4 May 2004


email: oldgrumpy@oldgrumpy.co.uk



Interesting times

One way and another, it's been quite a momentous week, .
First we had the disgraceful business of County Council Leader, Maurice Hughes, disclosing the sickness record of an officer in the Social Services department for his own political ends.
That, of course, was overshadowed last Thursday when Dragon's Eye ripped away the veil and exposed the council's disreputable practices to the public gaze..
The County Council's reaction to the TV expose was as pathetic as it was predictable.
A press release was put out in the Leader's name, throwing mud in all directions in the hope that some would stick.
He told Radio Pembrokeshire that the whole thing had been got up by the Labour Party in order to boost its chances in the forthcoming elections.
Nick Ainger MP came in for particular criticism for his part in the devilish plot to undermine the ruling Independent Political Group.
According to Cllr Hughes, Mr Ainger is a government whip and "...most people know about the activities of Government Whips."
By attacking Nick Ainger, Cllr Hughes has opened up a dangerous second front.
In his present predicament, he would do well to heed the words of Voltaire, who, when asked on his deathbed to renounce the Devil, replied: "This is no time to be making new enemies."
In any case, this is far from being a Labour plot.
I am rather proud to say that, together with Plaid Cymru Leader Michael Williams, Richard Harris, the Editor of the Mercury, and former County Council Labour Leader David Edwards, I have had some small part to play in bringing the facts to light.
Indeed, rather than being an election ploy, the unfortunate timing of these revelations is largely down to Cllr Maurice Hughes, himself.
If, instead of mounting a cover-up backed by smears and lies, he had addressed the issue of the relationship between Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan when I first raised it with him 18 months ago, he would not now be running around like a headless chicken trying to save his own and the rest of his party's electoral bacon.
In an attempt to deflect responsibility for this public relations fiasco on to anyone other than himself, he writes: "In the past few months we have seen evidence of this [orchestrated campaign] in unfounded and unsubstantiated attacks against social services staff and their Director; against me in this week's local newspapers; and continuously against Councillor Brian Hall."
Taking these in turn:
(1) I am not aware of anyone attacking "social services staff". What have been under the cosh are the policies of Cllr Hughes' party which have, according to the critics, left social services underfunded and overstretched.
(2) It is a matter of record that, in an attempt to discredit and diminish an employee of the social services department who had written to him complaining about the pressures she was under, Cllr Hughes divulged her sickness record at an open meeting of the County Council. To describe the local papers' reaction to this shabby trick as "unfounded and unsubstantiated attacks" only demonstrates how detached from reality the Leader has become.
(3) As for the attacks on Cllr Hall's business relationship with Dr Ryan in this column, to describe them as "unfounded and unsubstantiated" is truly Orwellian. I would remind readers that on 3 March this year I published a letter from Dr Ryan to Cllr Hall which clearly shows the pair of them were conspiring to abuse their public positions to as Dr Ryan put it: "inflate our profit margins (see Hall-Ryan.The full story).
Nobody has suggested that this letter is anything but genuine, or offered any explanation as to why it was written, yet, eight weeks later, Dr Ryan is still in his £450-a-day post.
Cllr Hughes' reaction when asked about this letter a week after a copy was forwarded to the council, was to claim that, though he was aware of its existence, he had not actually seen it.
So, we have serious, well-founded and substantiated allegations against a member of his Cabinet, and, seven days having elapsed, the Leader claims not to have examined the evidence.
Does he really expect us to believe that?
Similar tactics were employed in the statement given to Dragon's Eye by Cllr Hall's solicitors in which it was claimed that, while he had no recollection of seeing the letter, he did remember discussing some of the matters in it with Dr Ryan.
Clearly, an outright denial of any knowledge would have been totally unbelievable because, as Dr Ryan's letter clearly indicates they were conspiring on an almost daily basis (It is important that we keep in touch as frequently as possible so will you give me a ring as many mornings as possible between 9.30 and 10.30 am so that we can exchange urgent information. I find it difficult to make contact with you and I don't like ringing your home all the time).
The beauty of a solicitor's statement, of course, is that it can't be cross-examined.
But I can assure readers that I didn't find Dr Ryan's letter blowing around in Charles Street.
Apparently, the BBC put in several requests for an interview and, when Cllr Hall refused, they went door stepping.
Didn't big Brian do us proud?
It was almost in the same class as the Leader slamming the door on the man from ITV.
The only problem is that these are supposed to be accountable democratic politicians, not dodgy car-salesmen being pursued by Roger Cook.
Concerning the allegations of bullying and intimidation, as one of those who testified to Dragon's Eye pointed out to me, if these allegations are really "unfounded and unsubstantiated" it would mean that half-a-dozen people, who have no obvious connection, either with each other or the Labour Party, have gone before the cameras and told deliberate lies.
How likely is that?
I'm afraid the problem with Cllr Hughes is not that he tells lies but that he is living in a fantasy world where the truth is whatever seems convenient at the time.
When asked later by Radio Pembrokeshire if he would hold an inquiry into these allegations Cllr Hughes replied: "It is very difficult to investigate something when you have no proof".
But not as difficult as when you have no logic.
The whole point of an investigation is to discover whether these allegations are well-founded. If you already have proof, investigation is superfluous.
Another beneficial effect of the Dragon's Eye programme is that, with Cllr Hall's antics the talk of the county, the Western Telegraph will no longer be able to ignore the story.

Silent majority

I cannot let the events of the past week go by without a word about the real unsung anti-heroes of this saga - the slavishly loyal members of the Independent Political Group whose votes have kept this horror-show on the road for the past five years.
As my former colleague at the Mercury, and now editor, Richard Harris, once observed, if there was an Olympic event for synchronised voting this lot would win it hands down, or should it be hands up.
Of course, most of them can say in all honesty that they don't go around telling lies and smearing and threatening anyone who stands in their way.
Alas, nor do they seem prepared to stand up and say "enough is enough" when their leaders do so in their names.
I'm afraid that all too many of them lapse into the error of coming to believe that their duty is to defend the council rather than the interests of those who elected them.
To test this theory out I rang Milford's only Independent Political Group member George Max.
It is now eight weeks since I sent Cllr Max a copy of Dr Ryan's letter to Cllr Hall.
And what has he done in the meantime? why, absolutely nothing.
I was also keen to hear what Cllr Max had to say about the paltry amounts of capital spending in the town which he represents compared to Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock (see Same old story).
Not much it seems.
He told me that the Town Clerk had written to the Leader on three occasions but still awaited a reply.
The first of these letters was sent on 6 February. Twelve weeks have elapsed since then but, in all that time, it doesn't seem to have occurred to Cllr Max that he might nip along to County Hall and give his party leader the gee-up.
What do these people think they're for?


Nosey Leader

Last Thursday, I was telephoned by Cllr Michael Williams the Plaid Cymru leader on the County Council.
Cllr Williams had, that day, received a letter from Cllr Maurice Hughes, the opening sentence of which read: "Attached please find a copy of emails sent to you prior to the October 2003 meeting of this council."
Cllr Williams had submitted a notice of motion to the October meeting calling for the District Auditor to investigate the relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and Dr Michael Ryan.
Naturally, as I had been investigating this relationship for more than a year, and was in possession of crucial documents relating to the case, Cllr Williams and I were in close contact.
The "emails" were from me.
Our first thought was that someone had hacked into one of our computers, but, on reflection, the explanation of how these "emails" had fallen into enemy hands occurred to me.
What happened was that I tried to email Cllr Williams but the messages were returned.
As he is not in possession of a fax machine I agreed to post the messages into a spare slot on my website where he could download and read them.
Unfortunately, I forgot to remove the messages so what was intended to be a temporary expedient became a permanent fixture on the website which somebody must have come across during a random trawl through my back numbers.
As it is no secret to anyone who reads this column that Cllr Williams and I have been co-operating closely in the exposure of the Hall/Ryan conspiracy, and I certainly have nothing to hide, the offending "emails" can be read at (M williams).
This splendid piece of detective work clearly excited the Leader who wrote a most curious, half-threatening letter to Cllr Williams, including such memorable paragraphs as: "I note that Mr Stoddart has never publicly declared his support for Plaid Cymru. Is it usual for members of your Party to use non-party members as their advisers? Do you think it is appropriate, and do you think your Party President would also think it appropriate?"
Or, in the schoolboy language above which the Independents find it difficult to rise, "I'll tell on you".
Another paragraph reads: "You claim that you hardly know Mr Stoddart, so I find the rather cosy style of these emails rather perplexing."
I am at a loss to know what the cosiness, or otherwise, of my relationship with Cllr Williams has to do with the County Council.
But, to satisfy the Leader's curiosity, I can say that, to the best of my recollection, we have each twice visited the other's homes and - the Kremlin on Cleddau's intelligence service can make of this what they will - the last time I was in Tenby I was accompanied by Old Grumpette and Cllr William's wife, whose name is Yvonne, made us all a nice cup of tea.
There! I can't be more open than that!
It seems that the Leader's curiosity knows no bounds because in the penultimate paragraph he demands: "Will you also confirm who the "David" is who is referred to in the final line of the email?"
Now, the fact that Cllr Williams and I have a mutual friend/acquaintance called David, who is also interested in the Hall/Ryan scandal, is no business of the County Council.
However, in view of the fact that the Leader has more than enough on his plate with Dragon's Eye; the drubbing he received in last week's local papers over his own breach of confidence: and an election to be fought, I wouldn't want him pounding the streets of Marlins Bridge with a puzzled look on his face and scratching his head.
So I can reveal that the David in question is a Mr Edwards of Stackpole who was formerly Leader of the Labour Group on the County Council.
Fortunately my mother does not have access to a computer because if she found out that I was consorting with socialists and nationalists I'd be out of the will before you could say codicil.
It would seem that His Leadership is suffering from some form of acute megalomania because he ends his letter: "On the basis of your reply, I shall decide what further action I shall take with regard to these messages."
What "further action" does His Leadership think is open to him?
The Gulag, perhaps!

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