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Councillor who complained about ‘F*** the Tories’ Ombudsman official suspended for six months after petty row

10 May 2024 6 minute read
Steven Bletsoe and his wife Freya Bletsoe. Credit: Bridgend Town Council

Martin Shipton

A councillor who complained about an official at the Welsh Ombudsman’s office who posted a series of social media messages including “F*** the Tories” has received a six months suspension following a petty row over a potential royal visit.

Steven Bletsoe is an Independent member of both Bridgend County Borough Council and Bridgend Town Council. Together with colleagues he complained about Sinead Cook, the Investigations Team Manager at the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, who posted a series of offensive messages indicating she had political bias while using several pseudonyms. After being exposed by Nation.Cymru, she resigned from her job.

The scandal led to allegations that non-Labour councillors sometimes received harsher treatment than Labour councillors when complaints were made about them. A review is currently underway to see whether such allegations are borne out. Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies has said he has no confidence in the Ombudsman’s office, and has called for it to be closed down and a new body set up.

Prince Charles

Back in 2022, during a meeting of Bridgend Town Council’s regeneration committee, chaired by Cllr Bletsoe, a discussion took place about the possibility of inviting the then Prince Charles to unveil a plaque to honour Bridgend-born John Thomas, who was Royal Harpist to Queen Victoria.

Cllr Bletsoe’s wife Freya Bletsoe, also a councillor, suggested after consulting the Lord Lieutenant of Mid Glamorgan Peter Vaughan that the discussion should take place in private: if the invitation to the Prince was declined, it would embarrass him if the request was in the public domain, and if he accepted, there would be security considerations.

The clerk to the committee disagreed and there was a robust exchange of views. Cllr Freya Bletsoe, who was attending remotely from Yorkshire, left the meeting. Subsequently Cllr Freya Bletsoe complained about the clerk, who then complained she had been bullied by the councillor. The council rejected the complaint against the clerk, while the complaint to the Ombudsman about Cllr Freya Bletsoe is ongoing.

At the next meeting of the committee, Cllr Steven Bletsoe objected to the minutes of the meeting, claiming they did not accurately reflect what happened and that they broke normal procedure by going into too much detail about the exchange of words between his wife and the committee clerk. In terms of accuracy, he said the minutes failed to say that his wife had said sorry when leaving. Committee members agreed to change the minutes accordingly.

Complaint

The clerk to the town council then made a complaint about Cllr Steven Bletsoe to the Ombudsman, claiming that he should have declared an interest and not complained about the minutes because he was the husband of Cllr Freya Bletsoe. Sinead Cook initially had an involvement in dealing with the complaint at the Ombudsman’s office, later handing the case over to a colleague when responsibilities in the office were reallocated. The office has refused to disclose details of Ms Cook’s involvement in the matter.

A 406-page report on the case, including findings from Ombudsman Michelle Morris, was sent to members of Bridgend County Borough Council’s standards committee, which has oversight over the town council.

Ms Morris’s report states: “I consider the member used his position improperly in an attempt to gain advantage when he suggested the minutes should not include the detail of the dispute, nor details about his wife’s alleged behaviour therefore, and by stating that he had heard his wife apologise and say she was leaving the meeting.

“I am not persuaded by the member’s argument that there was no advantage to his wife, because my office would seek its own evidence, regardless of what the minutes said. While my office would of course investigate impartially and independently, minutes are an important evidential document and his suggestion to remove any details about the dispute, including what was alleged to have been said and by whom, including references which showed his wife may not have treated others with respect and consideration can only have been advantageous to his wife and disadvantage to the clerk.

“I appreciate that the member felt he was in a difficult position. He suggested he wanted to balance the need to adhere to the code with making sure the truth, as he saw it, was made known. He also considered the wider principle that non-verbatim minutes were the style adopted by the council, and that such conflicts should not be played out publicly, which he considered were important principles to uphold.

“Nonetheless I consider the breaches both deliberate and concerning. I say deliberate, because the member in his interview said he would prefer to have been found to breach the rules than to fail to set out the truth. He also said he would not have done anything different with hindsight. This is therefore indicative of a member who will only follow the statutory ethical rules in place when he considers them a good idea in any given circumstances. This is a concern.

“I have also said the breach was concerning because this was a very sensitive situation. The member’s wife was being investigated by my office for serious concerns of alleged bullying. This would naturally have been a source of great distress to both the member’s wife and the clerk. Suggesting the removal from minutes of any details of the dispute, as the member did, could have concerned the clerk and other members of staff who were involved in minuting the meeting.”

The committee decided that Cllr Steven Bletsoe should be suspended from the town council for six months.

Appalling

Cllr Steven Bletsoe said: “The decision is absolutely appalling. I have been suspended for the longest period possible and if the decision is upheld I will lose my seat on the council because you are automatically disqualified if you don’t attend a meeting for six months.

“As chair of the committee I considered it my duty to raise the issue of the inaccuracy of the minutes, and would have done so whether the issue concerned my wife or any other councillor. I am extremely concerned about the initial involvement of Sinead Cook in this case. I am one of the people she made derogatory comments about on social media. I can’t help feeling that the Ombudsman’s office has it in for me.

“The penalty that has been imposed is ridiculously harsh when you consider that a Plaid Cymru MS was recently suspended from the Senedd for six weeks for sexually inappropriate behaviour towards a woman in a taxi. I’ll be appealing, but if I lose my seat I shall stand against Labour and beat them again.”


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
11 days ago

My highest compliments to Martin Shipton. Whilst I am working in my job, he is picking apart stuff like this. I have only read half the article and haven’t worked out who’s who or what’s what yet. Give me another day and I’ll work it out. Martin, you’re a genius.

Dogsbody
Dogsbody
11 days ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

If you search Bridgend Democratic Services on YouTube you can watch the whole standards committee meeting yourself

Neil McEvoy
Neil McEvoy
11 days ago

The decision is yet another affront to the democracy we used to have in Wales. The Ombudsman is used as a political tool of the Labour Party. When you challenge Labour successfully in Wales as Steve has in Bridgend, they conduct lawfare. I know this better than anyone. Steve worked for me during the time we were setting up Propel. He could have jumped on board, but he is independently minded & wanted to remain an independent Councillor. I respected Steve for not going in the same direction as everyone else around him at that time; the Propel way is… Read more »

Tom
Tom
11 days ago
Reply to  Neil McEvoy

There is something very strange with the Standards process in Wales. These decisions should not been done by politicians alone

Neil McEvoy
Neil McEvoy
11 days ago
Reply to  Tom

The system is politicised. Rhys ab Owen profited from it, employed the person who complained about me and then was bitten by the same rotten process. The Senedd has even abolished the right to appeal! The have taken our democracy.

Tom
Tom
10 days ago
Reply to  Neil McEvoy

Incredible that they got rid of the appeal process when an independent process has recently been implemented at Westminster.

Independent truth!
Independent truth!
11 days ago

Steven and Freyer Bletsoe have been hounding down people who don’t agree with them for years! They are very dangerous and it is about time that they are exposed for what they are! This is just the tip of the iceberg! Keep digging. They were also taken to court by HMRC for not paying their tax bill. All in the public domain.

Bridgender
Bridgender
9 days ago

They also exposed a vile Labour Party what’s app group in Bridgend which made personal insults about the physical appearance of opposition politicians whilst branding some as looking like paedophiles. Presuming you are a labour party member, people in Bridgend have long wised up to you. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!

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