6 July 2004
Long arm of the law
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Mid Glamorgan County Council mounted a cover up in the case of John Owen, the drama teacher who was the subject of serious allegations of sexual abuse against children in his care.
Sadly, that is what institutions do when faced with a scandal in their own ranks.
It almost seems to be taken as read that the reputation of the institution must be protected even if it runs counter to the purposes for which it was established.
You only need to look at what happened in America, Ireland and elsewhere when Catholic priests were accused of sexual offences against children.
Or the child-abuse scandal in local authority children's homes in north Wales that only came to light after persistent complaints over many years.
Usually, the facts only emerge following the occurrence of some really serious incident that can't be ignored or, when a credible whistleblower pops up from inside the organisation itself.
But how many such events are quietly buried, never again to see the light of day?
Take the Ian Huntley case, for instance.
If Huntley had carried out the non-lethal sexual assault that he probably had planned, would we ever have heard of the sorry state of affairs inside the Humberside police force or that Huntley was taken on without his references being checked.
Almost certainly not.
He would have been quietly sacked, as was his predecessor, who had also showed an unhealthy interest in the little girls with who he came into contact.
The only ray of hope is that these cover-ups are never quite as complete as their perpetrators would like.
There is always the possibility that some hitherto unconsidered fact will come to the surface, or someone troubled by conscience will blow the gaffe.
Or, even, that some terrier-like journalist will eventually find the missing pieces of the jigsaw.
I suppose those who believe in truth and justice can take heart from the fact that in Owen's case the allegations dated back to 1991.
The long arm of the law, and all that.
I am afraid I am going to have to burden you with some numbers.
Since 1992, there have been three General Elections and two Welsh Assembly elections and, in the nine contests in Pembrokeshire, Labour has emerged victorious every time.
In the vast majority of these polls the Conservatives came in in second place.
Contrast Labour's nine-nil lead in national elections with the recent County Council elections when they managed to win only 12 (20%) of the seats.
There were special reasons for Labour's poor showing this time round, not least the war in Iraq, but even in 1999, when Mr Blair was at the height of his popularity, the party only won 14 of the 60 County Council seats.
Even more remarkable is that the Tories, the second biggest party in Pembrokeshire, won not a single seat.
Now for another set of figures!
At the recent County Council elections there were 83 Independent/no description candidates, 30 Labour, 19 Lib Dem, 19 Plaid Cymru and a solitary Conservative.
So, where have all the Tories gone?
Explaining the party's poor showing in Wales during a television interview, Conservative spokesman Glyn Davies said that the reason his party had failed to pick up as many seats as expected was that it was traditional in rural Wales for conservatives to stand as Independents.
So, there you have it: the Independent Political Group on Pembrokeshire County Council is, in part, at least, a Tory Party front.
I suppose the interesting question is: would Peter Stock have had the biggest majority of anyone in the county if he had stood as a fully paid-up member of the Tory party?
Fit and proper persons?
The County Council's Leader, Cllr John Davies, has announced his top team, including the elevation of two newly elected members to the Cabinet.
The elevation of these tyros is to be welcomed if only because it overthrows the iron law of Buggin's Turn that that has determined these things in the past.
However, the indications are that the old guard still wields significant power and influence.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the appointment of Cllr Alwyn Luke to the chairmanship of the Children and Young Persons Overview and Scrutiny Committee with a special responsibility allowance of almost £8,000 a year.
It is not as if the Leader isn't aware of Cllr Luke's penchant for expense fiddling (See Crooked Road).
Indeed, before I wrote Crooked Road, I telephoned Cllr Davies to make sure the facts, as set out in his expense claim, were true.
During that conversation he intimated that he had included the information about his passengers because he suspected something like that might happen.
And I didn't get the impression that he was referring to Cllrs John Thomas and Roy Folland, both of whom have impeccable expense claiming records.
Then there was the business of the two receipts from the "Black Boy" cafe in Caernarfon where, on the face of it, Cllr Luke tucked into gammon and chips at £6.25 on both 26 and 27 April 2001.
However, on subjecting the 27 April receipt to closer overview and scrutiny it can be seen that it has been crudely altered (forged?) and that the original date is actually the 26th.
And, it would seem, you don't even have to be especially bright to qualify for a fancy title plus an extra £180 a week because further examination reveals that the serial number on the 26 April receipt is 8252 and, on that for the following day, 8251.
And, for those of you with a liking for irony, I notice from his expense claim that, just two weeks earlier, he was council's representative at a seminar in Methyr Tydfil on the, um, er "Standards and Ethical Framework".
Then, of course, there is Cllr Brian Hall - reappointed as Cabinet member for transport and the environment - whose unorthodox expense claiming practices are well documented in these pages (See The untouchables.).
One theory circulating in County Hall is that Cllr Davies has kept some of the ancien regime in place to ensure a quiet life in his first few months in office.
Once he gets his feet firmly under the table, so the theory goes, out will come the axe.
Whether this is substance, spin or pure speculation, only time will tell.
As predicted last week, Cllr John Davies has created four new posts of deputy Cabinet member bringing the number of members on the Leader's payroll to 28 (out of sixty).
A friend points out that this is not the end of Cllr Davies' patronage because a meeting of the Cabinet back in May 2002 also gave the Leader absolute power to appoint members to outside bodies, some of which involve lashings of extra gravy.
These include members of the National Park Authority (£1,100 for a bog standard member - more if you become chairman) and the Police Authority (£6,500 a year).
The upshot is that it is possible for more than half the council to be depending on the Leader's benevolence.
Or, as a cynic might put it, in the Leader's pocket.
I can't think that, in a democracy, it can be healthy for one person to hold such overwhelming power.
Defenders of the system tell me that Cllr Davies is a nice man who would never abuse his position.
That's as may be, but it is always advisable to design systems that are proof against the worst possible set of circumstances.
I don't suppose the buses are all that frequent in Cilgerran but consider who might be the next Leader if Cllr Davies was unfortunate enough to fall under one.
It is at this time of year that I begin to regret planting so many broad beans - six fifteen foot rows.
Admittedly, it is nice to have plentiful stocks in the freezer, as an alternative to an unremitting winter diet of swedes, savoy cabbage and leeks, but the prospect of all that shelling and blanching rather takes the gloss off it.
To make matters worse there seems to be a bumper crop this year, so I'll be picking them by the dustbin full.
I suppose I could avoid much of this toil and trouble by giving most of them away.
However, now that I've written this, it will have to be to people without access to the Internet, otherwise they'll know the gift is motivated by idleness rather than generosity.
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