Carl Sargeant’s tragic death shouldn’t be misused to stop women coming forward

Carl Sargeant (1968-2017) . Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

Carl Sargeant served his country as an elected representative for 13 years and his contribution as an Assembly Member and as a minister won’t be forgotten.

His death yesterday at the age of just 49 was a tragedy and the outpouring of grief by all who knew him showed that he was both loved and respected in the Assembly.

No one knows what motivated Carl Sargeant to take his own life, and only a few what the accusations against him were.

It’s unfortunate, however, that this did not stop many speculating within minutes of the horrifying announcement of his death yesterday afternoon.

First to comment were those who considered the recent revelations about sexual harassment, in politics and elsewhere, to be a ‘witch hunt’ which has now ‘claimed its first victim’.

It feels wrong to have to descend into a political debate so soon after a man’s death. But this rapidly forming narrative is one that must be resisted.

‘Witch hunt’ implies that this is a made up problem, while the reality is the sexual harassment and abuse of women is a massive problem in our society and it has to be tackled.

We know that almost 100,000 women are raped in the UK every year – which means about 5,000 in Wales. Only 1% of the perpetrators are ever convicted.

That’s just the most serious form of sexual abuse. Less serious forms, and sexual harassment more generally, are rife.

Yes, sometimes innocent men are accused and go through hell for no reason. Carl Sargeant may be among them. We have no idea.

But what we need to appreciate is that the number of men falsely accused is tiny in comparison with the number of men who get away with it and are free to do it again.

This isn’t a victimless crime that can be swept under the carpet. Sexual abuse and harassment can leave deep psychological scars on women that ruin lives.

Silence

Many have argued that the names of men accused of sexual harassment or abuse should not be made public. That by naming them, they face trial by media, and are guilty until proven innocent.

I won’t defend the media’s handling of this issue – today’s Sun front page is particularly stomach-churning.

But the unfortunate truth is that the only way many sexual abusers or harassers face justice is if many women come forward and, independently of one another, give very similar accounts of what they suffered.

The only way this happens is if someone is named publicly. At that point, other victims realise that they are not alone, and are less likely to be accused of being fantasists.

Even then, it’s a hard slog. The women have to appear in court and have every detail of their traumatic story picked over by a defence team that will imply that they’re either lying or deranged.

At the end of all that, few prosecutions result in a conviction.

Women already have every reason not to come forward, without also being accused of driving innocent men to their deaths.

We have no idea what the accusations against Carl Sargeant were, what substance they had, and what part they played in his decisions to take his own life.

But as has been pointed out since his death, Carl Sargeant fought for action on gender equality and domestic violence, and whatever his motivations it’s fair to say that it wasn’t to silence women.

Unfortunately, there’s no good way of dealing with accusations of this nature. It’s a nasty, horrible business. But claiming that it’s a ‘witch hunt’ and pretending the problem doesn’t exist is the worst possible option.

In the light of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, women are finally finding their voice on this issue. I dearly hope that Carl Sargeant’s tragic death isn’t misused by those who would wish to silence them again.

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JD
Guest
JD

But surely the point is that the way this situation was handled was dreadful. I thought everyone in this country was innocent until proven guilty.

It was very stupid of him to be sacked and simultaneously accused.

This really could be the end of Carwyn Jones.

Leia
Guest

How so? It is 100% normal to be suspended from work if your workplace is investigating your behaviour. No information other than “personal conduct” was released. It is hard to imagine how it could have been kept entirely queit – do you think the media would have failed to notice and question the sudden absence of a minister?

Rob
Guest

He wasn’t suspended. He was sacked. And the investigation is/was being conducted internally by the Labour Party, rather than being referred to any actual authority.

Leia
Guest

Sacked from a role that doesn’t exist any more?

Rob
Guest

Yes. The job title went with him. Often happens with reshuffles, which often happen as a result of ministers getting sacked.
I realise I’m falling into the trap of letting this distract from the bigger and undoubtedly more important issue, ironically exactly the kind of thing that this article warns against, but Jones’s handling of this must be questioned. His only claim to competence as a politician is as a manager: He has no vision, no charisma, no spark, merely a vague flair for administration. And he has mismanaged this.

Dafis
Guest
Dafis

” His only claim to competence as a politician is as a manager: …” with emphasis on “His”. Very few others regard him as particularly competent in that aspect of his role but the boy has huge capacity for self importance.

Leia
Guest

So how would you have changed the process to hide the absence of a minister from the press and to protect the accusers if the nature of the allegations were such that in and of themselves they would personally identify the person who made it?

Rob
Guest

Just to clarify, at no point did I state that he shouldn’t have been sacked, just that he was sacked (rather than suspended, which is what you were implying). Removing him from office while he defended himself against the allegations was entirely appropriate and there are clear precedents. However, he had every right to know what he was facing. He appears to have been told it was “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping” which covers everything from being unnecessarily creepy to (let’s call a spade a spade) sexual assault, which is so wide a range of potential offences as to… Read more »

Leia
Guest

He was suspended and the Labour party rules say that a suspended member cannot hold an office in the party. There is nothing to suggest he wouldn’t have been given the role back had the investigation come to nothing. (except for the fact of a badly timed reshuffle.) That’s not the same as sacked.

RdWd
Guest
RdWd

Indeed, Carwyn Jones has A LOT to answer for. He should be ashamed. This was an allegation, Sargeant wasn’t even arrested. To fire someone because of an allegation is a true knee-jerk response.

Leia
Guest

It is 100% normal to be suspended from work while your workplace investigates accusations of wrongdoing by you.

And I’m sure you understand that there are cases which warrant dismissal but fall short of being illegal. Or do you truly expect workplaces to tolerate any sort of inappropriate behaviour short of rape?

daffy2012
Guest

‘Short of rape’? Who says that the behaviour in question was of such a serious nature? I would have thought that a person should only by suspended from their job if they are a threat to the public or their fellow workers. Reading and listening to the responses to Carl Sergeant’s death from fellow politicians/workers/friends this certainly doesn’t seem to be the case.

Leia
Guest

Well RdWd for one – suggesting he should either have been arrested or left alone. Do you have any particular reason to think that an except to the normal rules of what’s considered acceptable versus worth suspension took place here?

RdWd
Guest
RdWd

I agree that it is normal, and advisable even, to be suspended should a workplace need to investigate serious allegations, but the choice of wording for many media outlets has been that he was ‘fired’ (even if he was suspended). This article has made a clear case that semantics are of key importance in swaying the public’s opinion currently, whether it’s witch-hunt, or in this case choice of ‘fired’.

daffy2012
Guest

But that’s the point we don’t know if they were ‘serious allegation’ do we? And by all accounts, even Carl Sergeant didn’t know what the allegations were and who made them?

RdWd
Guest
RdWd

Very true. In the end, Welsh Labour’s complete dismissal of Sargeant without any sort of information was peculiar; and today, it has indeed resulted in tragedy.

Leia
Guest

Correct. None of the people involved directly used the word ‘fired’/’sacked’ the mainstream press have to carry that one. (And the people calling it a witchhunt that he was ‘sacked’)

Leia
Guest

This article very much needed writing and is considered and thoughtful.

leigh richards
Guest

Agree with those sentiments entirely. Thank you Ifan for posting what as Leia has rightly said is a much needed article. The issue of predatory behaviour of some men towards women in the workplace – or anywhere else for that matter – must not be swept under the carpet as a result of the tragedy of carl sergeant’s death.

Mighal
Guest
Mighal

Someone very close to me was suspended from work recently. They were not told what the allegation was. It took the lumbering investigation process 6m to dismiss a spurious complaint. Those 6m were a nightmare for the person and family.
Those people who seem to blithely accept harm done to innocent accused people as acceptable collateral damage in a broader battle might change their minds if they were put in a similar position.

Oh dear
Guest
Oh dear

I disagree with Leia that it is normal to be suspended from work without knowing why. That should never be the case. That gives too much power to employers to discriminate. Everyone should know what they are accused of. It seems that is what has happened to others accused of impropriety recently. Fair disciplinary procedures need to be in place and will not stop women coming forward.

Leia
Guest

We only have second hand and inconsistent report that he didn’t know the details. Personally that seems unlikely to me, and if true a problem with how the system was implemented. (Note not a problem with the system itself, but with the implementation..)

Stan
Guest
Stan

Well if he knew the details how come his solicitors were writing to the Labour Party over the weekend asking for the accusations to be set out?

Leia
Guest

His solictiers letter appears to ask for more detail rather than what the allegations were.

Stan
Guest
Stan

I was talking about the details, Leia. Please read the introductory phrase of my reply.

Leia
Guest

Which reply?

Stan
Guest
Stan

The one that prompted yours to me.

Capitalist and Welshnash
Guest
Capitalist and Welshnash

What let to this tragic death has been on a gradual rise in our society since the immediate post-war era, with its roots in the Jazz age and before perhaps. And it must be said. The advent of blogs, fake news, newspapers of every grade down to the bottom, smartphones, wiretapping, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and such, as well as the denigration of High Culture and the Church, is not compatible with parliamentary democracy because it leads to a plebscape and mob rule when unchecked. People from all rungs of society now have the means to hurl abuse, downright lies and… Read more »

Leia
Guest

What makes you believe this accusation was ‘random’?

Dylan Fernley
Guest
Dylan Fernley

welsh nash you surely on a wind up , didn’t think anyone spouted your deference and servile nonsense anymore , you may be a script writer for harry enfield or some other satirist , but to say that only the great and good should have an opinion shows where you are at , somewhere between the dark ages and victorian era ………

Mighal
Guest
Mighal

Ifan Thank you your reply. My comments were not aimed at your article which I thought was legitimate and balanced. It was exactly as you say in your reply a cry for improving the process Unfortunately the lumbering process remains par for the course in public organisations. I would not call it a witch hunt but unfortunately in the concern to deal with a previously neglected serious issue such as this, due process to investigate the truth of individual allegations can be sidelined. I agree that his tragic death should not excuse going back to ignoring or sweeping abuse to… Read more »

glasiad
Guest
glasiad

Here’s my story, for what it is worth. A few weeks after I was elected as a Plaid Cymru county councillor (Pontycymer, Bridgend), knocking out a unbroken line of Labour representatives going back generations, a series of posters appeared overnight plastered all over the valley claiming I was a paedophile. The posters were made to look like an extract from a Canadian magazine (I had moved back from Canada a few years previously) that claimed I was on a list of sexual predators the RCMP were seeking for questioning / charging. The local police got involved, made enquires to Canadian… Read more »

Leia
Guest

So how do you envisage the process working differently but that in a way which would still have dealt with someone how HAD committed wrongdoing in an identical scenario?

Mighal
Guest
Mighal

By letting the accused know what the details of the accusation were. Iinvestigating the accusation in a reasonable time and not letting it drag out because of the inflexible , bureaucracy of the organisation as opposed to time needed for a thorough investigation of the facts themselves

Leia
Guest

OK. I agree the timescale should be reasonable. But the timescale between the allegations coming to light and this death was three days. Is that a reasonable or unreasonable time in which to complete and investigation?

Stan
Guest
Stan

It’s unreasonable if the person that sacked you is speaking to the BBC and the press about your case, as Carwyn Jones clearly was doing. He should have been making “No comment – active investigation” type statements. He wasn’t.

Leia
Guest

And do you believe people would have intepreted that statement as anything other than then way the actual one was? Given the timing?

Stan
Guest
Stan

That’s irrelevant. Once Sargeant had been suspended and an investigation kicked off, it should be obvious to an idiot that it’s entirely inappropriate to comment to the media on aspects of it. But obviously not to Carwyn. Contrast this to what’s happened to Prescott’s boy who has been suspended. When questioned by the media the Labour Party response was predictably, “we do not comment on individual cases”.

Trailorboy
Guest
Trailorboy

I was a bit surprised to see this article to be honest. It seemed a bit hasty. He has yet to be buried, his family have yet to come to terms with the grief and we know next to nothing about the circumstances, the claims or the facts. I understand the points being raised, but would rather have seen a bit of time elapsed before reading this one to be honest. I didn’t know him, but found the news yesterday quite shocking.

Max Wallis
Guest

I’m surprised anyone would defend Leia’s safeguarding policy that he’d be informed “at the appropriate time subject to concerns about confidentiality”, in that it gives wide power so easily misused by an employer/investigating panel. The rights of the accused include to be given an outline of the accusation(s) at the outset. “Inappropriate sexual contact” is quite inadequate. Nor is it good/normal practice to proceed to suspension without hearing the accused response, for most such offences would be handled by discussion, maybe even a written warning. For Carwyn Jones to say he had no alternative is both a prejudicial comment (unwarranted… Read more »

Leia
Guest

It’s totally standard in child/POVA policies regarding sexual issues or violence. This are probably different in other organisations but because that’s what I work within I can see why it would be totally standard to keep the allegations confidential until the suspension was complete and the investigation underway. There are many ways in which detail of a complaint could identify the person who made it. You need to protect that person as well as the accused while the complaint goes forward. The easiest why to do that is to remove on one, or the other, or both from the environment.… Read more »

daffy2012
Guest

You also presume Leia that these complaints have been made about recent events. They could have dated from years ago. So we don’t know who made the accusations. What these allegations are not to mention their seriousness. When these ‘events’ took place. Mind you, I think that if a male would have ‘oggled’ (to use your words) at an unappreciative female 20 years ago I get the impression you think his suspension would be justified. Apologies if I’m being unfair. I just get the feeling you think everything is so black an white.

Leia
Guest

“Unappreciative” is an interesting choice of words. Is there any particular occasion some reason a woman SHOULD “appreciate” being oggled by a colleague she’s got no sexual interest in, in her place of work? Regardless if the woman in question had claimed so-an-so have harassed then yes regardless of what turned out to be the truth the person accused should be suspended in the meantime. If it turns out to be a minor, singular insensitivity offence then the suspension would be lifted, possibly training or some other measure taken, perhaps as little as an apology and on we would go.… Read more »

daffy2012
Guest

“Regardless if the woman in question had claimed so-an-so have harassed then yes regardless of what turned out to be the truth the person accused should be suspended in the meantime.”

Would the same rule apply if a male claimed to be harassed by a female?

Leia
Guest

In any civilised organisation, yes.

Leia
Guest

So…Labour Rulebook – full rules for disciplinary measures on Page 77: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6GtYu9coM3zeVZYTkRNVDlfaTg/view (I couldn’t find a different one for Welsh labour – is there one?) But basically the TL:DR version… 1) May suspend during investigation. Elswhere the rules state Suspended members may not hold office. 2) While member suspended assorted meetings convening to decide if which bit of Labour rules broke and whether disciplinary measures will be brought 3) Detail of alleged rule breaking sent to accused 4) Hearing Which bit of this do people think didn’t happen? How far through it SHOULD they have managed to get through that… Read more »

Cymru Rydd
Guest
Cymru Rydd

Carl Sergeant’s tragic death is a damning indictment on this kind of “Instant Response” culture which has consumed society of late. There does not seem to be any time for due consideration, reflection or just simple patience in our crazy media-led world, where people have to have opinions on everything and express those opinions almost instantaneously. Carwyn Jones as First Minister should have been strong enough and wise enough to resist this when these allegations were made against Carl Sergeant. No problem at all in suspending him whilst the allegations against were investigated. But to essentially act as judge and… Read more »

Leia
Guest

Labour rules say a suspended minister can’t hold an office so he didn’t really have a choice. Argue the rules are wrong by all means, but the do appear to have been followed.

Mighal
Guest
Mighal

Leia ‘But the timescale between the allegations coming to light and this death was three days. Is that a reasonable or unreasonable time in which to complete and investigation’ I replied to a general question about how allegations could be dealt with not the species of this case. Of course 2-3 days is inappropriate. The person I know was left for months and in this specific case we don’t know how long it would take for the investigation if things hadn’t taken this turn. My first point was giving the accused some idea of what the accusation is I think… Read more »

Leia
Guest

Why raise an unrelated case unless you thought the same problem applied here?

A man is dead. Are the witch-hunters happy now?
Guest
A man is dead. Are the witch-hunters happy now?

Carl Sargeant: a working-class politician destroyed by middle-class hysteria.

e still do not know for certain why Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Labour politician, took his life this week. Suicide is a deeply complex affair, and often springs from a deep-seated, hard-to-understand turmoil. But we do know this: Sargeant had been plunged into despair by accusations made against him as part of the increasingly febrile, nasty ‘Pestminster’ witch-hunt. And we know that the accusations did not merit police involvement – that is, they involved … read more here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/a-man-is-dead.-are-the-witch-hunters-happy-now-carl-sargeant/20517

Leia
Guest

So which it is? Do we “not know for certain” or do do we know that it was because of being “plunged into despair by accusations made against him as part of the increasingly febrile, nasty ‘Pestminster’ witch-hunt”

You seem to believe two contradictory statements there.

Darllenwch yr ethygl
Guest
Darllenwch yr ethygl

Read the article

Leia
Guest

What is it you think I missed?

Hywel Jones
Guest
Hywel Jones

I’d not seen spiked before. Thanks. Seems spot on.

daffy2012
Guest

“Carl Sargeant: a working-class politician destroyed by middle-class hysteria.”

I agree with that statement too.

Jonesy
Guest
Jonesy

Can you all just shut up and stop it NOW,

Cris
Guest
Cris

It’s worth remembering that the vast majority of suicides are NOT the direct result of one incident, however traumatic that incident may be. There are, more often than not, complex and varied reasons behind the total despair that leads to someone believing they have no other option but to kill themselves.

Max Wallis
Guest

Even Alun Michael speaks up on BBC Today. He avoided direct questions by saying we can’t know, but if the alleged offences were serious enough for sacking, the case should have been referred to Assembly officials. Saying Sargeant was the best Minister he’s known (incl advancing policy re. safeguarding children and women), he surely went as far as a Police Commissioner can in blaming Carwyn for a wrong call. Despite his intervention and those of Leighton Andrews, Mark Tani etc, expect the Labour AMs to close ranks around Carwyn at today’s internal meeting. Senedd was closed for the week rather… Read more »

Mighal
Guest
Mighal

Leia
Because you asked the question about what should happen in general.
I initially mentioned it because you compared it to what would happen in the normal work place as if that was straight forward process, when in fact it can cause enormous distress to innocent parties

Leia
Guest

The process is straightforward yes. That’s not the same as the emotions being straightforward or easy to deal with. But the process is clear and simple. “Suspend while it’s investigated”.

What would you do differently?

Mighal
Guest
Mighal

As I said
Tell people what they are accused of immediately
And in general( not this case) make sure the speed of the investigation is related to the needs of the accuser and accused not the inflexible process of the organisation

Leia
Guest

No part of a just process is “immediate”. Immediacy is fundamentally incompatible with a measured response.

Jonathan Edwards
Guest
Jonathan Edwards

Here is what should be different. 1. Defuse the overheated attitude to sexual harassment. Someone has now died because of the overheating and loss of due process. 2. Accept that most allegations are trivial even if proved. 3. Accept that suspension while investigating should be the exception. The damage done to say a teacher or doctor by suspension is way out of proportion to most allegations. I mean depression, injustice and even permanent loss of employment caused simply by the time investigations take, whether done by HR departments who are not expert, or by the police. . 4. Accept that… Read more »

Leia
Guest

2) When I hear people say things like that, my mental image is of someone telling Rosa Parks to stop fussing about bus seats and deal with the real problem… You cannot fix the big problems without addressing the small ones.

6) How? A list of where you may touch someone without their consent? A list of how often?