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Clash of the councillors over ‘phantom’ grant improvements



at warA WAR OF WORDS broke out at Pembrokeshire County Council’s monthly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, as the row over grant money awarded to controversial Irish property developer, Cathal McCosker, escalated.

Members of the Cabinet discussed backbench member Cllr Mike Stoddart’s request for the authority to make available all information to councillors relating to the Pembroke Dock property grants schemes after serious doubts have been raised over their administration.

Cllr Stoddart addressed the cabinet meeting in support of his request, and said that as a member of the council the information he is requesting – bills of quantities, tender reports, and final accounts – should be available to him as a matter of course, however officers and the cabinet disagree and hope to keep the information under wraps.

Cllr Stoddart explained that he had a lengthy career in the building trade, and had concerns that public money had been given out for building works which had ‘simply never taken place’, and that he had been hampered in his quest to ‘get to the truth’ by officers.

Council Leader Cllr Jamie Adams, and other cabinet members were less than sympathetic to the request, and became hostile to the idea that there was something going on which the council’s internal auditors, among others, had failed to pick up on. At one point Cllr David Pugh, cabinet member with responsibility for the portfolio under which the grant scheme operates, shouted at Cllr Stoddart, during a tirade in which he said that there were no problems with the awards and that the necessary works referred to had either taken place or were not paid for by public money.

According to Cllr Stoddart, money from both the National Lottery funded Townscape Heritage Initiative, and the European funded Commercial Property Grant scheme has been spent on certain construction work which has never materialised, on Pembroke Dock properties owned by Mr Cathal McCosker or companies which he is a director of.

He believes that there could be administrative shortcomings in relation to the grant payments, and that the Council is further trying to cover it up, backed by councillors and officers at the highest level in the authority, and preventing him from ‘getting to the truth’.

In a lengthy presentation, Cllr Stoddart told the meeting: “My attempts to obtain further information via Freedom of Information requests have met stubborn resistance from the Council. When I did receive some of the information, black redactions were included in the reports. All financial information had been blacked-out.”

Emphasizing that the redactions were not due to an over-careful council, but an attempt to hinder Cllr Stoddart’s attempts to uncover the truth, he said: “During the public inspection of the accounts I found sheets readily available for inspection with even the bank details of the developer, Cathal Mc Cosker, and his signature, there for all to see.”

However, the cabinet committee was having none of it, and Cllr Stoddart’s attempts seemed to be falling on deaf – or bunged – ears.

“All I want is the access to information that I require so that I can get to the truth” he said; adding:

“I am entitled to these documents as an elected member of the Council.”

To explain the difficulties he had been faced with, holding up one document, which was blank except for several large areas with black rectangles, Cllr Stoddart said:

“Look at this sheet. These are the names of the tenders I requested. Look here, all information has been blacked out. All this is cloak-and-dagger stuff about hiding behind the Data Protection Act, when really it is about not wishing to disclose the information.”

Cllr Stoddart added: “If the amount of money claimed for all of the building works has actually been spent on 29 Dimond Street then, in the famous words of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop, ‘I am a banana’.”

“In respect of 16-19 Commercial Row, Pembroke Dock, £41,900 is said to have been spent on 427 square metres of “New Spanish slates” at a price of £98.25 per square metre. This is already an expensive price, however, seven-eighths of the roof currently does not have new slate on it, yet the developer has been paid for the work.”

Cllr Stoddart told the committee: “With respect to 25 Dimond Street, there was a tender of £222,000 for a small shop of 35 metres squared retail space. You could easily knock it down and rebuild it twice completely for that price. In fact, for little more than that, Persimmon Homes would fit you up with a pair of semi-detached houses including the plot of land, road, and sewerage connection.”

Several decades ago, Cllr Stoddart ran his own construction company which employed thirty people at its peak. His company built many large developments in the county including commercial buildings and schools. Attempting to discredit Cllr Stoddart’s judgement and knowledge of the work conducted on the Pembroke Dock properties, Cllr Adams attacked his record as a builder, saying: “I have received information that you were not so successful in the building trade,” though he refused to say any more after being brought to task about it.

When pushed by Cllr Stoddart, the leader would not say what he had heard or from whom, and asked to ‘move on.’

In defiance, Cllr Stoddart said: “No, I will not move on. You have not addressed the snide innuendo you’ve just made about my career in the building industry.”

Cllr Adams barked back: “I am chairing this meeting – I will ask you to stand down”, and said he thought Cllr Stoddart was ‘confused’ over which works he referred to were eligible for grant funding, and those which were not eligible.

He also added: “And, from some of the submissions you have made, your understanding of the building trade is not what I would have expected. The fact that you consider it appropriate to make some sort of comparison between Persimmon Homes and restoration work on important heritage properties shows you have a lack of understanding. Nevertheless we will move on.”

Following the meeting Mike Stoddart told The Herald: “This is Cllr Adams’ usual tactic. He uses smears when he can’t think of anything intelligent to say. As you can imagine, he uses this tactic quite often.”

The ongoing saga of the notorious Pembroke Dock grants scheme and the council’s attempts to deny access to the necessary information to establish the truth has even attracted the attention of the national media.

In its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column, last week’s edition of the satirical news magazine, Private Eye, reported on a statement it had received after approaching the council for its view on the “phantom building works.”

Private Eye published: “A statement explained that the chimney and playground (non) works had not been paid for with public money but “by the developer ” . How generous! As for the roof, it was indeed grant-funded: “The whole roof was stripped of and re-covered in a mixture of new and recycled natural slate on new felt and battens” in 2010, according to the council statement . Achieving such an “aged” look on a brand-new roof must require restoration skills of the very highest order!”

The cabinet’s unanimous vote, to deny Cllr Stoddart’s request “that all information (Bills of quantities, tender reports, final accounts, etc) on the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock commercial property grants scheme is made available on a confidential basis to all Council Members”, is not the final decision. That decision ultimately rests with full council at its 10am meeting on Thursday December 12.

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RSPCA reveal 160 animal cruelty reports in Pembrokeshire



THE LATEST figures from RSPCA Cymru reveal a troubling increase in animal cruelty cases, with 160 incidents reported in Pembrokeshire alone this year. This alarming statistic is part of a broader surge in cruelty reports across Wales, where 3,059 cases have been recorded from January to June 2024.

Pembrokeshire’s figures contribute to a national concern, as RSPCA Cymru braces for a busy summer following a 2% rise in cruelty reports across England and Wales. Last year, intentional harm and beatings of animals rose sharply during the summer months, and this year seems poised to follow the same distressing trend.

The cruelty figures in Pembrokeshire place it among the top counties in Wales for reported abuse. Rhondda Cynon Taf leads with 266 reports, followed by Cardiff with 255, Swansea with 237, Carmarthenshire with 189, and Caerphilly with 186.

Karen Colman, head of the RSPCA welfare oversight team, highlighted the concerning rise in cruelty reports: “Sadly, animal cruelty reports are on the rise this year – and across Wales, we’ve seen more than 3,000 animal cruelty reports already this year.”

One particularly disturbing case in Pembrokeshire involved a hedgehog found with an air gun injury in Haverfordwest. Ginny Batt, who runs the Pembrokeshire Hogspital, responded to a call about the injured animal. The hedgehog, wandering during the day, was found with a pellet wound near its neck and shoulder. Despite efforts to save it, the animal had to be euthanised due to the severity of its injuries.

Batt said, “The pellet missed his head and caught the shoulder. There was no bone injury, but the impact had dislocated his shoulder.”

In response to the rising cruelty cases, the RSPCA has launched its ‘No Animal Deserves Cruelty’ summer appeal. The charity is seeking public support to fund rescue operations and care for abused animals during the peak summer period.

“Summer is a really challenging time for us – and we’re braced for another busy season on the frontline, but we cannot do this alone,” added Colman.

The RSPCA is also advocating for tighter controls and better education regarding air guns. The organisation calls for mandatory basic safety training for anyone purchasing an air gun to prevent wildlife from being targeted.

Among the many animals rescued from cruelty, Loki’s story stands out. The puppy was found covered in bruises and fractures, but after being rescued and rehabilitated by the RSPCA, he now lives happily in a new home. RSPCA Inspector Zoe Ballard, who rescued Loki, recently reunited with the transformed dog, expressing her joy: “Seeing him today, there is a twinkle in his eye. So different from that little puppy I met that first day.”

As the RSPCA marks its 200th anniversary, it underscores the ongoing need for vigilance and support to combat animal cruelty. The charity’s summer appeal aims to raise the necessary funds to rescue and rehabilitate animals facing abuse.

For more information on the RSPCA’s No Animal Deserves Cruelty Appeal, visit the charity’s website.

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Woman gets payout after boss coughs in her face



Kevin Davies, the father of British Lions and Wales rugby star Gareth Davies, has been ordered to pay more than £26,000 to a female employee for deliberately coughing in her face during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A tribunal heard that Davies, 62, aimed to “ridicule and intimidate” the woman, who had expressed concerns over her health due to psoriatic arthritis and an autoimmune condition. The incident occurred in the days leading up to the first lockdown in March 2020 at Cawdor Cars, a business where Davies holds significant involvement.

The employment tribunal, presided over by Judge Tobias Vincent Ryan, heard that the woman had requested colleagues to maintain social distance, in line with official recommendations, due to her vulnerable health status. However, Davies mocked her concerns, intentionally coughing in her direction while commenting that she was “being ridiculous.”

The tribunal was informed that the woman, employed at Cawdor Cars between 2017 and 2020, was earning £11 per hour. In addition to car sales, Cawdor Cars has a property rental section where she worked as a property manager overseeing a portfolio including hotels and housing developments.

Judge Ryan condemned Davies’ actions as “gross behaviour,” noting that other members of the firm’s management team, who witnessed the incident, gave evidence that was perceived as defensive and not entirely straightforward. The woman vehemently complained about the incident and resigned from the business in Newcastle Emlyn, Ceredigion, less than three months later.

Judge Ryan stated, “She resigned at least in part because she was victimised; this was a major and significant factor in her decision. She felt that she was being eased out partly because of her complaints. She was correct.”

The tribunal awarded the woman £26,438.84 in total compensation. This includes £18,000 for injury to feelings, £3,841.94 for unfair dismissal, and £4,596.90 in accumulated interest. Cawdor Cars has been ordered to pay the bulk of the damages, with Davies personally liable for the remainder.

Following the hearing, the woman described the impact of Davies’ conduct on her mental health, stating, “I was left a nervous wreck. He knew of my medical condition and that I had no immune protection because of the medication I had to take, and he deliberately coughed in my face. I was shaking. I’m not a silly, fluffy person; I’ve had to put up with a lot in my life, but it really got me.”

This ruling highlights the seriousness with which the tribunal viewed the deliberate intimidation and ridicule of an employee during the pandemic, particularly one with known health vulnerabilities.

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Ex-mayor gets suspended sentence for child images offences



A FORMER mayor of Pembroke Dock has been given a suspended jail sentence for the possession and distribution of indecent images of children.

Terry Judkins, 55, from Bush Street, was sentenced at Swansea Crown Court after he admitted the charges.

Judkins pleaded guilty to two offences involving Category C images and possessing a prohibited image of a child between September 2018 and August 2021.

He also admitted making and distributing Category A images of the children, Category A being the most serious classification of indecent images.

The court was informed that 11 unique images had been duplicated numerous times across two digital devices and that 10 of the images in question were of a 17-year old known to Judkins.

Judkin’s defence barrister, David Maunder, told told the court the majority of the imagery involving the 17-year old was “enthusiastically consensual”.

It is a criminal offence to share indecent images of a person under the age of 18.

The other image involved teenage boys aged between 10 and 13 years.

Mr Maunder told the judge that the court was “not dealing with evidence of someone who is a committed pedophile”, however, Judkins had “dipped his toe into this kind of behavior, which he deeply regrets now”.

He added that the Judkins was of “positive good character” and he had subsequently suffered “shame and embarrassment” as a result of the offences.

Judge Catherine Richards informed Judkins that the nature of his case stood in “contrast with the positive reputation you gained”.

She continued that there “was no evidence” that there was large amounts of material associated with young boys other than the the Category A images of the 10-13 year old boys that Judkins possessed.

Richards said Judkins had distributed two images of a 17-year-old and stated that the law was “in place to protect young people.”

Judkins was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, deciding to give a Judkins a suspended sentence for two years for distributing indecent images.

The former mayor was also given a further six-month sentence, suspended two years, for making indecent images.

Both of the the devices used by Judkins, a computer and a mobile phone are now subject to forfeiture and destruction orders.

Judkins will also be required to attend a programme for people with convictions for downloading indecent images of children and will have his name added to the sex offenders register for 10 years.

He will return to court at a later date to confirm whether he will be subject to a sexual harm prevention order.

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