This week I will try to disentangle truth from fiction in
the not unimportant matter of the timing of Cllr Brian Hall's
first meeting with his business partner Dr Michael Ryan.
In his report on the investigation into this matter, the auditor
says: "From Dr Ryan's correspondence with us, he suggests
he first met Cllr Hall when he visited the council between 4-7
You have to ask yourself: would Ryan have started his fax to
Hall dated 16 October 2000: "I have at last completed the
first draft of the business plan ..." if he had only met
him 9-12 days earlier?
Several other passages in this 16 October fax (see Hall-Ryan)
would seem to indicate that this relationship was more than 12
There is also the matter of the business plan that accompanied
the fax in which it is stated, under the heading "Marketing",
that: "To date Dr Ryan and Brian Hall have been requested
to participate in a number of projects, such as:
Recreation & Conference Centre Project (Masterplanning and
Investment Project aligned to Pembroke Dock redevelopment
Commission Objective 1 Project Finance Design & Submission."
All in 12 days (max)?
Then, of course there is the little question of the "private
letter" Cllr Hall sent to the, then, Leader, Cllr Maurice
Hughes, informing him of his intention to go into business with
That letter is dated 20 September 2000 - more than three weeks
before they first met, if Ryan is to be believed,.
One thing that strikes me about the auditor's report is the almost
complete absence of precise dates.
With the exception of the two quoted above, and the date of Dr
Ryan's application for the post, every other date in the report
comes from the evidence I provided to the auditor.
As the auditor says at paragraph 26 of his report: "We
have been unable to clarify the exact date when Cllr Hall met
Dr Ryan as the information provided to us differs somewhat although
this is based on recollections from nearly four years ago."
Actually, the events concerned occurred during the 11 week period
between 1 August 2000 and 16 October 2000, and the auditor was
asked to investigate the matter by the Cllr Maurice Hughes in
a letter dated 15 October 2003, which, even the less numerate
will be able to calculate, is a little over three years.
Given the compressed time-scale, the precise dates of various
events in the period 1 August 2000 and 16 October 2000 are crucial
to a full understanding of what really went on.
Paragraph 27. "Cllr Hall initially informed us that he
first met Dr Ryan in September or October 2000 [Why the vagueness
if he had written a letter to Cllr Hughes on 20 September 2000?].
The Chief Executive recalls introducing Dr Ryan to Cllr Hall
in a meeting in his office after ORA Ltd had been awarded the
contract. From Dr Ryan's correspondence with us, he suggests
he first met Cllr Hall when he visited the Council between 4-7
Para 28. "Subsequently Cllr Hall provided us with a private
letter he wrote to the Leader dated 20 September setting out
that he was going into business with Dr Ryan. This indicates
[ proves, if Hall's letter is genuine] that Cllr Hall
and Dr Ryan met earlier than the date suggested [claimed]
by Dr Ryan.
In fact, there is no need for any of this uncertainty because,
following his visits Pembrokeshire, Dr Ryan tenders an invoice
for his travelling expenses.
In addition, the council receives a bill from the hotel at which
he stayed, usually the Cleddau Bridge, which is paid direct.
Either of these sets of documents, to which the auditor has unrestricted
access, would have fixed the dates when Dr Ryan was in Pembrokeshire
and, as only seven weeks had elapsed between his appointment
and Cllr Hall's private letter to the Leader, it would have been
not too difficult to narrow down the possibilities.
Failing that, an inspection of the diary of Dr Ryan's line manager,
David Thomas, would have yielded the information required to
resolve this "apparent inconsistency".
Unfortunately, I was unaware of the business relationship between
Hall and Ryan when the council's financial books for 2000/2001
were open for public inspection so I don't have these documents
However, my information from inside County Hall is that Ryan
visited Pembrokeshire in mid-August 2000 which I would suggest
is when the introduction identified by the Chief Executive as
"after ORA Ltd had been awarded the contract",
I have asked Mr David Thomas when it will be convenient to inspect
the file on Ryan's contract, so that I can confirm this for myself,
but he has yet to reply.
Still, only three months until the Freedom of Information Act
comes into effect.
Now, you might well ask, why, when they had more than six months
to concoct a half-watertight story - the auditor started his
inquiry in October 2003 and reported in May 2004 - Ryan and Hall
provided these clearly inconsistent accounts of when they first
Well,to actually tell the truth in these circumstances might
be worse than telling an obvious lie.
Go back to the middle of August, when, I suggest, Mr Parry-Jones
introduced them to each other in his office.
I have no idea what the Chairman of the Highways Committee was
doing at a meeting between an economic development consultant
and the Chief Executive, but I know from an inspection of Hall's
expense claims that he is in and out of the great man's office
on a fairly regular basis..
But you have to try to imagine what happened next.
"Dr Ryan let me introduce you to Cllr Brian Hall our chairman
of Highways who has just popped in to pay homage, as he often
does" the Chief Executive might have said.
So far so good, but how do you get from there to the situation
just eight weeks later when Ryan is sending his October 16 fax
to Hall outlining their well advanced plans to trade in Pembrokeshire?
It is especially difficult to imagine how this could be achieved
seeing that Dr Ryan was most of the time in Limerick while Hall
was in Pembrokeshire.
If that is difficult, think how much harder it is for the same
progress to be achieved in the six weeks between September 3,
when Ryan wrote to Thomas promising not to trade in Pembrokeshire,
and October 16 when he wrote to Hall outlining their detailed
plans to do just that.
That, I would suggest, is why Dr Ryan decided to propagate the
obvious lie about his first meeting with Hall.
If it was admitted that they had been plotting to make their
fortunes in Pembrokeshire since mid-August it would have made
the "contractually enforceable undertaking" in the
letter of 3 September look as dodgy as it undoubtedly was..
Now let us return to Cllr Hall's "private letter" to
the Leader dated 20 September 2000.
This letter troubles me because I have grave reservations about
You may remember that when I first revealed Hall and Ryan's involvement
in the company Euro-Ryall Ltd (see ORA
story) the then Leader, Maurice Hughes, rushed out a press
release (at least he signed it) in which he claimed: ""The
Council is fully aware of the company Euroryall (sic). Before
the company was registered the principals [Ryan and Hall]
approached officers of the Council. They gave firm undertakings
that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide
any conflict of interest."
I sent five emails to Cllr Hughes asking him for the names of
the officers involved, the date they were approached and the
nature of the firm undertakings: verbal or written.
Having failed to get a response, I took the matter up with the
Council's Monitoring Officer who told me, in a letter dated 20
February 2003: "It is Dr Ryan who has entered into a
consultancy arrangement with the Council. In that capacity he
gave a written undertaking that a company in which he was involved
would not trade in Pembrokeshire."
In my reply, dated 24 February, I said: "You say the
Dr Ryan has given a 'written undertaking' not to trade in Pembrokeshire
which is 'contractually enforceable'.
As your letter makes no mention of Cllr Hall, I assume he has
made no such contractually enforceable promise.
That would seem to be at odds with the press statement issued
by the Leader which states quite clearly that "... the principals
[Dr Ryan and Cllr Hall] approached officers of the Council. They
(my emphasis) gave firm undertakings that the company would not
trade in Pembrokeshire."
During the public audit in October 2002 I had exercised my
statutory rights to have a copy of ORA's contract with the Council.
I pointed out to the Monitoring Officer that the council had
omitted to provide me with a copy of Dr Ryan's 'written undertaking'
which was clearly part of that contract.
On 13 March the Monitoring Officer wrote back enclosing a copy
of ORA's letter dated 3 September (see Ryan-Hall).
In his letter the Monitoring Officer made no attempt to address
the question of Hall's 'firm undertaking' or lack of it and he
dismissed the questions posed in a later letter with the words:
"In relation to the other issues raised in your 20 March
letter, I have no further comment."
It seems inconceivable that, during my lengthy correspondence
with Mr James (five letters each way), he didn't consult with
After all, the main subject of our exchanges was the veracity
of the Leader's press release.
Why did the Leader not tell Mr James about the letter he had
received from Cllr Hall on 20 September 2000?
Equally hard to understand is why neither the Chief Executive
nor Mr Thomas informed Mr James about Hall and Ryan's developing
business relationship, especially as it is clear from Mr Thomas'
letter to Ryan dated 12 September 2000, and Mr Parry-Jones' evidence
to the auditor, that they both understood that Hall's relationship
with Ryan could give rise to a conflict of interest.
So why didn't they consult with the Monitoring Officer whose
statutory duty it is to deal with such matters?
Also, according to the auditor, "The Chief Executive
informed us that Cllr Hall sought a meeting with him in early
Autumn 2000 when he had outlined his recently formed relationship
with Dr Ryan and their emerging intention to establish a company."?
If the big boss already knew in 'early Autumn', which can't
be that far away from 20 September, why the cloak and dagger
stuff with private letters?
It may also be significant that Cllr Hughes didn't actually produce
a copy of this letter when questioned by the auditor.
As the report says: "Towards the end of our review Cllr
Hall also provided us with a copy of a private letter he sent
to the Leader dated 20 September 2000 as referred to above."
But in the case of Cllr Hughes: "The Leader confirms
he received that letter at the time."
You might have expected that the auditor would ask to see
Cllr Hughes' copy of the letter if only to satisfy himself that
it was the same as that provided by Cllr Hall.
And why did Hall wait until "towards the end" of the
six-month-long review to produce such a crucial piece of evidence?
Of course, the advantage of a "private letter" is that
it is um, er, private and, as such, will not be available for
inspection when the Freedom of Information Act comes into force
on 1 January.
Unless, of course, the new Leader decides to make it public.
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