25 May 2004
The truth will out
Old Grumpy makes no apology for returning to the District Audit Service's (DAS) report into the business relationship between Dr Michael Ryan and Cllr Brian Hall.
There are issues involved in this case that bring into question the very integrity of our democracy and I am determined to force the truth out into the open.
If anyone thinks that I am about to let this matter drop then all I can say is the thinking is not their strong point.
I have spent the past week subjecting the District Audit Service's (DAS) report into the Hall/Ryan scandal to minute scrutiny and I have written to the DAS pointing out what I consider to be serious flaws in both the evidence and conclusions drawn from it.
As I explained last week, divulging certain information in the report could lead to a two-year term of imprisonment.
Much as I like Swansea as a city, I don't imagine Mumbles looks all that attractive through the bars of the nick.
So, I will tread carefully for the moment, though I don't rule out the possibility that I might reveal some of the more glaring inconsistencies in the report and take my chances with the jury if the authorities dare to prosecute.
One of the issues, I raised with the DAS, is whether the five meetings between the two men, for which Hall claimed expenses, were "approved duties".
The first of these was in November 2000 when Hall and Ryan spent four days touring Pembroke Dock together in the company of a Mr Pat O'Sullivan.
According to the auditor: "Under the Members' travel and Subsistence Scheme, to be eligible for reimbursement of expenses incurred, these duties need to be approved by the Chief Executive".
This is the sort of statement much loved by spin-doctors because, while it is perfectly true, it creates a false impression in the mind of the reader.
Approval by the Chief Executive is, as the philosophers say, a necessary but not sufficient condition.
What the council's regulations actually defines as an approved duty is: "Attendance by the Leader and other group leaders (or their nominated representative(s)) at such meetings approved by the Chief Executive for the proper discharge of the business of the authority."
So, the member has to be nominated by the Leader and, I would suggest, the Leader must have some interest that needs representing.
The key question is whether the Leader and the Chief Executive were aware of the relationship between Hall and Ryan when Hall was "nominated" and the expenditure "approved".
I know the answer, but I am not allowed to tell.
It will be remembered that, just four weeks before this tour of Pembroke Dock, Ryan had written a letter (see Ryan - Hall special edition.) asking Hall to " ... keep in touch as frequently as possible so will you ring me as many mornings as possible between 9.30 and 10.30 am so that we can exchange urgent information."
Are we to believe that they spent four whole days together - at our expense - and never once discussed "urgent information" concerning their own business plans?
Or, even more to the point, could someone in possession of all the facts [Ryan's letter to Hall] be satisfied that, as the Code of Conduct puts it, there was no "... occasion for suspicion and any appearance of improper conduct".
While I am prevented by law from revealing what is in the DAS's report, there is nothing to stop from telling you what is missing.
And I can assure you there is no mention that Cllr Hall was nominated by the Leader Maurice Hughes to be his representative at this four day meeting.
Nor is there any hint that His Leadership nominated Hall to take Dr Ryan out to lunch at taxpayers expense on 23 and 24 January 2001.
And, although I drew the DAS's attention to all these events, nor is there a word about 2 May 2002 when, according to his expense claim, Hall took Dr Ryan on a tour of Pembrokeshire which took in "County Hall, Pembrokeshire Colledge (sic) and Pembroke Dock".
Finally, it is not easy to see why His Leadership would need to be represented on 12 September 2001 when Cllr Hall claimed travelling expenses for driving from Pembroke Dock to Withybush airfield to meet Dr Ryan off a plane.
Much is made in the DAS report of the fact that Hall and Ryan's company, Euro-Ryall Ltd, never traded.
I am not sure that that is absolutely true because the company did produce a profit and loss account for the year 2001, but what is for certain is that they never made any money.
But that was not for want of ambition.
In his letter to Hall of 16 October 2000, Dr Ryan outlines the opportunities for taking over Pembrokeshire companies: "What we would be doing is taking them over at low cost, retaining the key personnel, utilising their contracts and business networks and inflating our profit margins."
In other words, they were intending to line their own pockets by preying on struggling small businesses in the county.
The reason none of these plans ever came to fruition was that they were unable to find anybody daft enough to part with their hard-earned cash in exchange for the "expertise" in the fields of "Masterplanning and Project Management"of the ex-Dublin policeman and the former owner of a two-pump filling station in Pembroke Dock.
Certainly, at the time of the four day procession around Pembroke Dock, in November 2000, the two of them had every intention of trading in Pembrokeshire and that that intention continued is evidenced by the fact that they eventually formed the company Euro-Ryall on 30 December 2000.
I would suggest that these events should be looked at in the light of the circumstances at the time and not on those prevailing four years later.
If there is evidence that two men have set out to burgle a house, they are not immune to a charge of conspiracy because they are frustrated in their enterprise when the car breaks down on the way to the target.
Last week, I explained that the Audit Commission Act 1998 forbids the disclosure of certain information in the DAS report on pain of a maximum penalty of two years in jail.
However, the Act does contain a saving clause which allows disclosure with the consent of the persons to whom the information relates.
It is now more than a week since I wrote to County Council Chief Executive, Bryn Parry-Jones; Head of Marketing, David Thomas: Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes; Cllr Brian Hall; and Dr Michael Ryan seeking such consent.
All I have received is a postcard from the County Council acknowledging my letters.
As I am sure that these highly paid public servants told the DAS the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and therefore have nothing to hide, I am assuming that their failure to give immediate consent is because they are all tied up in various ways with the election.
I am also somewhat surprised not to have received a writ from Dr Ryan.
Last summer, the doctor's Cardiff solicitors wrote to me threatening to sue unless I retracted my defamatory statements ( see 20 May 2003) and issued an apology.
Then, on 19 December last, a second letter arrived, via my solicitors, repeating the demand for a retraction and apology and a "formal undertaking (in a format to be agreed) confirming that he will refrain from repeating or publishing or causing to be repeated or published the same or similar allegations against our client."
In what can only have been a move designed to put me off my Christmas turkey this second letter informed me that Dr Ryan was also seeking reimbursement of "his legal costs to date in the sum of £3,295.57 (Vat inc), together with additional expenses to be confirmed by our client shortly".
Demands for apologies are one thing but now these people were talking serious money, so, after a decent interval, I sent them a copy of their client's 16 October 2000 letter to Hall and, as they say, the rest is silence.
However, now that the DAS has cleared Dr Ryan of any wrongdoing, I would have expected him to have me in court before you could say m'learned friend.
But almost two weeks have elapsed and not a peep out of him.
Of course, it could be that Dr Ryan's solicitors share my opinion that a High Court Judge is unlikely to take the same charitable view of the events in early Autumn 2000 as the DAS, or, even, that some of the evidence; treated as gospel by the DAS, might lose its shine if subject to rigorous cross-examination, under oath, by some clever QC.
On the other hand, it might just be that Dr Ryan's attention is focussed elsewhere because I read on the website of the Dublin-based Sunday Business Post (SBP) that he is involved in a serious spat with the Irish Minister of Defence, Michael Smith, over the relocation of the Civil Defence Board HQ from Dublin to Roscrea.
Ryan, who is Chairman of the Civil Defence Board, opposes the move and has been manoeuvring behind the scenes to thwart the Minister's plans.
Smith, it seems, takes a dim view and has asked for Dr Ryan's resignation from the Civil Defence Board.
Ryan has refused to go and now Smith is threatening to give him the boot.
As the SBP puts it, the dispute has now "gone legal" with both parties expecting the matter to end up in the High Court in Dublin.
The Minister has commissioned a report by General Secretary to the Department of Defence, David O'Callaghan, who found that Ryan's behaviour "hampered the board's effective performance of all its functions."