Jacob Williams
Friday 30th December, 2016
Trumped-up charges – Part 1

Trumped-up charges – Part 1

With the sort of devious antics I expose in this new series, there’s no wonder the county is awash with cynics without a good word to say about Pembrokeshire County Council and some of its associates.

Full of twists and turns, I fear the account that follows – of a concerted attempt to obstruct my involvement in uncovering council irregularities and silence me – comes naturally to some who have inhabited the county’s seat of power, what we refer to as the Kremlin on Cleddau.

It should be noted from the outset that this account begins during the time in which the council’s top brass were still denying there were any irregularities in the Pembroke Dock historic property restoration grant schemes.

I was, and remain, a member of the county council’s audit committee which was, during the peak of this charade, actively probing both the long-running allegations of fraud, hand-in-hand with officer incompetence.

Faced with the most overwhelming evidence of irregularities that Cllr. Mike Stoddart and I unearthed in February 2014, the council reluctantly caved in, called in the police and handed them a thick dossier of evidence.

To portray the high art of low cunning that was employed throughout the following stitch-up, large passages of text and in many cases entire reproductions are absolutely necessary – so don’t sit down expecting to read this, or subsequent parts, in ten minutes.

For this reason I have decided – for the first time since my 2012 Partygate series – to serialise its publication.

Whilst this conspiratorial effort to nail me ultimately failed, what concerns me most is how often such antics might succeed against citizens, whistle-blowers, employees and others who, from time-to-time may unwittingly find themselves up against ‘the machine,’ unable to fight back.

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Cllr. David Pugh, delivering his cabinet career-ending speech

On 12th December 2013, Pembrokeshire County Council’s very first webcasted meeting took place.

The facility became an instant success, and this inaugural broadcast became renowned for the lie-laden ‘Don Quixote’ speech delivered by since-sacked cabinet member, Cllr. David Pugh.

Pugh’s diarrhoea diatribe – which was so outrageous it earned him a top gong – was directed towards Cllr. Mike Stoddart, accusing him of “tilting at windmills” like Cervantes’ novel’s namesake.

A transcript of the speech can be read here, featuring Pugh’s infamously misplaced faith, which he summed-up thus: “I know [Cllr. Mike Stoddart] claims a much higher level of expertise in most matters, but here I will take the opinion of our highly regarded and experienced European funding team over his any day.”

The obvious insinuation from Pugh’s and others’ invective was that Mike’s tireless campaign uncovering publicly-funded grant scheme irregularities and fraud allegations was born out of paranoia. Looking for trouble where there wasn’t any to be found. Some less theatrical speakers claimed his endeavours were nothing but lies.

The topic was on the meeting’s agenda because Cllr. Stoddart had tabled a motion that documentation relating to Pembroke Dock historic property restoration grants – administered by the council – be made available for inspection by councillors.

Even without access to this information, Cllr. Stoddart had by then amassed a bundle of evidence using publicly-available sources that raised serious questions over the appropriation of public money used to fund several projects in Pembroke Dock all connected to a particular property developer: English-based Irishman, Cathal McCosker.

Described variously by the fearless Pembrokeshire Herald as ‘slum landlord’ and ‘baron of the bedsits,’ long before any allegations of grant impropriety surfaced, McCosker’s name in the town was far from stellar.

Do these look like rebuilt chimneys or new ridge tiles to you? – That’s what you paid for!

The week before the full council meeting Cllr. Stoddart’s proposal – that councillors be given access to technical and grant documents on a confidential basis – was debated at cabinet.

This nine-strong august body led by council leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, unsurprisingly recommended that full council – the final decision-maker – should not accede to his request.

But the cabinet meeting was an extremely fiery affair – at this stage in the grant scheme debacle the authority’s top brass were in absolute denial overdrive.

Senior officers and councillors orchestrated a cover-up. They painted the picture that Cllr. Stoddart’s claims of impropriety were fantasy, and that all of the grant money he was probing was accounted for – that it was all legitimately claimed and spent.

Council officials signed-off paperwork claiming the whole roof had been re-slated. It hadn’t been – but they still handed over public grant money for it

All of it!

As a simple example, even though any untrained eye could see the sprouting vegetation and lichen-encrusted loose tiles from the street level, the council bureaucrats responsible were adamant that the whole roof had been re-slated at the town’s former Victorian Coronation School, and that the imposing building’s large chimneys had been totally rebuilt.

Only this spring came a reluctant acceptance that the whole roof had not in fact been re-slated as had been asserted – despite the work having been signed off by a well-qualified official which resulted in the award of grant money.

So, Cllr. Stoddart was entirely correct.

In an email explanation to Cllr. Stoddart, the council’s recently-promoted director of finance, Jon Haswell – who was chiefly involved in the cabinet report rebutting Cllr. Stoddart’s claims, said: “In regard to whether the “whole” of the roof had been reslated on new felt and battens, I would no longer state the word “whole”.”

On his Old Grumpy website, Cllr. Stoddart reveals Mr. Haswell also told him:

“I was advised by the Quantity Surveyor that the “whole” of the roof had been reslated on new felt and battens, hence its inclusion in the report. I have since had to question a number of things I was advised by the Quantity Surveyor, hence the reason I would no longer state the word “whole”.”

Very diplomatic – and running entirely counter to the full council testimony of Cllrs. Pugh and Adams, that they had clambered up into the attic and had seen the completed work for themselves!

The quantity surveyor was a Mr. David Davies, who hails from the town. Any prospects for internal accountability came to an abrupt end when he shuffled out of the authority’s doors – on early retirement, of course – in 2015.

But the irregularities are on a far larger scale than this one building – it extends across several McCosker properties drawing down huge awards of funds from two different grant schemes, known as CPGS (Commercial Property Grant Scheme) and THI (Townscape Heritage Initiative.)

Due to the reduction in size of his Plaid Cymru group, I replaced Cllr. Michael Williams in October 2013 as one of PCC’s audit committee’s two opposition members.

We have a lot to thank Cllr. Williams for during his audit committee tenure, because, aware of Cllr. Stoddart’s ongoing probe into the council’s administration of the grant scheme – and the irregularities he’d turned up – Cllr. Williams dug his heels in and got County Hall officials to conduct an internal review.

This review was presented to the audit committee’s September 23, 2013, meeting – Cllr. Williams’ last.

The report’s remit was: “To establish whether the compliance arrangements in place for the award of grants under the two schemes were suitably robust,” and also “To establish whether satisfactory compliance checks have been carried out by independent bodies/persons to ensure that approved procedures have been adhered to.”

We now know that the answer to both of these questions is “no, they weren’t” – but the report, in the name of the authority’s since-retired finance director, Mark Lewis, determined:

“It has been concluded that there are adequate and effective compliance arrangements in place for both grant schemes, which have been complied with. This view has also been expressed by the Council’s Monitoring Officer.”

Laurence Harding

The council’s monitoring officer, since retired, was Laurence Harding. Yes, him.

The report also said that Mr. Harding: “is satisfied that there is no evidence of maladministration or non-compliance with the governance arrangements relevant to the specific schemes or of any lack of competence in officers concerned with the administration of the schemes.”

To this, we shall return.

As part of the internal audit report, the council’s European manager, Gwyn Evans, was heavily involved. This included his authorship of a document of twenty-five frequently asked questions.

This FAQ sheet gave long answers – many of which we now know were wrong – to such questions as:

Q: Can this grant scheme fund work to residential as well as business properties?
A: No. This grant scheme is strictly only for commercial properties. […]

Q: Has any property ever received a grant for flats or for a house of multiple occupation?
A: No, this has never happened through this grant scheme. Such works have always been ineligible. […]

This answer was known to be untrue even when it was authored.

And, with a muted reference to Cllr. Stoddart’s handiwork:

Q: Are there grounds to think that this scheme is a risk to the County Council? Have taxpayers’ funds been misappropriated?
A: These allegations are not supported by the findings of any of the numerous audits of this grant scheme.

Mr. Evans was of course right – Cllr. Stoddart’s allegations of impropriety were not supported by a single one of the numerous high-level audits his grant schemes were subjected to, but they did have the benefit of being supported by absolutely incontrovertible evidence.

Along with this more formal – but just as amateurish – pooh-poohing of Cllr. Stoddart’s allegations, three months later, at the December 2013 cabinet meeting, an attempt was made by cabinet members to smear his character and question his own integrity.

They conspired to put out a strong message: if Cllr. Stoddart didn’t stop his probing and making up these ‘baseless’ claims of impropriety, the council would earn a terrible reputation (the very thought!) – and such notoriety could jeopardise the authority’s bids for future EU grant money.

Mike wasn’t brow-beaten by any of it – not even the unprecedented exchange that the leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, dragged him into.

Even by Jamie’s low standards it was extraordinary – readers whose memories need refreshing can read the story here on my article titled ‘Smear tactics,’ which includes my transcript of the leader’s heated, euphemistic and personal grilling of Cllr. Stoddart.

Jamie played the man, not the ball, and the man kicked back.

To counter Cllr. Stoddart’s claims of impropriety a report was published by senior officers for cabinet and subsequently full council which, time has told, was nothing but a whitewashing exercise.

It contained line-by-line responses to Cllr. Stoddart’s claims, such as building materials supposedly used and work said to have been carried out – which were easily debunked.

The Western Telegraph’s journalist was present for the cabinet meeting who published an online account of this topic’s discussion.

Even taken alone, the WT’s suggestive title of its article – ‘Emotions run high as Pembrokeshire County Councillor questions property grants’ – gives an idea of the brutal cabinet showdown.

In the comments of my own blogpost covering the meeting, regular reader David Edwards noted that, where there had previously been many reader-comments posted on the WT’s online article, they had all of a sudden disappeared and the ability to post new comments had also been removed.

I replied to Mr. Edwards’ comment with a link to Google’s cache of the page – a reproduction of the article as it appeared when the search engine’s robots had trawled the page some hours earlier – saying that the WT’s article, replete with comments, could be viewed there.

This was all going on at about the same time as the Wales Audit Office started making noises about the unlawfulness of the council’s senior staff pension opt-out ruse, and the payments that had been made as a result of the policy to the council’s erstwhile chief executive, Bryn Parry-Jones, and another unnamed officer.

As online contributors are wont to do, comments on articles concerning a particular public body stray into all manner of controversies embattling said organisation.

As it’s PCC we’re talking about, there’s usually no shortage of material.

Within the comment thread on the WT’s article, contributors turned discussion to the aforementioned unlawful pension debacle.

Comments criticised both the officers who had received the unlawful cash payments and those who were responsible for drawing up and introducing such an inherently unethical scheme which the WAO deemed illegal.

As it happens, this pension debacle discussion was sparked in the WT’s comment thread by none other than the same person – the redoubtable David Edwards – former county councillor and long-time comment contributor to this very website.

Mr. Edwards’ commitment to council affairs was amply summed-up earlier this month in his being the very first member of the public to submit a question to full council under the public question time provision I successfully introduced into the new constitution.

Back to 2013, and on the 11th December – the night before the legendary first televised full council meeting – I received an email from the council’s since-retired monitoring officer, Laurence Harding, informing me:

“I have received a complaint from Gwyn Evans, the Council’s European Manager concerning information appearing on your website which he feels breaches the Code of Conduct, specifically para 6 (1) (a) which relates to a Member’s conduct bringing the Council into disrepute.”

He went on:

“I believe the offending webpage is headed ‘Smear Tactics’ and relates to the link to the Google Cache of the Western Telegraph comments which had been removed from their website following concerns raised by the officer and the comments in the responses you have noted on the page.”

Mr. Harding explained that, by email, this member of staff – the aforementioned Gwyn Evans – had complained to him about my website, through the council’s protocol on member/employee relations. Specifically, the procedure labelled “when things go wrong,” which he said is a “quasi-grievance procedure but is part of the employment practices and procedures, including the Dignity at Work policy” whose “processes are confidential.”

But this was the first untruth – as you will see, the member of staff emphatically alleged that I had breached the code of conduct – “specifically paragraph 6(1)(a)” – not once did he refer to member/employee relations or any related protocol.

Paragraph 6 (1) (a) of the code of conduct reads that, as a councillor:

6. (1) You must:

(a) not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute

In his email Mr. Harding said he would “be obliged if you would confirm whether you will be able to meet with me next Tuesday (17 December) morning to discuss the issues raised and provide me with a statement” and that, under the member/employee relations protocol “I have to investigate and inform the Chief Executive of my findings.”

Given what I will show you is the non-existent merit of this ‘complaint,’ there’s perhaps little surprise Mr. Harding’s email was short on detail. Nor that he was particularly keen no knowledge of it came out into the open, signing-off his email with:

“I would repeat that this process is confidential, similar to an Ombudsman investigation even though an employment issue, and should not be discussed with anyone or be discussed on any website.”

I responded to say that, before doing anything, I would require a copy of the complaint and arranged to collect it from him the following morning when I would be at County Hall for the December full council meeting.

The ‘complaint’ I collected from Mr. Harding was as follows:

You’ll note that, unusually, the “Cc:” section at the top of the email appears but for some reason the content is blank.

Mr. Harding provided me with only a printed copy of Mr. Evans’ emailed complaint, so I have no way of knowing if Mr. Evans copied it to a third party, whose identity Mr. Harding withheld.

Needless to say, I took an allegation about my conduct by a council staffer of managerial level very seriously.

After reading Mr. Evans’ complaint, I cross-referenced it with the WT cache – which was still available online – where I immediately realised that the county council’s European manager had got things badly wrong.

His complaint was based – possibly in his haste to censor any criticism of his department – on either misreading or misunderstanding what was before his very eyes.

So I emailed Mr. Harding to say that, having read the complaint it would not be necessary for me to meet with him, like he had requested, because what Mr. Evans thought he had read was not, in fact, what he had read, and more importantly: there was no basis for such allegations of my conduct.

I can no better explain my reasons than quoting the email I sent to Mr. Harding, on 17th December:

Having explained in clear detail how the allegation against me was misguided and without foundation, you might expect Mr. Harding would present this rebuttal to Mr. Evans, and the matter would end there.

To this day I don’t know whether Mr. Harding did – but his subsequent actions suggest that he was intent on making this baseless complaint stick, come what may – and all under this Mickey Mouse ‘member/employee relations’ protocol.

You see, in my various council roles, at committees, council meetings, and on my blog, I had long highlighted Mr. Harding’s blunders as PCC’s monitoring officer.

There have been many.

A lawyer of forty years’ standing by the time of his eventual retirement in 2015, Laurence Harding’s grasp of local authority legislation was, it has to be said, oftentimes woeful in the extreme.

I and fellow blogger/councillor, Mike Stoddart, have variously recounted his scheming ways and shown his shortcomings – perhaps most memorably, his pivotal role in the setup for the bloodshed at the historic ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre.’

Mr. Harding could also have difficulty reading and interpreting what was in front of him – like the council’s constitution, and would think nothing of asserting his own opinions on topics he knew little about, before withdrawing them after being corrected.

So, no. Mr. Harding did not allow the matter to rest. He saw his chance to nail Jacob Williams and he wasn’t going to let it go.

It wasn’t until January 9th, 2014, that I heard back from Mr. Harding, following his Christmas holiday return. By now he’d had over three weeks to digest and understand the position, but didn’t.

It was as if he had never read my refutation. Given my belief that he was working to an agenda, he could hardly do anything other than doggedly continue his pursuit.

Among the matters raised in his reply, Mr. Harding said that the Western Telegraph’s article on the cabinet meeting “does not, unfortunately, provide a balanced report by providing information contained in the [officers’] report that was being discussed but focuses on a councillor’s [Cllr. Mike Stoddart’s] assertions regarding the grant administration.”

Now you might be wondering what on earth the WT’s editorial standards have to do with me – or its relevance to the complaint alleging in the clearest terms that I had breached the code of conduct – but if nothing else it’s a small indicator of his many unsettling foibles.

Mr. Harding also took it upon himself to bolster Mr. Evans’ complaint by referring to comments on the Western Telegraph’s website not even cited by Mr. Evans in his complaint, comments which, in any case, neither related to Mr. Evans in any way or the grant scheme irregularities.

He also claimed that these extra comments he introduced to the complaint were originally cited by Mr. Evans.

So, unwilling to drop the ‘complaint,’ Mr. Harding justified his continued pursuit on the basis of ‘respect’ – that Mr. Evans felt he was not shown ‘respect’ by so much as a hint that a fraud could possibly have been committed against the department he presides over.

Whilst conceding that Mr. Evans misinterpreted what he thought was the “scandalous” content which led him into making the complaint – saying that it “does not relate to the grant schemes” and that he would “ignore it in considering the complaint” – Mr. Harding said that he was still “of the opinion that there is a valid complaint.”

Why? Because I had “posted details of access” to content Mr. Evans wanted to censor because they related to the widely-reported allegations elsewhere in the media that fraud may have taken place in PCC’s administration of the grant schemes:

“The officer has stated that he is “well known across Pembrokeshire and beyond for my good management of European Funds in Pembrokeshire” and that he believes that the consequence of the comments is that he has “created an environment in which fraud can take place”. There is therefore evidence that he personally could be associated with the defamatory remarks contained in the contributions.”

So, not even allegations that fraud had taken place – not least of which even Private Eye magazine have made – but that an environment rife for fraud could exist!

The thinnest of very thin gruel indeed – and you’ll note that the supposedly impartial Mr. Harding doesn’t refer to the words complained of as “allegedly defamatory.”

On this basis, he said he would be considering this ‘complaint’ as a matter of ‘respect’ this, despite Mr. Evans’ categorical allegation that my actions constituted a “clear breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct” that brought the office of councillor or authority into disrepute.

I know how these people operate – and the alarm bells were ringing – so I immediately sought clarification from Mr. Harding of what, exactly, he was up to in his ‘investigation,’ having now muddied the waters in his inimitable style.

What was I supposed to have done, and what evidence would form part of his ‘investigation?’

I wanted to get him on the hook in case I needed to return to it at some future point.

He somewhat obliged, telling me:

“The allegation is that the comment posted by you on your blog providing a link for your contributors to view material on another website which had been removed from the initial publishing website did not show respect for the officer or respect his integrity because of offending comments on the linked website, which he believes are defamatory. He feels that his reputation has been tarnished and the impression given by the comments on the site you directed your readers to is that he is not competent in properly managing the European funding on behalf of the Council and/or that he has committed or abetted a fraud on the Council.”

Clearly, no suggestion had ever been made by anybody on my website nor the Western Telegraph’s that Mr. Evans had personally committed or abetted fraud on the council – a fact even Mr. Harding had conceded but failed to discount.

That aside, I was finally getting somewhere – but he still didn’t inform me which words the censorious Mr. Evans found offensive, so I took him to task on his decision, in an earlier email, to take into account comments which were not cited in Mr. Evans’ complaint, which he claimed had been.

Mr. Harding showed remarkable resourcefulness. His response was ever so convenient – and set even more hares running.

He went back to Gwyn Evans who, as a result, altered – or “clarified,” as Harding puts it – his complaint:

“I have checked with Gwyn Evans and he has clarified that it was the article on your website in total, which included the link to the cached material that he feels is disparaging to his reputation.”

So Mr. Evans went from making a complaint of my conduct based on my posting a link to comments on the Western Telegraph website that he had misread, to now citing the article on my website as a whole to be disparaging to him and his reputation.

The thin gruel got thinner.

My blogpost, remember, was all a factual account – including a contemporaneous, verbatim transcript of the heated back-and-fore row between Cllrs. Adams and Stoddart, with no reference in any way to Mr. Evans.

Thin skin doesn’t begin to describe it.

Mr. Harding explained:

“The [Western Telegraph] comments [Gwyn Evans] highlighted [in his complaint] were examples, not the total of the disparaging remarks that caused him concern. The information that had been published on the Western telegraph site is part of the evidence he cites of this breach but he has not limited it to the three quotes he cited. I apologise if the phrase I used led you to believe that only one comment was the basis of the grievance.”

This was another red herring.

Neither Mr. Harding nor Mr. Evans had ever ‘led’ me into believing anything. I went by the words Mr. Evans complained of in his complaint, in black and white. There was no room for ambiguity – let alone actual ambiguity.

In other words: “I regret that my ability to nail you was limited, but there are plenty more straws I can clutch at” – and Mr. Harding facilitated the movement of the goalposts to suit.

You’ll also notice he’s now talking about the newspaper journalist’s article, as well as the originally cited reader comments.

So this means we have the council’s statutory monitoring officer – a lawyer – going out of his way to use an informal ‘respect’ protocol to pursue a council member for the Western Telegraph’s editorial judgement – merely by providing a link to an article a council officer doesn’t like.

Not only that, but, the very act of reporting, or referring to a report of the fiery cabinet meeting – at which the prospect of fraud allegations arose – was sufficient, in Mr. Harding’s mind, to demonstrate that an officer’s reputation could be harmed and a councillor could be rebuked for mentioning it.

“The old adage that ‘truth should not spoil a good story’ is one often used about press reports – unfortunately so in my opinion.”
— Laurence Harding
Quite where this sits with one’s freedom of expression rights is obviously not something that exercised Harding’s mind. The High Court’s historic Calver ruling – which is a landmark legal case for free speech – shows it’s not the first time his views in this area have come under the spotlight.

I told the monitoring officer that I had no connection to the material Mr. Evans misread or misinterpreted, and that “I have not published or repeated the comments Mr. Evans wants expunged from the internet,” so no such allegations sit with me.

By now fed up of this email chain, and fully aware of Larry’s game, I also told Mr. Harding that I felt the way the ‘complaint’ was being pursued and the way he was handling it was inappropriate, and that the member/employee relations protocol was not the avenue.

I said:

“If Mr. Evans genuinely believes that I have breached the code of conduct, I am also surprised that he has not – as yet – reported me to the Ombudsman, as this would, without a shadow of a doubt, be an Ombudsman matter. As his complaint alleges that I have made a “clear breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct,” this would surely be the avenue he should pursue, if he had confidence in the merit of his complaint.”

Harding had an answer for this too. Venturing some more bizarre value judgements over the Western Telegraph’s reportage, PCC’s erstwhile MO could have had a handy post-retirement sideline as an Agony Aunt.

You may find it difficult to believe that the following quote from one of his emails to me had any part in his ‘investigation,’ but I’m not making this up:

“The old adage that ‘truth should not spoil a good story’ is one often used about press reports – unfortunately so in my opinion. If participation is encouraged from the public by submitting their views on matters, it would be “desirable” at least to provide a summary of the salient facts (not simply one-sided opinions and assertions). In this respect, the information by the Western Telegraph to encourage responsible and well-informed comments was therefore minimal. Criticism is more credible if those criticising have all the information to make informed comments.”

It was often extremely difficult to make any sense of Mr. Harding’s spoken or written communications, but what he’s getting at here is his personal displeasure that the Western Telegraph’s report failed to cite or represent the rebuttal report drafted by Mr. Evans and other council officers – which was hopelessly flawed – that was presented to the cabinet meeting.

What this has to do with a complaint by an officer – who was part of the drafting process for that report – against a councillor, is difficult to understand.

But that’s Laurence Harding for you.

Out of Agony Aunt mode, Mr. Harding told me what he was going to do:

“Under the protocol my role is to consider whether there is justification for Gwyn Evans’ opinion that the article entitled “Smear Tactics” and the cache of WT comments amounted to disrespect. The Protocol was established many years ago and virtually every local authority have similar protocols to allow the informal resolution of issues where Members may have inadvertently caused offence to officers.”

This, remember, is the ‘protocol’ he had decided to treat this complaint under – and not under which Mr. Evans had complained.

I had been pointing out all along that, even though it was entirely baseless, the seriousness of the allegation Mr. Evans was making against me was of a gravity only the ombudsman has powers to deal with.

It’s an important point because Mr. Evans alleged that I breached the councillors’ code of conduct – but only the ombudsman can initiate proceedings against a councillor resulting in such a finding.

Addressing this, Mr. Harding ended his email:

“Mr Evans could have requested a formal investigation by the PSOW [Public Services Ombudsman for Wales] but it is his discretion to chose [sic] the informal route. The protocol is not a statutory procedure as is the Code [councillors’ code of conduct] but, even though informal, it should be operated in an equitable manner to allow everyone to put forward relevant information. Members and officers have to work together and future relationships may best be assured by an informal approach rather than a formal approach.

I have not made a judgement on the allegation that the Protocol has been breached at the moment. I have been providing you with the complaint and information for you to consider and have responded to your comments on the scope of the complaint. If you wish to make further comments on the complaint then I will consider them in due course.

Laurence J. Harding”

Again, Mr. Harding wrongly asserts that Mr. Evans complained under this informal member/employee relations ‘protocol.’

Of course, it perfectly suited Mr. Harding to keep this baseless complaint in his hands under the auspices of this contrived ‘informal’ method, because personally overseeing a protracted investigation might, in his mind, give him some control over me.

I was, after all, a thorn in his side who had routinely exposed his clangers – whereas the ombudsman would consider Mr. Evans’ allegation dispassionately, before dismissing it off the bat.

As for Mr. Harding’s process being ‘equitable,’ you’ll see all about that in due course – but the aim of the game was keeping control over this trumped-up charge, in-house.

I did not respond to that email, which Mr. Harding sent me on January 14th 2014, and I heard nothing further.

February, March and April went by.

Nothing.

May, June, July and August.

Nothing.

I had naturally assumed that, as he had tied himself up in all sorts of knots, Larry’d had his fun and decided his options to skewer me had dried up.

But no. If you needed further evidence to question the independence of the statutory officer charged with being the council’s ethical eyes and ears, what he did next is surely it…

STILL TO COME IN PART 2…

LARRY MAKES HIS BOLDEST MOVE YET

— THE TIMING WAS KEY


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37 Comments...

  • Larry T Lamb

    Unbelievably believable, sorry to say…of course, what happened next to Gwyn Evans, particularly in respect of his well known status “across Pembrokeshire and beyond for my good management of European Funds in Pembrokeshire” can be found at #whyfiddletheminutesthengwyn – unless he’s edited it!

  • Malcolm Calver

    Having suffered myself under the interference of PCC Monitoring Officer Mr Laurence Harding, in my role as both a county councillor and community councillor, I can only thank you for this excellent article and wish you all the best in your endeavours.

  • Larry, that incident will be given an airing in a future instalment.

    Malcolm, thank you.

  • Bemused of Pembroke

    Dear Jacob, you should not keep your readers in suspense, I have digested the whole of this chapter and wait the next super-size me portion eagerly.

    For my sins I have some little regular exchanges with the officers of PCC and find most competent in my particular area of expertise…however there are some who seem hell-bent on creating a fiefdom and surf class to go with it in Pembrokeshire.

    What wits we have in the executive of PCC and the exclusive membership of the IPPGGG, or whatever the current nom de plume is.

    They have turned a cabinet governance system into a cabaret governance system where the fee paying public not so calmly sit back and await the next act of comedic politics.

    I can hardly wait for the ides of March…you can almost feel the half hearted semi non promises being worked on now.

  • Flashbang

    I was very surprised and pleased to see my name in the red ink disappearances

    This can only mean someone, somewhere had a little cry and tantrum because their feelings were hurt by the truth.

    Can I sue them for taking away my right to freedom of speech? Happy hunting in the New Year Jacob, let’s see some heads roll and the sooner the better.

  • Arthur Arran

    Well, I’ve read with interest, and am not surprised in the least at the skulduggery. Thanks Jacob for a concise article, I do however think because it’s a long summary of what’s gone on, that it’s possibly lost some of its impact!

    Why not just say officers have been dishonest or incompetent? The evidence has been found, so it’s proved and therefore not libellous. I think, (but I don’t have any legal qualifications). Keep up the good work, I await the next instalment!

  • Martin Hurlow

    Cllr Williams, I read your blog and Cllr Stoddart’s with growing anger that PCC can get away with this constant bulls#!t, it seems nothing can be done to stop this total mess that is now our County Council.

  • John Hudson

    It is very depressing to look back and remind ourselves of how things were, but looking forward, have things changed that much, if at all?

    My own experiences with the Cleddau Bridge surplus toll income question and now surplus income from parking services would suggest that old finance and legal ways have never been impartially reconsidered.

    I do however detect an improvement in the level of financial information available, to councillors and us, and hopefully this will continue. We do now have the advantage of unedited web casts so we can see the contribution, or not, of our councillors.

    Is there as much disgruntlement with the leading Independent Group now as there was in the time of the former CEO’s departure?

    How is one to vote at the next council election to ensure continuing democratic improvement, much beloved by the powers that be?

    Will independent candidates provide pre-election guarantees that they will not join a group post election and remain unaffiliated? Will the Independent Group become a formal political party pre-election so that we will know what we are voting for at the ballot?

  • Jacob, it is interesting that this correspondence took place in December 2013 when the council were in full cover-up mode over these grants.

    At that time they still believed they could prevent me from seeing the files by passing the matter to the audit committee when the information would be provided to committee members only on a confidential basis.

    It was only after a long-running dispute with the Monitoring Officer and a threat to seek Judicial Review that he eventually agreed that all elected members, me included, had a legal right to inspect these documents.

    There was another protracted battle before he eventually conceded that the legislation allowed me to take photocopies rather than, as he had previously insisted, merely make notes.

    As you will recall, it was only in February 2014, when the two of us unearthed evidence of serious irregularities in the tender process for 10 Meyrick Street ( see: http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/2014/548/unknown-quantities/) and presented it to the then Director of Finance Mark Lewis and Mr Haswell, that the council finally admitted that all was not as it should be.

    And it is interesting to note that, in his email, Mr Haswell states: “I have since had to question a number of things I was advised by the Quantity Surveyor” i.e. not just the cock and bull story about the whole of the Coronation School roof being re-slated.

    My own view is that he would be wise to delete “a number of things” and substitute “everything”.

  • Keanjo

    Thank you for this very detailed account of your dealings with Harding. Many Councillors would have given in to the threats but we are grateful that you resisted.

    It is gratifying to note that the comments of the public on your site and in the WT are noted in County Hall but it is disappointing that the Council’s instinctive reaction to public criticism is defensive.

    Many thanks for the effort you put into keeping us informed about the goings on in County Hall and may I wish you a very happy 2017!

  • Gearoid Hunt

    Congratulations on your courageous and professional conduct, and your tenacity. Were any Councillors involved in facilitating the alleged fraud – deliberately or, perhaps, by looking the other way?

  • Oliver Cromwell

    Is it not time that the Police and Crime Commissioner was asked to determine why this matter has not been brought to a conclusion? Are the police colluding?

  • Oliver, it will soon be three years since the council served the bundle of evidence to the local constabulary on a platter.

    It’s difficult to comprehend what Dyfed-Powys Police have spent the time doing – so rumours of a police cover-up are understandable.

    Signs that WEFO (Welsh Government) is in damage limitation mode are also a cause for concern.

    I hope Mike Stoddart has a comment to add for us on this aspect of the grants saga.

  • Malcolm Calver

    In relation to the grants fiasco/alleged fraud we often hear the statement “kicked into the long grass”.

    If someone had stolen a couple of tins of beans from the local supermarket they would have received their punishment long ago.

    The police colluding? surely not. There is too much evidence out there to allow them to do that. Time to cut the grass and expose the culprits to justice, after all it is taxpayers’ money they handed out so freely.

  • Flashbang

    Oliver Cromwell, from the inactivity in the grants fiasco it can only be concluded that Dyfed-Powys Police are involved in a cover up of criminal activity at County Hall.

  • Oliver Cromwell

    Jacob, thank you for your comment. Mike Stoddart’s pursuit of this matter is nothing less than heroic!

    The bottom line is that the taxpayer has apparently been defrauded by criminal intent. That is a matter which should be determined by a court of law.

  • Jacob, in respect of 29 Dimond Street (Paul Sartori charity shop) that section of the evidence dossier provided by me included a spreadsheet that identified 30 items where grant was paid in respect of conversion of the range of buildings in the back yard to four bedsits (which was not eligible for grant aid – see FAQs above) and nine for work that was not actually carried out.

    According to my calculations, which the police have never disputed, the overpayment totalled £44,000.

    In respect of 10 Meyrick Street the overpayment was in excess of £30,000.

    It was agreed that the police investigation would be restricted to these two projects because including my concerns about 25, 27 and 50 Dimond Street would over-complicate matters.

    Now it might be that these items were claimed by the developer/builder/architect and signed off by council officers because of incompetence or error, neither of which, of course, is a crime.

    On the other hand…

    What is difficult to understand is why it has taken the police 32 months (and counting) to reach a conclusion one way or the other.

    However, it seems that they have already partly made up their minds because when the Detective Inspector addressed the audit committee in April 2016 he was keen to stress that no council officers were under investigation.

  • Terminator

    I thought these Police Commissioners were supposed to ensure that the Chief Constable and his staff were accountable to the people they serve.

    Doesn’t appear to be working out too well!

    More like a law unto themselves, if you ask me.

  • Tony Wilcox

    In response to Mr Hunt’s comment, in my opinion there was councillor involvement in the alleged grant irregularities.

    I had an anonymous telephone conversation with a person some time ago expressing their concerns regarding the behaviour of a certain councillor in their words ‘badgering’ staff in several departments including property and planning.

    The individual concerned was unwilling to give his/her name due to the culture of fear which was widespread during the Parry-Jones reign.

    The person did intimate that they would make contact again but to date has not.

  • Goldingsboy

    Someone once said that “corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire [county].”

    The fundamental question that continues to hover over this story is whether the police, given their conspicuous reluctance to act decisively, have also been caught up in this tangled web of conspiracy and deceit?

  • Timetraveller

    Much detail Jacob, really the domain of a court case or enquiry. I think most actors in this consider it an exercise in grant re-direction and the end justifies the means.

    However the lack of due governance is alarming, the scope for personal corruption considerable. Mr McCosker was getting large amounts of money and possible scope to pass on benefits to helpful third parties.

    Meanwhile Dyfed-Powys Police may occupy a parallel universe. The new chief a local boy who rose through the ranks. The new commissioner an ex DPP officer. As indeed all his followers seem to be. Marking your own homework can produce good marks, but learning suffers.

    An ex DPP officer I know of said he spent 5 years with DPP and another 5 with a “proper police force”.

    Do not expect anything from Dai Knacker, he will also see no crime in this, though go through all pretence to “investigate” it.

  • Pembs. Exile

    The long running Pembroke Dock saga continues. Thirty two months and counting for an investigation.

    Does any individual have the right to refer this to the Independent Police Complaints Commission? Or is such a referral outside the remit of that body?

  • Timetraveller

    I believe the due process is to complain to the police force concerned, after which it can go to the IPCC, but they are also unlikely to get too excited about it, unless they perceive it as corruption (of the police).

    I am checking a story that DPP is the most complained of force in Wales for its size, and that DPP hasn’t been disciplined following on from a complaint for years.

    I hope that’s true because that would suggest our police are simply the best, competent and beyond reproach, a bit like Elliot Ness’s “Untouchables”.

    I’m afraid Dai Knacker has case overload to seriously investigate much, he only pretends to as it’s a bit like the NHS where care is rationed by the inevitability that enough patients will simply die on the waiting list.

    The police and crime commissioner may be worth drawing in as no one seems to know what they actually do except for Dave and George picking up on the idea after a trip over the pond.

  • Keanjo

    I thought that Tony Blair introduced the Police Commissioner, as time traveller says, from over the pond where it is a way of bringing politics into the police. What do they achieve?

  • Timetraveller

    In an article published in 2013, FOI requests from Plaid Cymru to Dyfed-Powys Police revealed that of 250 serious complaints, only 16 were found wanting by the IPCC.

    The force still averages 700 complaints a year, which is pro rata the highest per serving officer in Wales.

    Following on from that, no “Untouchable” was either prosecuted or faced disciplinary action. In 2011 a BBC article revealed that an IPCC report on police corruption stated “a generally good picture in Wales, except Dyfed Powys Police…”

    Of course all this is before police and crime commissioners, it remains to be seen how that works out. As politics is taking on a new reality at the moment, perhaps the commissioner could clarify the limits of police action in the public sector, as otherwise I think they are playing games with the public.

    My guess is that if Mr McCosker was actually charged, he would sing like the proverbial canary, and nobody in the upper echelons of the council wants that!

  • Dave Edwards

    Poor Old Pembroke Dock!

    I see that Conygar have pulled out of the Martello Marina project and are writing off £4.8 million costs incurred so far (on what?).

    As late as November 16th this was described in the Council’s LDP update as having a key role in the development of the town – so what now?

  • The council submitted a huge dossier of evidence to the police in April 2014.

    In order to avoid having to rely on the council for information, in July 2014 I forwarded a separate detailed complaint in my own name.

    I figured that, as a complainant, I would have certain rights to be kept up to date with the progress of the investigation.

    Over the past few months I have several times asked Dyfed-Powys Police for an update on progress.

    They have point blank refused.

    The last email I received on the subject reads:

    “Whilst I appreciate you contacted Dyfed Powys Police in July 2014 to report this matter, I feel I should clarify that the police’s only obligation is to provide an update to the victim, which in this case has been identified as Pembrokeshire County Council.

    I know you hold the view that the victim in this matter is the taxpaying public, but in terms of categorisation the victim is a person/organisation that has suffered economic loss, which was directly caused by criminal conduct.

    In this instance taxpayers have not suffered any economic loss as they would have paid the same amount of tax regardless of whether this crime had occurred or not.

    It is also worth bearing in mind that any suspects in this case could potentially be members of the “taxpaying public” that you refer to as victims.”

    Confronted with twaddle like that, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to develop a suspicion that there might be something funny going on.

  • I should have added to my previous comment that the police weren’t telling the truth when they told me they could only provide information to the “victim” (who they identified as PCC).

    As I mentioned on my blog in a July 2016 post, I submitted an FoI request to WEFO for copies of correspondence between the police and themselves.

    As part of their disclosure WEFO told me they held emails (dated 22 October 2015 and 19 February 2016) sent by Dyfed-Powys Police to WEFO “providing an update on the police investigation.”

    It looks for all the world like a typical establishment stitch-up.

  • Malcolm Calver

    You have to admit David they must have spent a fortune on advertising the company over the last few years.

  • Tony wilcox

    After the demise of Congyar’s marina development (which many thought was pie in the sky anyway) will the council now review leases on all the land currently linked to the marina via the port authority?

    What’s the betting they grab back what is currently the free car parking by Asda first which has (recently) had signage upgraded.

  • Timetraveller

    Mike, twaddle indeed. Somehow McCosker getting £200,000 doesn’t come out of taxation, and hence potentially less tax need be raised. I am sure the officer concerned isn’t as muddled calculating their salary. Allegedly robbing from Pembs CC is now a victimless crime.

    I find that policing can be quite elective – sexual abuse was ignored for years because the only proof was “she said and he said”. Now anyone who put their hands up a skirt forty years ago gets investigated. Even Ted Heath is being investigated more rigorously than the grants case, though perhaps Wiltshire Police haven’t worked out he’s dead yet.

    As stated, Dai Knacker is going no where with this case, but is too devious to be honest about it.

    Correction about who brought police and crime commissioners over here, so hard to tell Blair and Cameron apart. It works so well in many states that they can’t build prisons fast enough to accommodate the knee jerk reaction that such elected post holders aspire to lock up criminals and throw away the key. Still an unknown quantity here for a rather bemused electorate.

  • Brian

    Top article Jacob. Should we have a PCC golden shovel award for those that don’t understand the maxim “when you find yourself in a hole stop digging”?

    We might even get a grant for it.

  • Flashbang

    Do councillors have to declare any gifts, hospitality or any other bits of largesse from members of the public, developers or anyone seeking a decision from PCC?

  • Flashbang, the code of conduct in the council’s constitution provides:

    Registration of Gifts and Hospitality

    17. You must, within 28 days of receiving any gift, hospitality, material benefit or advantage above a value specified in a resolution of your authority, provide written notification to your authority’s monitoring officer, or in relation to a community council, to your authority’s proper officer of the existence and nature of that gift, hospitality, material benefit or advantage.

    To the best of my recollection, the value specified is £25, though, as they are a notoriously tight-fisted lot in Hakin, it is not something that I’ve ever had reason to be concerned about.

  • Keanjo

    Flashbang, bribery to gain an advantage is an offence in law and is subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to 10 years for serious offences.

    The gifts mentioned by Mike are acceptable provided they are registered and not given as an inducement for favour, for example for a planning consent or for inclusion in a select list of contractors.

    The safest course for any officer or member is to refuse such gifts.

  • Loobeloo

    Why shouldn’t we be a tightfisted lot in Hakin, Steynton get a Christmas tree (lit) Milford get all the street lights, what does densely populated Hakin get, NOWT. Always have said it and always will say it, the money stops at Hakin bridge, no matter which plonkers are in charge!

  • Loobeloo, it was meant as a compliment in that nobody in Hakin has ever thought to seek to influence me with an inducement.

    Many years ago, one of my constituents complained to me about fly-tipping and, after I intervened, the council swiftly removed the offending material.

    I came home one evening and found a bottle of whisky in the porch together with a thank you note.

    I returned the bottle (I don’t like whisky), though, if it had been a couple of bottles of decent Merlot, I can’t be certain that my ethical principles would have passed the test.

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