be put into the public domain.
So, as they say, it's an ill wind that doesn't blow in the odd silver-lined cloud and Old Grumpy was at the National Park offices first thing this morning to have a look see.
Unfortunately, the documents were waiting to be scanned in so I couldn't take copies away, though I was able to take notes.
Star of the show is a letter dated 8 July 2008 in which Cllr Allen-Mirehouse sets out his case for reimbursement.
As I suspected, this includes the claim that this was all got up by me as part of some sort of political vendetta.
He writes: "You will be aware of the protracted and complicated history of the charges brought against me which were in fact rejected twice - once following an investigation by the Ombudsman and the police and secondly by the Tribunal. The allegations made by Cllr Stoddart were twice found to be utterly unjustifiable."
It was because I feared that this sort of misinformation would come into play that I wrote to the park chairman Richard Howells on 26 June asking that I be allowed to put my side of the story.
Unfortunately, he has been too busy to reply (Sitting duck).
Firstly, it isn't true that the Ombudsman rejected my complaint after an investigation.
What actually happened was that the Ombudsman passed my complaint to the police - failure to declare a pecuniary interest being a criminal offence.
More than two years later the police reported back to the Ombudsman that there was "insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal investigation against Cllr Allen-Mirehouse."
In a letter dated 24 September 2004 the Ombudsman informed me that he not proceeding to an investigation because : "He [Cllr Allen-Mirehouse] has stated [to the police, presumably] that he has not applied for permission to develop any land and there is no evidence that he has any land which would be affected by the adoption of the [homes for locals] policy within the National Park." (Simple explanation).
Clearly, if he had no land that could be affected, he had no interest and, therefore, there was no question of the Code being breached.
However, not for the first time in a case involving a prominent member of the county council (The untouchables) the police hadn't been trying hard enough because, following receipt of the Ombudsman's letter, I went to the National Park offices where it took me less than an hour to turn up two letters from Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's agents regarding land in the village of Angle which he was seeking to develop and which would, therefore be affected by the adoption of the policy.
I sent copies of these letters to the Ombudsman who launched an investigation during which he discovered a third letter from Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's agents on the same subject.
It has never been clear to me why the Ombudsman didn't forward this new evidence to the police.
Nor how, in view of the foregoing, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's QC was able to tell the Tribunal that "it had never been disputed that Councillor Allen-Mirehouse owned land that was capable of being developed when he participated in the relevant meetings of the National Park Authority."
I suppose that's why they cost five grand a day.
As for the allegations rejected by the Tribunal, they came from the Ombudsman, not from me.
After accusing me of making an "utterly unjustifiable" complaint against him, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse goes on to justify his decision to engage a QC.
"The importance of defending my name and integrity should be obvious. I was Vice Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, A Justice of the Peace, and Deputy Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council - all positions of great responsibility and high public profile, and which require great integrity of the office holder."
As I said last week, in this post-feudal age, it not only the great and the good who are entitled to defend their integrity.
And the National Park Monitoring Officer seems to agree because, in response to Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's claim that his prominent position singled him out for special consideration, he observes: "With respect, the members may feel that all members are entitled to equal treatment. The current rules as drafted apply to all members and do not seek to draw any distinction between members."
Cllr Allen-Mirehouse was also unhappy with the situation whereby the park's standards committee had the power to determine the level of representation.
"I do not consider it would be proper for the Standards Committee, had I applied earlier, to restrict who I could instruct to conduct my defence." he told the Monitoring Officer.
Unfortunately, that is what the rules say and, despite any thoughts he may have to the contrary, they apply to Cllr Allen-Mirehouse the same as everyone else.
Furthermore, he was present at the meeting where the indemnity scheme was proposed and voted for its adoption.
His explanation for that: "I have very limited recollection of the meeting concerned. I certainly have no recollection of the significance of the item to my circumstances at the time. Study of the minutes of the meeting reveal that twenty items were dealt with in fifty-five minutes. I cannot see therefore how there would have been a detailed exposition of the subtleties of the proposed indemnity, which would have been evident to a lay member unused to legal terms."
The relevant meeting was held on 13 September 2006 and according to the Monitoring Officer's report he incurred solicitor's bills of £4,060 between 31 August 2006 and 5 October 2006. If he didn't realise the significance of these indemnity arrangements in these circumstances he must be even more intellectually challenged than I thought.
In any case the number of agenda items and the length of the meeting are red herrings because reports for meetings are sent to members three clear days in advance so that they can familiarise themselves with the issues.
It is not at all reassuring to learn that someone as important and influential as Cllr Allen-Mirehouse puts up his hand for things he doesn't understand.
As I've said before, the fact that he is part of the IPG leadership speaks volumes of the led.
One of the bills which the members did agree to pay on behalf of the taxpayer was that for the initial meeting between Cllr Allen-Mirehouse and his solicitors, Morgan Cole.
Also present were the Viscount St Davids and Anthony Owen (Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's land agent).
The surprising thing about this meeting is that it was held at Angle Hall which meant the two solicitors present clocked up some 8 hours travelling time at £200 per hour = £1,600.
Indeed, they spent more time marching than fighting because the meeting itself only lasted 3hrs 24 mins.
As the Monitoring Officer pointed out it would have been much cheaper if Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had done the travelling.
In all, the cost of this meeting, including preparation, came to £4,900.
I am told that during the debate Cllr Leslie Raymond wondered aloud why Cllr Allen-Mirehouse hadn't tried to recover his costs by suing Old Grumpy.
The same could be asked about Cllrs Maurice Hughes and Brian Hall, and Cllr Hall's former business partner Dr Michael Ryan, who have all bombarded me threatening letters without ever taking the plunge by serving a writ.
My own theory is that they prefer to operate in the twilight world of county hall rather than the truth-seeking environment that is the High Court.
It seems that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse has given the matter some thought because among the documents I inspected this morning was a brief account of a meeting on 9 October 2007 with his solicitor Robin Havard.
It reads "RH. Jam re course of action available re Stoddard (sic) 42 mins £140.
I am pleased to report that this is not one of the bills picked up by the taxpayer.
Food for thought
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has dealt another blow to the bogus science behind the organic food movement.
A review of past research on behalf of the FSA by Dr Alan Dangour has concluded that: A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.
The basis for the museli and sandals movement's claims is that organic food is produced without the use of chemicals.
As everything is made up of chemicals this must of necessity be a myth.
The fact is that there is absolutely no difference between a nitrate ion emanating from the rear end of a cow and one made in a Fisons factory.
And another shibboleth that needs knocking on the head is biodiversity.
The reason we humans, generally speaking, have sufficient to eat is that we have biodiversity under control.
As I contemplate my garden, and the number of organisms that would like to share my crops with me, I wonder how many acres of uncontrolled wilderness would be required to support a family of five hunter-gatherers.
There are the slugs and snails; cabbage, carrot, turnip and onion flies; caterpillars of various shapes and sizes; aphids; and fungi, not to mention the birds.
This year, for the first time ever, something - a vole is suspected - has taken to nibbling the beetroot to the point where all that is left is a hollowed out shell.
None of these organisms gives a damn if I go to bed hungry.
So why should I be sensitive to their wellbeing?
According to the Daily Telegraph: " Andrew Flintoff has been sleeping with an ice-machine in a bid to be fit for the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston."
No doubt some of you will be wondering why, if that's all that's required, you haven't got a shedful of test caps.
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