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Opinion

We can’t trust Vaughan Gething to hold the highest political office in Wales

12 May 2024 10 minute read
Vaughan Gething (L) -photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire. A redacted version of the leaked message (R).

Martin Shipton

Wales deserves better than to have a dishonest politician as First Minister.

That’s why it’s important that the Labour Party does what is necessary to remove Vaughan Gething from office.

Since Nation.Cymru revealed four days ago that he had misled the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, statements he has made – and that another member of his Cabinet has made – have confirmed that he has been dishonest.

Our original case against him was set out in an article we published last Tuesday morning, May 7. It’s worth repeating the crucial points we made.

At the centre of the story was an iMessage Mr Gething had sent on a group chat to nine other ministers on August 17 2020, at a time when the Welsh Government’s main preoccupation was handling the Covid crisis. He wrote: “I’m deleting the messages in this group. They can be captured in an FOI [freedom of information request] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made.”

We were leaked this message, together with seven others that appeared on the same screenshot. From the other messages it was easy to deduce that Welsh Government business had been discussed. The message immediately before Mr Gething’s had another minister saying: “Great ministerial contributions all round”.

A further message had a third minister referring facetiously to an algorithm. It so happened that on the very same day that Mr Gething signalled his intention to delete messages, the Welsh Government announced that GCSE and A-level grades would be awarded on the basis of teachers’ assessment of students rather than being determined by an algorithm.

Welsh Government business

Clearly, then, the matter under discussion, and the “choice” referred to by Mr Gething in his message, was both Welsh Government business and Covid related. The reason, of course, for choosing a new means of assessing students’ exam grades was because their education had been interrupted during lockdown.

Vaughan Gething’s text message posted to the ministerial group chat on Monday August 17 2020

Equally, as a lawyer and a minister of some years’ standing, Mr Gething knew that to be captured in an FOI, the messages had to relate to Welsh Government business. This is important to remember when we discuss a little later his reaction to our story.

In contrast to his assertion to ministerial colleagues that he was “deleting the messages in this group”, he told a different story to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. Messages had not been deleted by him, he asserted, but during a refit of one of his mobile phones undertaken by the Senedd’s IT department.

He expressed regret and embarrassment in a written “statement of truth” to the Inquiry and in oral evidence given while the Inquiry sat in Cardiff. Our story published on May 7 set out the relevant details of his written and oral statements.

When it was put to Mr Gething by Tom Poole KC, lead counsel to the Inquiry, “You would accept, would you, that it’s not just important to retain records for an Inquiry of this nature but it is important for public accountability?”, he responded: “Indeed, it’s important the public can see not just the choices we made but why we have made those choices.”

Then asked by Mr Poole about an instruction to preserve records for the Covid Inquiry, Mr Gething said: “So what I recall was that we did have a discussion about making sure that our records were up to date, choices we’d made and decisions around them, so that’s what I understood it to have been and that’s what was done, and if you look at — there are lots of examples of decisions that had been taken and conversations that had taken place that are there and are summarised, so I understood that we’d kept and maintained all the information that we should do, and it would be made available to this Inquiry.”

At no stage did Mr Gething tell the Inquiry that he had deleted messages to avoid their disclosure under FOI.

Declaration

We pointed out in our story how Mr Gething had signed a declaration that his written statement was truthful and affirmed before giving evidence to the hearing. This explains why Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth raised the issue of perjury at First Minister’s Questions on the afternoon of May 7.

Our story also told how users of mobile phones issued by the Welsh Government had been told they were creating a “public record” when they wrote messages and that they were under a duty to “properly manage and preserve” them.

On the morning of Monday May 6, we told the Welsh Government we had been leaked the screenshot which included Mr Gething’s admission that he had deleted messages. We also provided our narrative based on evidence that he gave to the Inquiry, and said we would be publishing our story the following morning.

At lunchtime we were told the Welsh Government would not be commenting. In the evening we received a phone call from the Welsh Government telling us the messages referred to could have referred to “anything”, but we were still not provided with an on-the-record comment.

First Minister’s Questions

After the story was published, the revelation in our story was raised in First Minister’s Questions by both Welsh Conservative Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies and Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Responding to Mr Davies, Mr Gething said: “The screenshot that you refer to is actually from a conversation between Ministers that relates to a Labour group meeting in August 2020. It does not relate to decisions captured. It’s actually about the way in which we describe what we are doing.”

Pressed further by Mr Davies, he said: “I’m very clear that I sent the message that you refer to. I’m also very clear that the context of the conversation is entirely about a Labour Party group meeting and it is not about decision making to do with the pandemic. It’s about comments that colleagues make to and about each other. It’s about ensuring that we don’t provide things that are potentially embarrassing, but not those things that affect any information about decision making during the pandemic.”

Mr ap Iorwerth also challenged the First Minister on the content of the messages on the screenshot. Mr Gething replied: “The individual message relates to a discussion within the Labour group about how people do and don’t talk to each other. It’s essentially an appeal for people to consider what they have to say.”

The only conclusion one can come to is that Mr Gething was, in making these comments, seeking to deceive by obfuscating the issue. He knew full well that conversations in the Labour group were not subject to FOI disclosure, nor were messages in the ministerial chat that related to individual Members of the Senedd.

Only Welsh Government business was liable for disclosure, and therefore ‘the messages in this group’ were Welsh Government business. As we know, they related to the decision – or “choice” as Mr Gething put it – to change the way students were assessed for GCSEs and A-levels.

Interviews

Later he gave interviews to a number of journalists. He told Rob Osborne of ITV Wales: “If you look at the whole context of the messages …it’s clear this actually refers to what would otherwise simply simply [sic] embarrassing comments between and about colleagues. I haven’t deleted any message to the pandemic through the time deliber [sic] because I was actually incredibly busy making choices during the most difficult period in my professional life.”

He told David Deans of BBC Wales “he never deleted any texts from his own phone, because he would not have the time or inclination”. When speaking to Steven Morris of the Guardian he said he had not deleted any messages that related to decisions made by the Welsh Government during Covid, saying the iMessages leaked to Nation.Cymru related to “unkind comments” that were potentially embarrassing made on a group chat following a Labour group meeting.

Each of his statements are subtly different, with the direct quotations in Osborne’s interview especially garbled.

Shifted

By the time Lynne Neagle, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, was questioned by her Welsh Conservative Shadow Tom Giffard on May 8, the ground had shifted. He said: “It’s widely reported that the choice that was being made at the time was around the decision around exam grades, predicted grades and algorithms at the time. It appears that this relates to a Labour group meeting, or a meeting of Labour Members of the Senedd, to bring them up to speed, if you like, with what the government was proposing to do. So, can you confirm that that was the nature of that meeting, and were you in it?

Ms Neagle responded: “I do actually remember the group meeting. I was Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee at the time. And I can tell you that there were no decisions made at that meeting. The meeting was there to give Labour Members, including myself, the opportunity to discuss what had happened the week before, which had been a very challenging week for children and young people, and the government, to give us the opportunity to air what was happening in our constituencies.

“And to the best of my recollection, there were absolutely no decisions made in that meeting. It was simply a method of updating the Labour group on the actions that were being taken to support young people through this period.”

Mr Giffard commented: “Obviously, the First Minister yesterday denied the messages were to do with pandemic handling, but they seem now to be a reflection on what happened in that meeting, and that may be as relevant to the work of the Covid Inquiry as the decision-making processes themselves.”

Ms Neagle had, unwittingly or not, conceded that the messages did in fact relate to Welsh Government business and not idle banter between Labour MSs.

Welsh Government instructions

Mr Gething should not have deleted the group chat, which in line with Welsh Government instructions he was meant to preserve. When the Welsh Government was asked by the UK Covid-19 Inquiry to hand over material relating to the pandemic, the deleted chat should have been included.

It was for the Inquiry to decide whether the material was relevant, not Mr Gething. One screenshot was leaked to us. We don’t know whether there were any more messages in the relevant group chat or not.

Given his lack of candour about what he deleted, we can’t be sure that he didn’t delete more.

Vaughan Gething misled the Inquiry. It’s to be hoped that he is recalled and questioned in public about what he deleted and why.

Can we trust such a person to hold the highest political office in Wales? The answer is obvious. No we cannot.


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Glynn Alwyn-Jones
Glynn Alwyn-Jones
14 days ago

From the perspective of the Welsh diaspora that are, unfortunately, not able to live in Wales, how can we have any respect for the leadership of the Senedd when that which is occurring as to VG is so reminiscent of the the lies and corruption that was seen when Boris was Prime Minister.

Garry Jones
Garry Jones
14 days ago

Good investigative reporting here.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
14 days ago

Thanks to Gething, we are going to have to replicate the embarrassment of dumping Truss and appointing the runner up. Let’s just get on with it for the good of Cymru.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
14 days ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

The runner-up ! I hope not, he has been all but invisible recently…

As I said the riderless horse won the race, now we need to choose our own Frankie Dettori to place on the beast’s back…

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
14 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Nicely done with the analogy. What I am suggesting is that we rewind and appoint the moral winner and start again from there.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
14 days ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

Diolch…

I don’t think there was a ‘moral winner’, they are public servants who choose to operate in secret…

Solicitor Politicians in the main but elected to serve the public nevertheless…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
14 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

I have long been intrigued to know the conversations that Mark Drakeford and Vaughan Gething had with their counterparts and others when both traveled to London some three years ago. If you recall they came back bearing gifts; to wit one Baroness Bumble…

Much of what has since happened would be better understood if we had knowledge of said meetings. It may be that geese were cooked back then and are now just being laid before us…

Last edited 14 days ago by Mab Meirion
FrankC
FrankC
14 days ago

This is the biggest scandal in Welsh Politics in the last 50 years. Thanks to Nation.Cymru for exposing it. Gething would have got away with this disgraceful behaviour without your reporting.

Welsh Labour needs to grow some balls and get rid of him.

Martyn Young
Martyn Young
14 days ago

The antics of Gething have embarrassed the office. His position is untenable.

Nia James
Nia James
14 days ago

Great journalism by Martin. VG will undoubtedly get away with it as the extended tentacles of the Labour octopus will wrap themselves around him for protection. How can any voter trust Labour?

adrian savill
adrian savill
13 days ago

Excellent journalism

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