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Officer fiddles council minutes

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Grants panel: Minutes tampered with

Grants panel: Minutes tampered with

THE PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD understands that a senior officer in the County Council’s Development Directorate has undergone disciplinary proceedings for altering the minutes kept of several European grant-awarding panel meetings to put a more favourable gloss on the scrutiny that took place.

Writing on his website, Hakin Councillor Mike Stoddart explained how last year he submitted a Freedom of Information request to obtain the minutes of several panel meetings where applications for European funding were evaluated and approved. Cllr Stoddart duly received the minutes, but says he received an email out of the blue last week from County Hall stating that after he submitted his request, the minutes were significantly altered with the result that the documents Cllr Stoddart was sent as a true record of the panel meetings, were materially different to what had been approved by the panel.

Cllr Stoddart told The Herald:  “Some of the amendments are trivial and some less so, but the point is that someone within the authority thought fit to make these alterations.”

“While most of the alterations are merely concerned with tidying up the grammar, those regarding No 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, involve substantial additions to the text and seem to have been designed to give the impression that the Grant Panel’s evaluation of this application was a good deal more rigorous than indicated by the original minutes.”

The re-writing of such public records is a damning indictment on the authority’s handling of publicly-funded grant cash for property development projects, which has been reported for over a year in the Herald and our sister publication, Pembrokeshire’s Best.

Officers’ role questioned

Allegations of questionable practice have dogged two European-funded property grant schemes in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock since Pembrokeshire’s Best magazine uncovered in 2012 that the majority of monies for multiple projects in Pembroke Dock had gone to a single developer, Cathal McCosker, who had used a maze of pop-up companies to avoid restrictions intended to cap grant money awarded to grant applicants.

In January 2013 it emerged that Cathal McCosker had been granted a licence for bedsits by the County Council in the former National Westminster Bank building in Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock. Those bedsits had been built in a flagrant breach of the planning permission granted by the Council, who turned a blind eye to the developer’s conduct and the well known complaints and behaviour logged by the emergency services as a result of overcrowding. An application for retrospective planning permission for the bedsits was submitted by Mr McCosker, which officers intended to approve under delegater powers, however the local member Cllr Alison Lee called it in to be determined by the committee. Amid public outcry and angry scenes, only the officers and a few ruling IPPG councillors backed the Irish developer’s application for approval, and the application was refused.

Following refusal, and amid strong local opposition to his scheme to develop more bedsits, Mr McCosker subsequently withdrew from other plans he had announced to develop properties in Pembroke near the castle, which had not been required to go to tender by the County Council. In particular, it emerged that Mr McCosker had been accompanied to a key meeting by Council officers to assist his “pitch” for those plans to Pembroke Town Council.

Last year, Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine revealed that Council officers in the local authority’s Planning Department had acknowledged Police reports of anti-social behaviour in the Meyrick Street bedsits development but withheld that information from members of the Planning Committee.

The Herald then obtained further information which suggested that officers used a contrived definition of its obligations to provide “affordable housing” for those in need, in order to justify the construction of bedsits, widely regarded as Housing Benefit magnets for private developers and a blight upon any hope for economic regeneration of commercial properties.
Cllr Mike Stoddart continued to press the Council for answers to questions about the works supposedly carried out under the scheme and the way in which public money had been lavished on building bedsits in the commercial heart of Pembroke Dock.
His efforts were met with obstruction by officers and repeated attacks on his integrity by IPPG Cabinet member Cllr David Pugh, who at a meeting in December received the support of barely a third of Councillors in a no confidence vote, and had the grants schemes responsibility removed from his cabinet portfolio and handed to Cllr David Simpson.

After a reversal of position by the Council’s Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding on the legal stance, it was agreed that the law allowed the documents sought by Cllr Stoddart to be made available for inspection by all councillors, which also allowed copies to be taken. Shortly thereafter the Police were called in by the Council following representations made to Mark Lewis, Director of Finance and Leisure, by Cllr Stoddart and Cllr Jacob Williams after discoveries they made in the files.

The council refused to confirm or deny the identity of the officer who has been disciplined for tampering with the grant panel meetings minutes, following emails sent by the Herald.

The council also refused to confirm or deny what disciplinary action has been taken against the officer, and if they have been suspended to prevent further documents held by the council being tampered with, in light of the ongoing Police investigation into the grant schemes.

The only response the Herald received from the council came from a spokesperson who said:
“Pembrokeshire County Council’s Audit Committee will be reviewing how the Council deals with grants. As the matter has been referred to the Police, the County Council will not be making any further comment at this time.”

Audit Committee take action on grants

Yesterday (Thursday, April 24) the Council’s Audit Committee considered the ongoing issue and briefly discussed the alterations made by the unnamed officer, of the record of grant panel meetings. The Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding told the committee that the officer responsible had been disciplined, but added that he could not reveal who it was nor could he say what punishment was given out.

Cllr Jacob Williams told other members: “There are two recent developments that I’m aware of with which I’m very uncomfortable: firstly the fact that the minutes of the grant panel have been edited by an unnamed member of staff. That to me is very frightening.
“The second matter is that at the cabinet meeting in early April, an updated report was presented in which WEFO (the Welsh European Funding Office) requested that the Council sends them a response.

“I have now received a copy of the confidential report the council sent in response to WEFO, and I’m absolutely appalled at it. It’s shocking to me, knowing what I do about what’s happened, and as councillors you are all entitled to see it and I urge you to, you’ll be amazed at what has been said – I can’t believe anybody thought this was a fit and accurate representation of what’s gone on here”.

Cllr David Simpson, who recently took over control of the Council’s public works grants schemes from Cllr David Pugh, said:  “We should be looking at a full internal audit into the process on one of the units. A full audit by the authority to look at the process, to see where we started at, the process in its implementation, how grants were paid, the staff that were involved”.

Independent lay-Chair of the committee, John Evans MBE, responded saying:  “We should start something now to learn lessons as quickly as possible.

“By taking one and learning the lessons as quickly as possible from that, so we need to learn those lessons quickly to rebuild the confidence of others in the organisation so that we can move forward”.

Cllr Mike James added: “Time is of the essence”.

As a result of their deliberations, the Audit Committee agreed that a management review should take place in respect of the grants process for 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, as quickly as possible, which will return to a reconvened extraordinary meeting at a date which has not yet been set.

It was also agreed that the two matters raised by Cllr Jacob Williams – the tampering of documents and the response the council sent to WEFO – would also be discussed when the extraordinary meeting reconvened, though this is likely to be behind-closed-doors in private session, where the press and public are excluded.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Jonathan

    April 25, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    About time this is found out Cathals properties are poor quality for a private let lock him away and throw away the key 🙂

  2. Welshman 23

    April 25, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    One disaster to another what are the hierarchy going to do now. Cover up. It’s about time names of the individual should be made public. What this person has done is illegal and a should be added to the list currently being investigated by the police

  3. les

    April 26, 2014 at 8:11 am

    surely the altering of minutes is a misconduct in public office. the police should step in whether invited or not,especially given the apparent “governance issues” at PCC.

  4. Keanjo

    April 27, 2014 at 11:08 am

    A very thorough report on this topic. Congratulations, please keep on with your investigative journalism into the shambles at County Hall.

  5. Teifion

    April 28, 2014 at 9:24 am

    It’s a great pity Bryn, the other senior managers and our councillors have never heard of The Nolan Principles of honesty, accountability, openness, objectivity, transparency and leadership

  6. Archie

    May 14, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    What a refreshing change to read all about the trials and tribulations going on within PCC, This paper is a credit to investigative journalism, but don’t stay rooted in County Hall, there is a lot to report in some of our wayward Community councils, St Florence and Manorbier to name just two!

  7. Phil

    December 3, 2014 at 10:14 am

    This bastard needs to sort his plumbing out. Look at the flowers, just keep looking at the flowers!

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Pembroke: Leave teenage girls alone, sex offender told

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A SEX OFFENDER from Ashdale Lane, Pembroke has been jailed for repeatedly ignoring court orders which were put in place to protect young girls.
Gareth Thomas James Flynn, aged 41, frightened a 14-year-old girl who refused to get off a bus in case he managed to find out where she lived.
41-year-old Gareth Thomas James Flynn scared a 14-year-old girl because she refused to get of a bus, frightened he would learn her address.
He admitted breaching a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and was jailed today for a year.
Sitting at Swansea Crown Court, Judge Geraint Walters berated the defendant.  His Honour said that Flynn had shown a complete disregard for the original SHPO.
The judge said: “Leave teenage girls alone. They are scared of you”
He told Flynn he would be on licence for 12 months after his release from prison, and he reminded him that the SHPO remained in place.

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Narberth: ‘My mum’s camper was stolen and found burned out down the road’

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A CAMPER VAN stolen on Thursday night in Narberth was found burned a short distance from where it was parked, the owner’s son has said.

Zachary Bunce posted an appeal on Facebook on Friday morning saying: “Can every single one of my friends please share this my mother’s Ford transit campervan was stolen last night in the Narberth area can people please be on the lookout for this van as my mother is completely heartbroken.”

But three hours later he updated the post to say: “Thank you everyone who shared, sadly my mums van was driven 1.3 miles down the road and driven into a ditch and burnt it out.

Mr Bunce has said on that the incident has been captured on CCTV, and took place at 2.10am in the morning (Jan 24).
Anyone with any information should contact the police on 101.

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News

Hook: Police and school confirm death of boy, 13

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POLICE are investigating the sudden death of a 13-year-old boy from Hook on Wednesday (Jan 22)

A police spokesman told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “Dyfed-Powys Police is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a 13-year-old boy, from the Hook area of Pembrokeshire.

“The death is not being treated as suspicious at this time. Next of kin have been advised and are being supported.”

A letter was sent out to parents and carers by Haverfordwest High VC School headteacher Jane Harries following the death. The letter reads: “It is with great sadness that I have to inform you about the sudden death of a year nine pupil at our school.

“The children in Year nine were told this morning by myself and other pupils were told by their teachers during their lesson this afternoon. The full detail surrounding the death are not known at this stage – but children have been reassured that this is something that does not happen very often. Your child may or may not want to talk bout it, but it is likely that he/she will need your special care, attention and reassurance at this difficult time.

“We are deeply affected by the death, but we are trying, for the children’s sake, to keep the school as normal as possible over the coming days, whilst allowing the children opportunities to talk about the pupil if they wish to. Trained support staff and counsellors are helping to support us through this difficult time. If you feel that your child needs extra support, please let us know.

“Our thoughts are with the pupil’s family at this difficult time, and the whole school community sends them our sincerest sympathy and support. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s achievement leader, or Miss Thomas, pastoral support manager. Paul Lucas, chairman of the governing body at Haverfordwest High VC School, said: “The governors are shocked at the tragic loss of this young student. The family are in our thoughts at this very sad time.”

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