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Councillor ‘right’ to question chairmanship

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Are you a lawyer? Audit Chair Peter Jones asked Cllr Williams

Are you a lawyer? Audit Chair Peter Jones asked Cllr Williams

THE WALES AUDIT OFFICE has determined that Cllr Jacob Williams was right to question whether Cllr Mike James could chair the December meeting of the Audit Committee.

Lay member and Chair, Peter Jones did not attend December’s meeting of the key Council committee and Vice Chair Mike James stood in for him. Legal advice from the Acting Head of Legal Services, Claire Incledon, was that Cllr James could chair the meeting in Mr Jones’ absence, despite being a member of the ruling group. The relevant rules state no member of the ruling group can chair the Audit Committee.

Cllr Williams questioned Ms Incledon’s advice at the time and at Thursday’s (Feb 5) meeting of the Audit Committee the Wales Audit Office said that his assertion that Cllr James’ membership of the IPPG debarred him from chairing the committee was correct.

In the interim period since December, the Council sought advice from Bristol barrister Simon Morgan, of St John’s Chambers. Acting Head of Legal Services, Claire Incledon, declined to go through the report prepared for the committee members and asked for questions straight away.

Cllr Jacob Williams asked that the legal advisor take them through the report. but that was not supported.

Richard Harris from the Wales Audit Office said: “We’ve seen the legal advice that has been given to the council, we haven’t taken legal advice. We have spoken to the Welsh Government; In terms of the letter of the law we think that the process does need to be refined.

“The Welsh Government have spoken to us and they’re looking at the guidance they provided and from what they are saying it is not clear. Their view was that the person who chaired the meeting shouldn’t be part of the ruling group.

“The Welsh Government are going to look at it again, there are three other counties across Wales who are in the same position and they will try and clarify the guidance they put forward”.

Chairman Peter Jones said: “It’s not as good as it should be, it needs improvement and that is in hand”.

Claire Incledon said: “I welcome the challenge from Cllr Williams. It has brought this to our attention, I have given my interpretation on the law and that’s also been supported by this advice from the council and as the WAO has explained has enabled us to see that there are matters lacking in regards to the implementation and the wording used with regards to the 2011 measure. It needs addressing and leaves us in a position with regards to the recommendations in the report whether we want to seek steps as suggested or waiting for the outcome of the update”.

Cllr Jacob Williams said: “I am disappointed with what’s happened here. The Local Government Measure is clearly designed to prevent a member of a ruling group from chairing a committee.

“We would all agree that this is the committee but under this lawyer’s external opinion that is not the case, he says this is not a committee, it’s a meeting of the committee. You or I wouldn’t make that distinction. It’s a wacko distinction, in my view, because when Cllr James sat in the chair at the start of the December meeting, I was aware of the measure which intended committees not to be chaired by members of the ruling group. I raised an objection and Ms Incledon’s view was that the rule requiring the meeting to be chaired by a non-ruling group member only applied to you chair, Mr Jones, as the appointed chair and that it didn’t apply to anybody else.

“I find it interesting that Mrs Incledon would come today and say that her view was supported, because that isn’t what the external barrister says. The external barrister says that rule didn’t apply to Councillor James because he was not chairing the committee, he was only chairing a meeting of it. That, to me, is bizarre: I don’t accept that this is a loophole because the measure also says that if, for instance, myself or Cllr Woodham had not been there, a member of the ruling group could chair the meeting if there were no other alternatives, but a member of the executive group could not under any circumstance. The reason for this is that the Welsh Government, when they made this legislation, wanted to drive a wedge between the executive and this important committee.

“I also find it a bit of a concern that Mr Harding said that the rule doesn’t apply to Cllr James. I find it concerning that Mr Harding couldn’t understand the intention of the measure and I don’t think that’s good enough.

“The external barrister makes five points, only one of which is now relevant, and that’s whether there is a distinction between chairing the committee and chairing the meeting. He finds that there is a distinction to be made. I don’t think there is a distinction to be made. ‘It is my view that the chairing of the meeting is very different from the chairing of a committee’, that’s what he says, I cannot believe that. Basically the council has gone to this barrister and he’s provided a report to back up the internal lawyers who said that I was wrong to raise this. I am pleased that the Wales Audit Office recognises I was exactly right.

“This is an easy way out in my view and the external barrister provided a wacko report”.

Chairman Peter Jones then questioned whether Cllr Williams was a qualified lawyer.

Cllr Williams said he wasn’t but went on to say: “On this occasion I have been vindicated and I was entirely right”.

Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse leapt to the officers’ defence, claiming: “The guidelines are ambiguous and the interpretation we received from our legal adviser at the time was in fact legally accurate. It was on this advice that the committee voted.”

Using his own extensive legal experience, Cllr Mirehouse continued: “If the guidelines change in the future that will not affect the legality of that decision we took that day. The committee was properly constituted, under the law with legal advice.

Graciously acknowledging Cllr Williams’ contribution to highlighting the issue, the Hundleton representative concluded: “He raises a good point that the measure is ambiguous. The Welsh Government have said they are going to re-draft it. I can see what he is saying that the legislation is ambiguous but that was not the law”.

Chairman Peter Jones added: “We are where we are; the committee took advice and acted on that in good faith.”

Ignoring the findings of the Wales Audit Office, he concluded: “The advice was supported and my advice to this committee is that we should await the outcome of the ongoing deliberations and then we will revisit the issue”.

It was not clear whether Mr Jones’ advice was intended as legal advice to the Committee members.

Mr Jones’ proposal was supported by his former client Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse and by Council Chair Tom Richards; Cllrs Guy Woodham and Jacob Williams voted against it.

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Primary school teacher described as ‘touchy-feely’ on day two of trial

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher, accused of sexually assaulting his pupils was “very touchy-feely”, Swansea Crown Court heard on the second day of his trial.

James Oulton, 34, of Haverfordwest would put his hands around students’ waists and touch their bottoms, an ex-female pupil said in a video interview played to Swansea Crown Court.

The defendant denies 30 charges of sexual assault at a primary school in Haverfordwest. The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

On the opening day of the trial, court heard that Oulton said the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he always behaved appropriately with children.

On Tuesday, the jury watched the video interview with one of Oulton’s former pupils, who said he was a “friendly person, very chatty and sociable and quite outgoing and wanted to know everything that was going on.”

She added: “Mr Oulton often wanted to know a lot of details on what we had done over the weekend, where we had been, and also who they had been with.”

“At the time I just thought he was trying to be really friendly but now when I look back at it now, it does seem odd.”

The witness also described the defendant as a “very touchy-feely teacher”.

She added: “If he was marking your work or if you approached him to ask him a question, he would put his hands around your waist or around your bum”.

“If he was standing by his desk, he would, like, motion to his knee, so he wouldn’t ask you directly to sit on his lap but he would tap his knee.”

Swansea Crown Court heard that the witness eventually came forward and told her parents parents after she heard them speaking about Mr Oulton being suspended from his job.

“Did you feel under pressure to say something had happened to you?” asked Mr Clee.

The witness answered “No”

Oulton, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, previously told the court he had behaved appropriately.

He also believed letters were sent by Pembrokeshire County Council to parents which encouraged “deliberately false evidence” and collusion between pupils.

The trial continues.

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‘We don’t want it’: councillors object to HGV tanker park plans

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PEMBROKE DOCK town councillors have objected strongly to plans to build a HGV tanker park in the town.

The tanker park would be located on the south-western side of Criterion Way, behind the ASDA petrol station.

However, at a meeting of the town council’s Planning Committee on Tuesday, April 13, councillors were in agreement that it would create more problems for the town.

Councillor Jonathan George said: “I’ve noted the public input on this and they don’t seem very happy about where it’s going to be put.

“It is close to a small park area and I don’t think it’s suitable to put this here. I won’t be supporting this.”

Cllr George Manning added: “There are many aspects of this which are totally inappropriate for Pembroke Dock. There are many other sites available but they haven’t looked at any of them.

“This does not do anything for the Future Generations act and it will bring more disruption to the town.

“This does not bring about any improvements to the existing transport infrastructure. There are lots of things about this, we don’t want it. I don’t think they have looked into it in enough detail.”

Cllr Gordon Goff said that the impact it would have on the public and wildlife would be ‘astronomical’.

He went on to say he was not happy with one of the statements in the application and said they ‘don’t want to be blackmailed’.

One of the documents submitted with the application states that if the development was not approved it would mean that the applicants, Certas, ‘will either have to find a different site’ or ‘will have to cease operating in the area’.

Cllr Terry Judkins said that the Port Authority wanted to ‘use Pembroke Dock as a dumping ground’ and added that he could not support it.

Cllr Maureen Colgan added that she was ‘totally against’ the application and said that the area should be kept for leisure and be developed as an area where people can sit and enjoy themselves.

The application is due to be decided by Pembrokeshire County Council at a later date.

Cllr Paul Dowson has already called in the application for it to be debated by the County Council’s Planning Committee.

In his request he states that it is too near habitation, it is within the Pembroke Dock conservation area and that children have been using the area near the bandstand as play area for over 20 years.

The area had also previously been the subject of an application for a marina and other leisure facilities but that investment was written off in 2017.

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Trial of Haverfordwest primary school teacher starts at Swansea Crown Court

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher who is accused of sexually abusing eleven children thinks he is a victim of a witch hunt by the police, a jury has heard.

But at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (Apr 12), the Clare Wilks for the prosecution said that the defendant had “abused the trust of parents and staff” by sexually touching children in his care.

James Oulton, denies 30 charges of sexual assault against the eleven children who were aged eight or nine years old at the time.

The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

The jury heard how the pupils, now aged between 11 and 17, claimed he touched them sexually.

But the court was also told that Mr Oulton claimed he received cards at the end of term, and he believed letters sent by Pembrokeshire council to parents encouraged false complaints and collusion between pupils.

Oulton, 34, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, told the court he had behaved appropriately.

The jury heard how the alleged abuse occurred while Mr Oulton was working at a primary school in Haverfordwest.

Clare Wilks, prosecuting, said some of the children alleged that they had been assaulted on a daily basis, while others had had given statements to say it only happened the one time.

The trial continues.

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