October 14 2003

 

Bunkered

A year ago, when Old Grumpy first raised the issue of the business partnership between Cllr Brian Hall and the County Council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan, the authority rushed out a press release, signed by Leader Maurice Hughes, rubbishing my claims that this relationship gave rise to a conflict of interest.
However, when I began asking questions about some of the finer details of this press release the Leader refused to answer (see Half truths), though I did eventully manage to prise information out of other County Council sources which showed that, in some important aspects, the press release was, to put it mildly, misleading.
Having tried, and failed, to lie its way out of the problem, last week the County Council, through His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes tried a different tack and resorted to bullying Cllr Michael Williams in order to keep the lid on the situation (see Sound and fury).
That didn't work either and now, I hear, they have adopted a new approach: smearing me by questioning my motives.
Apparently, the word is that the allegations published on my website about Hall and Ryan's activities in Pembroke Dock is all part of my vendetta against Cllr Hall.
I must say that publishing what Maurice Hughes refers to as "spurious allegations" on my website: in effect, serving myself up on a platter to be sued, is a strange way to conduct a vendetta.
Moreover, I don't do vendettas - not personal ones, at least.
If I am involved in a vendetta - campaign is my preferred description - it is against the culture of lies and spin that prevails in County Hall, and the only reason Brian Hall features so frequently in this column is that he one of the key players.
So, having set myself the daunting task of dismantling the County Council's lie machine, it is inevitable that Hall and I will clash.
The good news is that I have assembled a nearly full set of spanners and, with luck, the wheels should start to fall off sometime soon.
In addition to the lies, the bullying and the smears, the County Council's tactic of last resort is to descend into the bunker and refuse to answer questions. This is the same line as was taken when I challenged the Leader over the mendacious press release he issued on 6 November last year (see Half truths).
So, in his letter to Cllr Williams, His Leadership says "I do not see why Cllr Hall should waste his time refuting spurious allegations - allegations which I find it hard to believe can be taken seriously by anyone."
Well, I take them seriously and, with every day that passes without either refutation or legal action, so do an increasing number of other people.
It is not that the council is against refutation in principle.
Only last week, in the same letter to Cllr Williams, His Leadership wrote: "I have made enquiries into the alleged "improper business relationship" and I am satisfied there is absolutely no substance whatsoever to the suggestion that Dr Ryan and Councillor Hall were planning to buy and run the Cleddau Bridge Hotel."
That is an easy allegation to refute because it is not one I have ever made.
The difficulty Cllr Hughes and his puppet masters face is that if they refute the actual allegations, and they then turn out to be true, they will be accused, justifiably, of involvement in a cover-up.
So, not knowing exactly what I information I have, they calculate it is better to keep their heads down and hope the storm will blow over.
They would be unwise to bet on that outcome.
One of the council's central arguments in defence of the Hall/Ryan business relationship is that, in order to avoid any conflict of interest, the two men gave a "contractually enforceable" undertaking, by way of a letter from ORA International Ltd, dated 3 September 2000, signed by Dr Ryan in his capacity as Managing Director, not to trade in Pembrokeshire .
As a matter of law, that proposition is not, in my opinion, sustainable.
However, even if such a contractually binding agreement exists, my information is that Hall and Ryan had every intention of breaking it.
To avoid confusion, the allegations are that in mid-October 2000, just six weeks after the September 3 letter was written, Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan were planning to set up a private limited company for the purpose of:

(1) Muscling in on the masterplanning and project management of a large scheme in Pembroke Dock.
(2) Planning a buyout of Pembrokeshire Business Initiative (PBI).
(3) Progressing a scheme to line their own pockets by buying up controlling interests (on the cheap) in small, struggling, local companies; the targets to be selected by Cllr Hall, using information gained in his position as a councillor.

A month after these plots were hatched, Dr Ryan and Cllr Hall spent the four days (16-19 November 2000) together in Pembroke Dock. As I have said before, it is highly irregular, unprecedented indeed, for an elected member to be assigned such duties, which are properly the province of officers.
How much of the more than £2,000 this outing cost was devoted to the business of the Council Taxpayers, who were picking up the bill, and how much to Dr Ryan and Cllr Hall's own schemes?
And on how many of the other occasions, when the taxpayer was paying ORA International £450-a-day for the services of Dr Ryan, was he running round the county, with or without Cllr Hall, in pursuit of his own ends?
I read in the Mercury that Cllr Michael Williams has put down a Notice of Motion for the next meeting of Full Council calling for the District Auditor to conduct an investigation into this whole affair.
It will be interesting to see if the debate is allowed to go ahead.
If it does, I hope Cllr Williams calls for a recorded vote so that we can all see how many of the Independent Political (sic) Group come down on the side of the truth.

Give me a break

 

The forces of reaction have gained the upper hand in the "Holiday Wars" (See last week).
On Monday, Old Grumpette ordered me on to RFU's website to find out when England were playing Italy so that she could book flights and accommodation.
The welcome news was that the match is scheduled for February 17, right in the middle of the Roman winter.
A few well chosen words about the continental air coming down from Siberia, over the Alps, freezing the Trevi fountain, soon put that idea to bed.
However, having been swindled out of her week in the sun, page two of the Daily Telegraph has remained required reading.
"What was the temperature in Naples, yesterday?" she asked on Tuesday morning.
"Sixty-eight", I replied, "the same as Bournemouth".
"And it was 66 in Cardiff", I added, "so if you are prepared to wear a lightweight sweater you'd have felt just as warm there."
On Sunday morning I noticed Old Grumpette taking a special interest in the Sunday Times' weather map.
"It was 73 in Naples, yesterday," she announced, triumphantly.
"So what?" I countered, "Yesterday, we would have been on the plane home".
Game, set and match to Old Grumpy?
Not quite, I'm afraid, because there are disturbing signs that she is regrouping for a counter attack.
Last friday I noticed a glossy brochure for holidays in Libya had appeared on the coffee table.
This could be hard to resist because, in the years immediately following the Second World War, Old Grumpette spent several years in Tripoli where her father was serving in the army. I can't think "too hot and sandy" is going to be adequate to overcome all that sentimental stuff about revisiting her childhood memories etc etc.
I see difficult times ahead.

Free press

Last week the Nobel committee awarded this year's Peace Prize to Shirin Ibadi, an Iranian civil rights campaigner
Ms Ibadi is the first Iranian, and the first Moslem woman, to be so honoured.
So, when the award was announced on the midday news last Thursday, it was straight over to the BBC's correspondent in Teheran, Jim Muir, to find out the reaction in Iran.
There wasn't any, Muir reported, because the state controlled media were keeping the lid on the news until the Mullahs informed them of the official line.
What price truth, justice and democracy when the newspapers are in thrall to the ruling authorities!

 

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