We owe it to all those involved to seek justice and deliver it

Picture: National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Leanne Wood

Most of us who work in our National Assembly are still shocked following the death of former minister Carl Sargeant.

I first met Carl in 2003, when both of us were elected to the Assembly at the same time. It was refreshing to see someone who was authentically working-class and rooted in his community rise quickly up the ranks of government.

His friends and family, as well as his colleagues, are filled with grief in the aftermath of his passing.

He leaves a big gap in so many people’s lives. Everyone affected by this former Welsh minister’s apparent suicide must be afforded time, space and privacy to come to terms with their loss.

There are many questions which need to be answered. For all those concerned and especially the family, I am pleased that an independent inquiry will be held into the circumstances and decisions that were taken by the First Minister.

Justice is not a privilege, but a right and these are the first steps towards it.

That same justice must also be afforded to all those who have made complaints against any politician.

Desensitised

Just a few hours before the news broke about Carl’s death, the Plaid Cymru Assembly group held a special meeting of all AMs and all their staff, including our Head Office staff, to discuss the recent revelations of sexual harassment which had been dominated the headlines.

The allegations against various politicians, as well as people in the film and television industry, over recent weeks have exposed difficult questions for political parties about our processes for dealing with such complaints.

No party is immune to these concerns. For this reason, I was eager to acknowledge to colleagues and staff that in the past, Plaid Cymru may not have treated cases of harassment with the seriousness with which they deserve. That situation and the culture that has been tolerated in politics must change.

I outlined to our staff my determination to help foster a new culture, where it is understood by all that everyone is respected at all times. A culture where everyone is able to work in an atmosphere that is free from harassment and the abuse of power.

People in all political parties have been guilty to turning a blind eye this damaging culture where inappropriate words or behaviour can go unchecked and unchallenged. We have become desensitised to it.

I issue a formal apology to anyone who has complained to Plaid Cymru in the past and didn’t have appropriate or sufficient action taken.

I, too, in my younger days have experienced it. Sometimes I challenged it, on other times, I said nothing. As women, we have just accepted it as the way some men are, even though many of us understand how this works and the damage such behaviour can do over time.

When so many women are disclosing this previously normalised inappropriate behaviour and are finally starting to be believed, we have to take responsibility for changing this culture. There can be no going back on that now.

So my message to anyone who comes forward to Plaid Cymru with concerns or disclosures about harassment is: we will take you seriously, we will support you and we will take appropriate steps to ensure that complaints are investigated thoroughly and fairly.

We will encourage and support you to make complaints of inappropriate behaviour by any AM to the Assembly’s Standards Commissioner and we will ensure our party complaints procedures are fit for purpose when we are called upon to investigate complaints.

Difficult

Although we have recently reviewed our own reporting mechanisms, I am committing today to seeking independent advice as to whether further amendments are necessary to bring about the culture we want to see.

We are also developing a training programme for elected representatives, officials and staff with an external partner to be better prepared to deal with disclosures of sexual harassment.

Mistrust of the system and not being believed are some of the reasons as to why so many people are reluctant to complain about harassment from people in positions of power.

Add into the mix that people are reluctant to complain about colleagues, party loyalty and that often that the perpetrators are powerful men while those harassed are mainly younger people at the beginning of their careers with little power.

The complainants in Carl Sargeant’s case have been subject to some appalling attacks and abuse on social media – all of this makes coming forward or speaking out even more difficult.

Of the difficult issues this episode has thrown up, it is important that the truth is still sought as to those initial allegations. Justice is deserved on all sides.

We owe it to all those who have been caught up in this, not least the family of Carl Sargeant, to seek justice and deliver it. Despite or perhaps even because of the awful situation here, we cannot shirk or go back on that.

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18 Comments

  1. What, Leanne said is admirable but one sided: yes, these abuses by a minority of men is wrong and should be dealt with – no question. Yet, she fails to mention that men can also feel uncomfortable by the actions, the advances in the workplace of certain women whom sometimes use their positions in the same way. Men often fearful for their jobs because of perceived ridicule by their male/female colleaques. I worked in a majority female enviroment myself and a number made remarks that crossed a line; though I’d have felt like a wimp to report it.
    Certainly they both need to be addressed.

  2. Geoff Horton-Jones

    Totally agree with you Kim but all too often we simply don,t do the right thing in a crisis . Carwyn has made a knee jerk response which he must now deeply regret but which makes his ability to make future decisions suspect Leanne you need to be ahead of the game not following on behind Leanne Wales needs you to be out in front at all times

  3. Very strong article, well said Leanne. (I am not a plaid voter).

    The daily mail article posted above is typically appalling. What has some friends going for a drink on a Friday night after work got to do with anything?

  4. The daily mail article shines a light on the idea that a full independent enquiry might just be between Carwyn and his advisors and not a real one. Although I would never usually recommend reading the Daily Fail! I thought the article was quite amusing even though not appropriate with the seriousness of this situation. What happened to Carl Sargeant was very sad.

  5. CambroUiDunlainge

    I personally believe this situation should be given a wide berth while being investigated – by both the media and politicians alike. Carl Sargeant is innocent until proven guilty and I think in hindsight of the result of any investigation it could potentially give a perspective on any views and opinions expressed beforehand as being inappropriate.

    I think its a case that condolences should be given to Carl Sargeant’s family and friends and just wait for the investigation to conclude before we start airing opinions and concerns at the bigger picture – when in truth we do not know what the bigger picture is yet.

    • The bigger picture here is surely that those in our present society who maintain a huge degree of power over those beholden to them have been using their influence not only to sexually harass their subordinates or clients, but also to, either directly or indirectly, prevent them from publicly accusing them.

      Since the Weinstein allegations, since Saville or even Clinton, this has become more and more apparent. The powerful, the wealthy, the influential, not only are they willing to victimise vulnerable people, they’re able to do so AND get away with it.

      Mr Sargeant’s case, although it is tragic, bears very little relevance to this predatory pattern pervading our society.

      Not speaking about it is the worst thing we can do. It is in the interests of these abusers that we don’t think too long and hard about the systemic nature of the issue.

      • CambroUiDunlainge

        My comment is very, very clearly in regards to the situation surrounding Carl Sargeant in particular and the “bigger picture” i refer to is the allegations made against him as well as Welsh Labour’s handling of the situation. I also believe its best to wait and see what the investigation reveals before we start making any kind of opinions regarding it lest in the future they are deemed as inappropriate to the findings of that investigation.

        So in future please refrain from taking my comment out of context.

  6. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Kevin Spacey has been edited out of an entire film before being found guilty according to legal procedures.

    This unfortunate death, may be a reaction against such a culture, it may be that an innocent man took his own life because mob rule mentality.

    Solicitors, barristers, judges, juries, and the procedures which bind them and accusing and defending parties are there to protect people from being blackened in name by the masses and smeared across the media.

    Something must be done to protect people from random and oft pre-meditated accusations created only to slander and discredit. Our very democracy is theatened when court systems are not the benchmark of public opinions concernjng individuals because of ‘plebscate’.

  7. Jonathan Edwards

    So how good at justice is Plaid Cyrmu?
    The harassed woman in the situation
    “..in the past, Plaid Cymru may not have treated cases of harassment with the seriousness with which they deserve.”
    So why should we take lessons from its Leader as to what to do now? “That situation and the culture that has been tolerated in politics” – oh, Plaid has tolerated this (harassment of women) has it?
    Carl Sargeant or the man in the situation
    ” an independent inquiry will be held into the circumstances and decisions that were taken by the First Minister…Justice is not a privilege, but a right and these are the first steps towards it.”
    Yes, but what chance does a man have in this situation? We are talking about your brother, father, husband, son after all. Here are the worries from the point of view of justice.
    The accuser will be told that she will automatically be believed.
    The man will be suspended from whatever, no matter what the gravity or how long the suspension. A long/indefinite suspension can destroy a career or, as we now see, a life.
    The detailed charges may or may not appear but will probably include a charge along the lines “if we can’t prove the specific and serious charges, we will allege breach of some low and trivial standard which can always be proved, like behaving in a way unworthy of a politician/teacher/whoever”). So the man is going to be toast.
    When tried, the man will be told that the Court has a rule that the Court will only find the allegation proved if most women would have reacted as the accuser did (the “objective test”). But then the Court also has a rule that the allegation will also be proved if the woman (who of course is always to be believed) really really felt strongly (the “subjective” test). Work that one out!
    And the whole thing will be conducted in the overheated atmosphere we all now see around us.
    Two points to close
    (1) War between the sexes is bad for society and modern politicians have got to find ways to defuse what we have now. Won’t be easy.
    (2) Look at the McEvoy case. On Tuesday he publicly warned of the dangers of male suicide. So he was spot on, ahead of the curve, unlike Plaid Cymru. He has not got justice from Leanne Wood so far. She cannot formulate reasons why she got him excluded from the Plaid Assembly Group. She has prejudiced his fair (internal Plaid) trial by her public remarks. It is difficult to resist the thought that LW’s going for McEvoy is simply part of the war between the sexes. Can we bring this to an end please?

    • this whole sexual harrassment business has become hysterical, and its shameful how some have jumped on the bandwagon. You cannot compare serious sexual assault and the odd grope by a dirty old man or woman which occured to you a few years ago with systematic abuse. This business has got out of hand with white middle class professional women in the media banging on about some lech who grabbed their knee in a taxi conflating minor transgressions with the worst of sex crimes and sexpolitation. What has happened is stomach churning

  8. nice headline but the whole thing then reeks of gesture politics, posturing at its worst. J Edwards above has got there ahead of me with a detailed critique which merits a lot of consideration, even though I might not agree with every minute detail. Time to wake up out of that trance that dictates that men are always the wrong’uns, and the ladies are so pure. This is the 21st century and there are plenty of bad women out there and some of them are operating in that toxic Bay orbit.

  9. Complaints are often used to persecute less powerful people. Anyone who has been the innocent victim of a complaint can tell you how devastating it is. The behaviour of C Jones raises many Qs that must be answered. Rather a coincidence a reshuffle coincided with Carl Sargeants sacking and his job given to others. That’s unbelievable. And asking an unqualified spad to interview the complainants is at the very least incompetent. So was C.Sargeant set up to get rid of him? Seems his friends and family suspect that.

  10. I will never vote for Labour again, seeing pictures of researchers laughing and drinking in the press made me feel angry and sick. Welsh government needs to be honest and above reproach. He was treated badly by the establishment.

    RIP Mr Sargeant

  11. Appalling..
    Former special adviser to Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, who is facing an independent inquiry over the death of a sacked minister Carl Sargeant, claims that a toxic atmosphere of fear, loathing and smear campaigns existed within Welsh Labour government https://t.co/rYpH6LQlIg

  12. Not only was the coincidence between the reshuffle and sacking “unbelievable”, but that one of the complaints is 18 months old and others were interviewed by Carwyn’s spad imply Sarge’s ejection was engineered. That the Daily Mail over-egged the story does not make it implausible. Whatever, Carwyn’s big mistake was contravening the code that a Cabinet Minister would be suspended, not sacked, pending investigation AND the investigator to be a senior civil servant, not the Labour Party. In insisting he had no alternative when he, an experienced barrister, must have realised the mistake, he dug himself deeper into the hole. The mistake in process – especially when it led to the tragic death – is a resigning matter, without waiting for the Inquiry to flush it out. The Inquiry can hardly address the complaints of sexual impropriety, but rather the manipulation of the complaints. What’s Leanne’s problem with saying this and challenging Carwyn? . ,

  13. Seeing that Leanne’s article is based on a meeting of AMs and staff a “few hours before the news broke about Carl’s death”, let’s see a further one reacting to the revelations of plotting against Sarge (latest in the W. Mail and Guardian today) and the bullying culture reported by two of Carwyn’s ex-special advisors. ‘Condolences and let the family grieve’ has long passed its sell-by date. UKIP will call for no-confidence in Carwyn; what will Plaid and the Conservatives do in the Senedd this week?

  14. The Daily Mail article is over exaggerated but I think it provides an interesting perspective on the situation.
    I am not a regular Daily Mail reader.

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