Senedd roundup: Pressure mounts on Health Minister following outburst
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has written to First Minister Mark Drakeford calling for him to sack health minister Vaughan Gething.
Mr Price claims Mr Gething had broken the rules which govern the behaviour of government ministers after he was caught on microphone swearing about his Labour colleague Jenny Rathbone during Wednesday’s Senedd video conference session.
Ms Rathbone had been asking him about government performance on Coronavirus testing and protective kit.
In the letter, Mr Price wrote: “There is no question that the Health Minister’s use of derogatory language during a live-streamed meeting of Plenary was a clear breach of the provisions of paragraphs 1.1 and 1.2 of the Ministerial Code requiring Ministers to uphold the highest standards of propriety and professionalism, treating all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect.
“The use of an expletive could possibly be explained, given the immense pressure that any Minister leading the governmental response to the current crisis would understandably be under. However, the aggressive tone of the attack by the Health Minister on a Member of his own party who was raising wholly legitimate concerns is representative of the Health Minister’s resistance to scrutiny and accountability in general.”
He concludes: “We have previously raised concerns about the Health Minister’s performance and called for his resignation in light of the catastrophic failings of maternity services at Cwm Taf. We remain of the view that the Health Minister is not the right person to lead the NHS. Yesterday’s events underline why that is particularly the case now – at a time when openness and empathy is critical and when scrutiny, accountability and an ability to engage constructively with criticism are crucial in ensuring that everything possible is being done to save lives.
“In order to restore public trust and confidence in your government’s response to the Coronavirus, I ask that you relieve Vaughan Gething of his duties with immediate effect.”
The Welsh Government said the first minister would respond to Mr Price’s letter “in due course”.
The Welsh Conservatives have also called for Mr Gething to be sacked.
Lower numbers in intensive care as rate of infection stabilises
Dr Andrew Goodall, the head of the NHS in Wales, has described an improving picture across the country at the Welsh Government’s daily Coronavirus press briefing on Thursday but warned there could be “a second or even a third peak” of the virus and said the current efforts to suppress transmission – such as social distancing – would have to continue to avoid this.
Reporting evidence of a decline in the number of people in intensive care with the virus Dr Goodall confirmed one in three intensive care beds were currently occupied by people with confirmed or suspected Coronavirus and said: “Over the last week, we have seen reports from across Wales of people recovering sufficiently to leave intensive care.”
Noting the number of confirmed cases had “stabilised” at between 300 and 400 a day for the past two weeks, he added: “This varies across Wales – there are higher rates in south Wales, in Aneurin Bevan, Cardiff and Vale and Swansea Bay health board areas.”
In addition he estimated 1,900 patients in Wales admitted to hospital with Covd-19 symptoms have subsequently been discharged.
Despite the reduction in deaths and new infections recently he said: “One of our concerns is that we have to continue with the range of mechanisms in place because given we have had such a significant impact in the way the public has worked with us, including staying at home, we have some concerns that what would happen is that we have a second or possibly even third peak.
“Our actions at this stage are to ensure we can keep things stable and improving but we will need to continue to work with the public at large.”
It was announced that 17 more people have died with Covid-19 in Wales in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 641. An additional 234 more people tested positive for the virus, taking the total to 8,358.
Support for cancelled cultural events
Two of Wales’ flagship cultural events have been provided financial support by the Welsh Government to help with the impact of cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol and Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod were forced to cancel this year’s events because of the public health crisis.
Funding of more than £800,000 will be shared between the two events to help with business continuity through 2020, including planning and preparation for the 2021 events.
Minister for International Relations and Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan, said: “The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol are two signature events in Wales’ summer events calendar – which provide a fantastic platform to showcase our arts and culture. We are working closely with the organisers to support them through this difficult period and to assist them in building a sustainable future.”
The Carl Sargeant Inquests: Full Timeline
With the investigations in the events surrounding Carl Sargeant’s death seemingly over following the announcement earlier this week that the QC-led inquiry has been cancelled, here’s a timeline of the key events over the last three years. Instead of doing it in strict chronological order, it’s split under several headings. The dates are approximate in some cases.
I’ll leave you to make your own minds up on whether you believe the Sargeant family have been let down or not.
Events before and immediately following Carl Sargeant’s death
Mon 30th October 2017
The (then) First Minister, Carwyn Jones, attends a meeting with the UK Prime Minister after which he requests a meeting of party leaders in the Senedd to discuss their handling of harassment allegations against staff and elected members.
Reportedly, he’s informed around this time of allegations against Carl Sargeant. The initial investigation is handed to the First Minister’s special advisor, Matt Greenough, who speaks to the women involved.
Sources later told BBC’s Vaughan Roderick (and ITV’s Adrian Masters) that the First Minister knew about this earlier, while a previous allegation – which now formed part of this investigation despite being at least 18 months old – had already been dealt with.
Tues 31st October 2017
The Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), confirms that a cross-party meeting on harassment would be held the following Tuesday.
Wed 1st November 2017
Rumours started circulating that a cabinet reshuffle was imminent and Carl Sargeant could lose his post as Communities Secretary as part of a wider plan to promote the 2016 intake of Labour AMs.
Fri 3rd November 2017
Carl Sargeant loses his post in a reshuffle. Following a meeting with the First Minister, he releases a statement demanding an “urgent investigation” and a chance to clear his name, denying “shocking and distressing” allegations made against him about his personal conduct. He hopes to rejoin the government at a later time but is suspended by the Labour Party.
The First Minister says Carl was “removed”/sacked and that the allegations were the reason behind his decision.
Carl is later informed via e-mail by Louise Magee – General Secretary of Welsh Labour – that he’s being investigated for “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping.”
Mon 6th November 2017
The First Minister gives an interview broadcast on both BBC Wales and ITV Wales, insisting he only knew about the allegations w/c 30th October and that following “multiple allegations” against Carl Sargeant (via the initial investigation) he had no choice but to refer the matter to the party – though he confirms the police were not involved.
Carl Sargeant’s solicitor, Huw Bowden, corresponds with Labour’s head of disputes, Sam Matthews, to say he believes the First Minister’s interview had prejudiced Carl’s case.
Huw demands to know the specifics of the allegations so Carl can prepare his defence and be satisfied with the investigation’s “transparency and legitimacy”. He also demands details of how the initial complaint was dealt with. The “anxiety and distress” caused to his client is outlined and he raises the possibility that the complaint’s handling by the First Minister and his staff impacts its impartiality and could lead to evidence being manipulated.
A Labour disciplinary hearing is pencilled in for January 2018.
An anonymous Labour AM says Carl Sargeant was a crown appointment and should’ve kept his job pending an inquiry under the Ministerial Code.
Tues 7th November 2017
Carl Sargeant dies. All Assembly business is suspended for the week amidst a palpable sense of shock.
Weds 8th November 2017
The Sargeant family release the legal correspondence saying Carl had been denied “natural justice” – sentiments echoed by other Labour figures. There are some calls for the First Minister to resign over his handling of the matter.
UK Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister, Dawn Bulter MP, suggests an independent investigation is required, but later backtracks and says it wasn’t needed. She’s joined by Labour’s former Director of Strategy, Steve Howell, who said the correct procedure had been followed.
Former Welsh government Minister, Leighton Andrews, appears on BBC’s Wales Live programme to criticise the First Minister’s appearance in television interviews whilst the investigation was ongoing.
Thur 9th November 2017
The First Minister attends a Labour group meeting at the Senedd and afterwards issues a statement at Cathays Park, saying the due legal process must be respected. He defended his actions as “by the book”, adding that he “had no choice” but to sack Carl.
Wed 6th December 2017
A Labour party inquiry into allegations made against Carl Sargeant is dropped.
Wed 3rd January 2018
Carl’s son, Jack Sargeant, is selected as Labour’s candidate for the Alyn & Deeside by-election.
Tue 6th February 2018
Jack Sargeant is elected to replace his father in the Alyn & Deeside by-election, with a near 15% increase in vote share for Labour.
Sat 21st April 2018
At Welsh Labour’s conference in Llandudno, Carwyn Jones announces he’s to stand down as First Minister with a new Welsh Labour leader in place by the end of 2018.
Bullying, Leaks & Ministerial Code Investigations
Thur 9th November 2017
Leighton Andrews releases a statement claiming Carl Sargeant was a “workplace target” and there was a “toxic atmosphere within the Fifth Floor” (Welsh Government offices at the Senedd) that included bullying, favouritism and personal undermining/misinformation. He made a complaint to the First Minister in Autumn 2014 but this was never formally investigated.
Mon 13th November 2017
Former special advisor to the First Minister, Steve Jones, corroborates what Leighton Andrews had said about the culture within the Welsh Government, saying advisers were “playing power games” and the atmosphere was “pure poison”. The Welsh Conservatives say the First Minister has broken the Ministerial Code by fostering such an environment.
Tue 14th November 2017
Carwyn Jones tells the Senedd that any claims of bullying circa. 2014 were dealt with, contradicting Leighton Andrews’ and Steve Jones’ accounts. The Welsh Conservatives say he may have misled the Assembly when answering a written question on bullying around that time from Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West), in which he denied all knowledge of allegations.
Thur 23rd November 2017
After further pressure on the handling of bullying allegations – and potential breaches of the Ministerial Code – Scotland’s independent adviser, James Hamilton, was appointed independent adviser to the Welsh Government on the Ministerial Code, to which the First Minister referred himself for an investigation.
Wed 29th November 2017
The First Minister wins a vote that blocks an attempt to hold a Senedd committee inquiry into the bullying allegations by 29 votes to 27.
Mon 4th December 2017
The First Minister asks the Permanent Secretary to investigate whether news of Carl’s sacking was leaked before the cabinet reshuffle.
Fri 19th January 2018
A freedom of information request by the Welsh Conservatives reveals the Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams’ (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor), trip to Vietnam was cancelled at a cost of £5,500, with civil servants insinuating the trip was cancelled so she could vote against launching a committee inquiry into the First Minister’s actions on 29th November.
Thur 25th January 2018
An internal inquiry at the Welsh Government finds that no “unauthorised” leaking of the cabinet reshuffle/Carl’s sacking had taken place. The findings are criticised by commentators and politicians from all parties due to highly-publicised Tweets – published before the reshuffle took place – suggesting Carl Sargeant was going to lose his job.
Thur 15th February 2018
BBC Wales reports that a Labour AM was told, via text message, of the allegations against Carl Sargeant and that he would be sacked before the reshuffle. It was later revealed to be Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli).
Wed 28th February 2018
AMs back an opposition motion to release a redacted version of the leak report after Labour and other government AMs abstain.
Tue 17th April 2018
The First Minister threatens to take legal action against the Presiding Officer unless a debate – which would force the civil service to release a redacted version of the leak report under a provision in the Government of Wales Act 2006 – was postponed.
Later that day, the Hamilton inquiry reports back, concluding that the First Minister didn’t breach the Ministerial Code and there was no evidence of bullying within the Welsh Government.
The Coroner’s Inquest
Mon 13th November 2017
A Coroner’s inquest into Carl Sargeant’s death is opened and adjourned, with a provisional cause of suicide by hanging.
Thur 14th June 2018
A pre-inquest Coroner’s hearing reveals that Carl Sargeant was on medication for depression at the time of his death and may have had an alcohol problem.
Mon 26th Nov 2018
The Coroner’s Inquest opens. Carl Sargeant’s final note was revealed, saying: “To Bernie, Lucy, Jack and family/friends. Sorry I have let you all down badly. You deserve none of this adverse publicity because of my acts. I have failed you. That aside, I love you more than you will ever know and I’m sorry I have taken the easy way out.”
Tue 27th Nov 2018
At the Coroner’s Inquest, special adviser to the First Minister, Matt Greenough, said there were two complaints about Mr Sargeant’s behaviour in 2016, but the first “tangible” complaint came in the weeks before his sacking, alleging he had behaved inappropriately towards two women at a political event. It was also revealed Carl Sargeant was being considered for a move to Leader of the House.
Ken Skates AM (Lab, Clwyd South) reportedly said to a civil servant that Carwyn Jones was “furious” after Mr Sargeant made the allegations public – despite being advised not to do so – in his statement issued following his dismissal.
Wed 28th Nov 2018
Carwyn Jones gives evidence in which he says the allegations made against Carl Sargeant “couldn’t be ignored”. He also tells the inquest he advised Carl to avoid drinking heavily and that he was concerned Carl was having too many overnight stays after meetings.
He added that he couldn’t tell Carl the details of the allegations as the complainants would’ve been identified and it was better for the complaints to be dealt with within the Labour party instead of being referred to the Standards Commissioner. He denied using the allegations as an excuse to “get rid” of Mr Sargeant but admitted he didn’t want to make it look like a mutually agreed decision either.
It was revealed that Ann Jones AM (Lab, Vale of Clwyd) was approached to provide pastoral care after Carl’s sacking, but was said to have been very upset by the news.
There were also suggestions one of the witnesses – Flintshire councillor, Bernie Attridge – may have lied in his statement to the coroner that the sacking “killed my friend” and had prior knowledge of the allegations, reportedly discouraging local Labour branch members from coming out in support of Carl Sargeant.
Thu 29th Nov 2018
A ministerial driver tells the Coroner’s inquest that on the day Carl was sacked, he made a “cut-throat gesture” in the car and said it was “his own fault”. Lobbyist and friend of Carl Sargeant, Daran Hill, tells the inquiry that media pressure was weighing on Carl’s mind and he wanted to set his own narrative in the wake of his sacking.
A request for Bernie Attridge to be called to the inquest is refused as the Coroner determined he needed no further submissions to come to a determination.
Fri 30th Nov 2018
Lesley Griffiths AM (Lab, Wrexham) reveals Carl Sargeant’s problems with depression and rejects the suggestion he had behaved inappropriately around women. She also said that they were kept apart from each other on the day of the sacking which was “unusual”.
Carwyn Jones’ legal team request a judicial review into the decision not to hear evidence from Bernie Attridge and Flintshire Council leader, Aaron Shotton. This was rejected on 18th January 2019.
Following a new witness statement from Ann Jones AM, the Coroner applies for phone and text records between Matt Greenough, the First Minister and Ann Jones. The Coroner also questions timings given by the First Minister.
The inquest is adjourned until July 2019, which the Sargeant family describes as “highly unsatisfactory”.
Mon 8h July 2019
The Coroner’s Inquest resumes. Ann Jones AM gives evidence saying it wasn’t clear that she was given a specific pastoral role for Carl Sargeant following his sacking. This contradicted evidence given by Carwyn Jones in November 2018 (changed once Ann Jones was called to give evidence) that Ann was given a pastoral role and he spoke to her about it. Carwyn Jones is directly accused of lying under oath and accepts there may have been “misunderstandings”.
Tue 9th July 2019
Bernie Sargeant gives evidence to the inquest. She described how Carl Sargeant’s mood changed before his death and said she believed his denials of the allegations. She also said that Carl Sargeant and Carwyn Jones were not particularly close.
Thur 11th July 2019
The Coroner returns a formal verdict of suicide and a medical verdict of death caused by hanging.
The Coroner issues a “prevention of future deaths” report to the Welsh Government following evidence of their support (or lack of) offered to ministers who’ve been dismissed.
Carwyn Jones issues a statement saying nobody could have predicted Carl would’ve taken his own life. The Sargeant family condemn Mr Jones and his legal team for delaying the inquest process and for tabling several applications. They call for a genuine apology.
The First Minister’s Office released several documents, including minutes of the inquiry into leaks, the prevention of future deaths report itself and technical revisions to the terms of the QC-led inquiry – which will remain largely unchanged.
The QC-led Inquiry
Fri 10th November 2017
In an editorial piece, Martin Shipton accuses the First Minister of hiding behind legal process to avoid scrutiny.
The Welsh Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, Mark Tami MP (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), Ian Lucas MP, Sargeant family and Leighton Andrews all call (or repeat calls) for an independent inquiry.
Later that evening, the First Minister’s Office announces an independent inquiry would take place, overseen by “a senior QC” with the terms of reference drafted by the Permanent Secretary, Shan Morgan – though the Sargeant family insists it must be “completely independent of the Welsh Government”.
Wed 24th January 2018
Paul Bowen QC is selected by the Sargeant family to lead the independent inquiry into how the First Minister handled the reshuffle and sacking.
Tue 27th March 2018
Hudgell Solicitors – working on behalf of the Sargeant family – claim the Welsh Government are “dragging their heels” on the Bowen inquiry, having not responded two weeks after draft terms of engagement were revealed.
Thur 14th June 2018
Terms of reference are agreed for the Bowen inquiry, which included Carwyn Jones’ actions both before and after Carl Sargeant’s sacking. The investigation is given a six-month deadline to complete its work.
The independence of the inquiry is immediately brought into question when an e-mail from the Permanent Secretary to civil servants requests that anyone with evidence draws it to the attention of the HR department.
Mon 18th June 2018
The Sargeant family and their legal counsel threaten to refer the Bowen Inquiry’s ground rules to the High Court for judicial review, after revealing their barrister will be unable to cross-examine witnesses and the timing of meetings will coincide with their barrister’s involvement in the Grenfell disaster inquiry.
They also said the Permanent Secretary’s email was a sign the Welsh Government were not committed to openness and transparency in dealing with the inquiry.
Tue 5th Sep 2018
The QC-led inquiry is suspended following the legal challenge by the Sargeant family.
Tue 13th Nov 2018
Bernie Sargeant wins a right to a High Court challenge on the legality of the QC-led inquiry after a fresh application for a judicial review.
Thur 17th January 2019
A judicial review into the QC-led inquiry hears that Carwyn Jones acted “like a judge in his own court” when he set the rules for inquiries into his handling of the sacking of Carl Sargeant. They also heard that the QC appointed to the case, Paul Bowen, has his own concerns about Carwyn Jones’s involvement in the case.
Wed 27th March 2019
The Sargeant family win a High Court challenge over the legality of the QC investigation into Carl Sargeant’s sacking.
Thur 4th April 2019
The new First Minister, Mark Drakeford, appoints a new QC to review the ground rules of the QC-led inquiry.
7th Nov 2019
On the second anniversary of Carl Sargeant’s death, the Sargeant family calls for work to start immediately on a QC-led inquiry, expressing their anger and distrust at the Welsh Government’s approach.
21st April 2020
The QC-led inquiry is dropped with the agreement of the Sargeant family following consultation mediated by ACAS Chair, Brendan Barber. The Welsh Government agrees to pay any outstanding legal costs to date, totalling £220,000.
The Sargeant family says, “As a family, we have come to realise that the inquiry process would be unlikely to give us the answers we seek. So, enough is enough. We must draw a line under everything and let our grieving process begin.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “I know that all parties involved now share a wish to bring an end to the public controversy in relation to the tragic death of Carl, allowing us all to remember him as the valued husband, father, colleague and friend that he was.”
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