1 March 2005

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net


Hall's fall

There are several interesting things I could have written about this week.
For instance: how the Chairman of the County Council, Cllr John Thomas, refused to allow opposition members to ask questions about the authority's £161 million budget.
The Chairman has absolute powers in these matters and we all know what Lord Acton had to say about that.
Or, I could have described how Notices of Motion submitted by Labour Leader Joyce Watson and myself, calling for assistant Cabinet members to be barred from serving on scrutiny committees, were both roundly defeated.
We argued that these four ACMs are appointed to their £4,500-a-year posts by the Leader, and can be fired by the Leader without reference to anyone, and are, therefore, in no position to objectively scrutinise the activities of the Leader and his Cabinet.
Just like the Home Secretary's controversial proposal to give himself the power to lock up citizens without recourse to the judges, this issue involves the constitutional principle of the separation of powers.
However, while the Tories in Parliament are four square behind the doctrine, the Tories who rule in County Hall, under the guise of the "Independent Political Group", were unanimously against it.
Whether this is down to ignorance, hypocrisy or just good old fashioned political opportunism, I will leave you to decide.
Then there is the question of the true nature of the Independent Political Group.
I have lost count of the times that members of this party have denied signing up to join.
The highly-intelligent people who read this column will be wondering how you can be a member of an organisation that you haven't joined, but one shouldn't expect too much by way of intellectual rigour from people who fail to see the logical inconsistency of something called the Independent Political Group.
I have thought of referring to them as The Oxymorons but I fear some of them may take it as a personal insult.
I have now obtained a copy of the official form headed "Notice of Constitution of a Political Group" signed by all 38 of them which, thanks to my new-found expertise with the scanner, can be seen at The Party.
However, detailed consideration of these and other important matters will have to wait for another day because, this week, following the BBC's screening of last Thursday's highly entertaining Dragon's Eye, I have been cast in the role of TV critic.
First of all, it was hardly a novelty to be told that Brian Hall is a thug and a bully.
After all, even if you've never met him, you will have read of his exploits in the papers; particularly the occasion when he was censored by the county council for threatening Cllrs David Edwards and the late Aled ap Gwynedd with violence following a meeting where they had disagreed with his point of view.
He might have been forgiven this episode had he not treated the whole thing as a joke by turning up to the meeting, where the motion of censure was to be debated, armed with a pair of imitation dueling pistols, a whip, and other assorted mock armaments.
Also during the debate he challenged David Edwards to a bout of fisticuffs "if he was man enough".
As Mr Edwards weighs in at about eight-and-a-half stone in a full suit of armour, nobody could accuse the burly Hall of fighting above his weight.
Nor was the talk of his connections with the underworld new to me.
Several people have told me of these boasts.
Indeed one former business associate even provided the name of the of the Manchester gangland capo whose services Hall claimed he could call upon to sort out any little local difficulties.
I happen to believe this is little more than Hall acting the big shot.
Indeed, my information is that this particular Godfather has been dead for some years, but I am withholding his name just in case his relatives are still in business.
However, whether or not these threats are genuine is rather beside the point because the purpose is to intimidate his critics into silence.
Even a one percent chance of a couple of Mancunian hoods turning up on your doorstep is likely to give even the boldest pause for thought.
It was also interesting to hear what BBC executive Huw Roberts had to say about Hall's Irish connections.
Mr Roberts said that "...one of the things he [Hall] said was that, were Simon [Morris] [the BBC journalist who conducted the first Dragon's Eye investigation] ever to go to Ireland, he wouldn't come back - that he, Mr Hall, knew people in Ireland who could sort things out."
As regular readers will know, Old Grumpy takes a keen interest in Hall's contacts in Ireland (see Ryan-Hall).
There is also the strange business of the entry Hall made in the statutory register of members' interests on 13 October 2000 (see below)
This was just three days before Dr Ryan's fax arrived in Pembrokeshire.
I suspect that the close proximity of these two events is no coincidence but, despite expending a considerable amount of time and fuel (£3.99 Chilean) on the problem, I have been unable to devise a watertight theory that connects them.
My best guess is that it was some sort of backside-covering exercise in case his relationship with Dr Ryan ever came to light.

What is really rather peculiar is what the District Auditor had to say about this entry in the register: "Cllr Hall declared a business interest in Ireland on 13 October 2000 but this is not in his declaration dated 11 January 2002. Cllr Hall informed us that although he owns property in Ireland he has never had any other businesses in Ireland. He could not explain this other than the original declaration was in error."
It seems that the District Auditor accepted this explanation, though I will not insult your intelligence by asking you to do the same.
When I drew the attention of the Monitoring Officer to this, and two other false declarations by Cllr Hall, I was told that no investigation would take place because there was no evidence of criminal intent.
I did write back suggesting that this was a strict liability offence (like failing to licence the car) where proof of intent was not an element, but this view of the law was rejected.
For those who have not had the opportunity to see the Dragon's Eye programme it can be found on the Internet - just type "bbc wales dragon's eye" into Google, or, failing that a transcript can be found on this website at Dragon's Eye
It is interesting to compare the performance of Tory AM Glyn Davies with that of the BBC's Huw Roberts.
While Huw Roberts was willing to specify exactly what he had heard, and condemn Hall's threats in straightforward terms, Mr Davies was much more circumspect.
The word "inappropriate", or one of its derivatives, makes no fewer than six appearances, though he did once drop his guard and admit that Hall had issued "specific threats".
However, he quickly followed up that lapse into frankness by saying: "I've said I'm not going to say, myself, what was said but there were those sort of inappropriate comments."
And Mr Davies was keen to try to sweeten the pill: "It was the sort of thing you shouldn't say, but I didn't actually think he meant it" and "I'm not at all sure that Cllr Hall realises the significance of saying that sort of thing in public."
This last statement makes you wonder how someone, about who the Assembly Member can say that, comes to be in the Cabinet appointed by Cllr John Davies who, you may remember, promised that the council would be run to the "highest ethical standards" when he was elected Leader last June.
It is not that Cllr Davies was unaware of Hall's methods which were laid bare in the previous Dragon's Eye programme; transmitted prior to last June's elections (see also Fit and proper persons?).
But what was most puzzling about Glyn Davies performance was his apparent belief that he had some peacemaking role to play.
"I'd like to have a meeting with the Leader of the Council and Brian Hall to talk through what was said..." and "...I did resolve that, afterwards, I would speak with Cllr Hall and the Council Leader ... because ... I don't really want that sort of thing said in public again."
You have to go back to what I wrote just after the election to understand what is going on here (see Concealed Conservatives).
You see, as far as Mr Glyn Davies is concerned, this has the flavour of an internal Tory party matter.
I will return to the subject of how Pembrokeshire voters were duped by the Tories at a later date; in the meantime I will consider what might happen next.
The Leader has several alternatives, including:
1. Sack Hall immediately.
2. Suspend Hall pending an investigation.
3. Postpone any action until such time as any Ombudsman's inquiry is concluded.
4. Remove Hall under cover of a Cabinet reshuffle, around the time of the AGM in May.
5. Do nothing.
I have no idea which way he will jump.
However, he will not find it as easy to dispose of this matter as he and his predecessor shrugged off my allegations in the past when they accused me of conducting a vendetta against Brian Hall.
I don't do vendettas, but, as I have pointed out before, my motives are, anyway, irrelevant because they have no bearing, whatsoever, on either the distance from Magor to Pembroke Dock; the time between 1.08 pm and 2.00 pm; or the basic rules of arithmetic that connect the two (see Time Lord).
In any case, the vendetta defence is unlikely to cut much ice when the accusers are a senior BBC executive and (maybe) a member of the Welsh Assembly.
The leader is faced with a difficult decision because:
(a) Hall knows where the bodies are buried - figuratively speaking, of course.
(b) Somebody with Hall's desire to be the big shot will, most likely, react rather badly to the transformation from a nobody with power to an ordinary nobody.
(c) Whatever happens, I will be writing a book in which I will invite the public to re-examine the none too subtle cover-ups of the well-documented allegations that I have made in the past.
No doubt, the county council's cover-up machinery will be cranked up to full revs in an attempt to limit the damage.
I have been wrong about its effectiveness in the past, but I just can't see how this latest episode can be finessed.


Keep on smiling


With my speculations on how England could still win the Six Nations Championship (see Nil desperandum) reduced to ashes by Sunday's defeat in Dublin, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a bright side upon which to cast my gaze.
However, a glance at the current league table gives some cause for optimism because I notice that England have a vastly less inferior points difference (39-48) to both Scotland (40-66) and Italy ((35-84).
Following a careful analysis of possible results of the remaining matches, I have concluded that provided England beat either Scotland or Italy they should avoid the wooden spoon in some style.
I am also informed by the English Rugby Union that there is absolutely no truth in the rumours circulating in certain quarters that the only reason England campaigned for Italy's entry into the Championships was so that there would be somebody they could beat.
Indeed, the RFU point out that, if you look at the Championship table for the years immediately prior to Italy's inclusion, you will find it was not England that was facing an annual whitewash.
Innate good manners prevents them from naming names, but I think I know who they mean.
PS. Until further notice, the filter on my inbox has been modified to reject all emails containing the words Wales, France, Ireland, Spoon, England, Slam, Williams, epic, Grand, Crown, Jones, Wooden, Stephen, Martyn, come-back and Triple.
Please note, the above list is not exhaustive.

No answer, came the stern reply

 This space reserved for replies from Cllrs Bill Roberts and Islwyn Howells (see Answers please).
You will recall that Cllrs Roberts and Howells shouted me down at the meeting of council in December while I was putting the case for the disclosure of the Director of Finance's statement regarding Brian Hall's false claim for expenses.
In view of the above, you may have concluded that these two Cabinet members backed the wrong horse.
In the case of Cllr Roberts the need for a reply becomes ever more urgent because a mole in the Independent Political Group tells me that, having spent a year in the departure lounge on two-thirds pay, his plane has now arrived at the terminal and he is booked to fly off to the backbenches in a reshuffle due in May.

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