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Call for fraud probe on grants

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grants scandalPLAID CYMRU has uncovered that Pembrokeshire Council’s procurement rules were not followed in respect of public funds to 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock.

A letter from the Welsh Local Government Minister states the Council’s procurement procedures were not followed and there was insufficient evidence to support the expenditure claimed in respect to 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, officials in the Welsh European Funding Office found.

Speaking from Brussels where he held a meeting with the EC’s Director of Public Procurement at which probity and corruption in EU funds was discussed, Mid & West AM Simon Thomas said:

“I am grateful to my constituent for raising this important matter with me. The Council’s own rules on procurement were not followed in this case and I have little faith that there are no other examples. It is not enough that the Welsh Government is seeking a claw back of the money paid to the council and will remove the properties in question from the European Union scheme.

“This is only sweeping things under the carpet. Either the police or an independent audit must go over such schemes with a fine toothcomb to ensure no other project has been mismanaged or fraud has been committed.

“I will be calling on the government to undertake such an audit and have also raised questions over the wider issue of governance of Pembrokeshire Council with the Local Government Minister as my Plaid Cymru colleagues on Pembrokeshire Council have done in the council chamber.”

Councillor Michael Williams, Leader of the Party of Wales on Pembrokeshire Council added:

“This is public money and it is disgraceful that Pembrokeshire Council haven’t followed their own procurement procedures particularly when the council makes companies jump through so many hoops to get contracts. The Wales Audit Office found that the council acted unlawfully over pension payments, and now this.”

The Council strikes back

RESPONDING to the Plaid press release, a Council spokesperson told the Herald:

“Pembrokeshire County Council has seen the correspondence between Minister Lesley Griffith AM and Simon Thomas AM and we do not agree with the statement by Plaid Cymru.

“It is not the case that procurement rules were not followed in relation to 29 Dimond Street.

“Works undertaken with the benefit of the Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS) are not procured by the Council. The Council’s role is set out in the Council’s Procedure Manual which has recently been revised in consultation with the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO).

“The grant for the property is being recovered and, while a police investigation into other matters in relation to the property are on-going, it would be inappropriate for the Council to comment further.

“There is no basis on which Mr Thomas can say that there may be other examples within the CPGS as WEFO has recently completed a 100 per cent check on all 24 CPGS-funded properties and found only two where there were any issues. Both had already been referred to the police by Pembrokeshire County Council.

“As Mrs Griffith’s letter makes clear, WEFO is satisfied that the Council has taken appropriate action and has lifted the payment suppression, both positive points that the statement from Plaid Cymru chooses to overlook.”

Inspection: Council officers check buildings

Inspection: Council officers check buildings

Procurement procedure not followed

THE DISPUTED revelation that the County Council failed to follow its own procurement procedures is bound to be an embarrassment to what it has been only too proud to proclaim is its “expert” team.

In January, we reported how the Council’s own European Manager had reassured Audit Committee members that they would find nothing wrong with the Scheme. It later appeared as though that officer, Gwyn Evans, had doctored a report of a meeting in an attempt to ensure that was the case.

At that same Audit Committee meeting, Dr Stephen Jones told members of the Committee that any problems with the scheme that would lead to recoupment would be trivial in nature.

It is now open to question how much active collusion or passive acquiescence there was by other officers more intimately involved in the grants scheme and the Town Heritage Initiative that preceded.

The response from Welsh Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths, reveals that Pembrokeshire County Council has undertaken that it will refund monies paid out under the Commercial Property Grants Scheme (CPGS).

The Herald understands that the amount to be repaid is rather more significant than trivial, and sums between £150K and £300K are the subject of speculation at County Hall.

Questions still remain, however, about money given to other developments carried out by “Baron of the Bedsits”, Cathal McCosker under the Town Heritage Initiative.

What is certain, however, that once Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine and Mike Stoddart began reporting on the grants fiasco the amount received in grant payments by Mr McCosker’s developments markedly diminished. As The Herald revealed, NO request for payment has been made by Mr McCosker or any of his companies in relation to 50 Dimond Street, a property now up for auction at a guide price significantly under that than would be indicated by the original grant allocation.

Mirehouse’s mistake

AT JANUARY’S Audit Committee meeting, former Deputy Leader of the Council John Allen Mirehouse (IPPG, Hundleton) proclaimed it was a shame that only around £18K of public money had been spent on renovating a tiny former butcher’s shop in Dimond Street instead of the £64K originally scheduled.

As the Council now faces repaying grant monies paid out to Mr McCosker and his companies under the CPGS, Mr Allen Mirehouse might want to re-appraise both that view and the view that there was no need for the scheme to be subject to scrutiny that he expressed in an ill-judged tirade directed against Cllr Mike Stoddart at a Council meeting in December last year.

In fact, even if the Council succeeds in getting any money back from Cathal McCosker at all, it will still be out of pocket. The rake the Council took for its so-called “administration” of the grants scheme amounted to 9% of the total amount received in European Funding. It is Pembrokeshire’s Council Tax payers who will ultimately foot that bill.

Minister also errs

THE HERALD is able to confirm that an assertion regarding controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones in Ms Griffiths’ response is also misleading.

The letter claims that the controversial CEO has stepped aside from his post while an unrelated Police investigation takes place into the unlawful pay supplement scheme that the Council’s own Senior Staff Committee agreed in a bid to help Mr Parry Jones avoid tax on his seven-figure publicly-funded pension pot.

The Herald has confirmed that it is not the case that the ongoing Police investigation into that matter has anything to do with Mr Parry Jones continued paid absence from work. A Council spokesman told The Herald:

“Lesley Griffiths is incorrect in her assumption that the Chief Executive stepped aside ‘for the duration of the re-opened Police investigation.’

“He has taken a period of absence because of the “continuing speculation” surrounding his position and this is what we said in our press statement.”

grant scandalStoddart’s analysis

MIKE STODDART, who has tirelessly investigated the grants scandal told The Herald:

“It is heartening to see that Plaid Cymru are taking an interest in this matter.

“What is difficult to understand is why the police, who were provided with a dossier by PCC in April containing evidence of serious “irregularities” on projects carried out in Pembroke Dock by Mr Cathal McCosker and his associated companies still haven’t launched an investigation.

“The last time I enquired, about a month ago, the police told me that they were consulting with the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) on whether it was “appropriate” to mount a criminal investigation.

“I met with three officers from WEFO on 9 June when I explained at great length how these “irregularities” were engineered by the developer his architect and builder so it is not easy to understand what is holding them back though, as WEFO have carried out multiple audits of these grants and failed to spot any of these “irregularities” it looks like they’re being asked to mark their own homework.

“In her letter to Simon Thomas AM the Minister Lesley Griffiths, after referring to the police involvement, says: ‘However these do not form part of the Commercial Property Grants Scheme, or other European Union funded scheme led by the council and so it would be inappropriate for the Welsh Government to comment any further at this time.’

“This is extremely misleading because the two projects that were referred to the Police were 10 Meyrick Street and 29 Dimond Street, both in Pembroke Dock.

“According to documents in my possession, large Commercial Property Grants funded by the EU were paid out on both these projects.

“However, I also understand that PCC has been forced to refund WEFO with ALL grant monies paid to Mr McCosker and the companies he controls, plus the sums provided by WEFO to cover PCC’s costs for administrating the scheme, so I suspect that what is now being spun is that, as the money has been returned, these projects were never grant funded in the first place.

“That seems like a classic case of rewriting history to me.

“I suspect a narrative is being prepared along the following lines: McCosker has repaid the grants so there is no loss to the public purse. PCC has tightened up its administrative procedures so that these ‘irregularities’ are unlikely to recur. In all the circumstances it would not be in the public interest to launch an expensive, time-consuming criminal investigation.

“Or, what most people recognise as a typical establishment cover-up.”

Who picks up the bill?

THE HERALD asked the Council that, as the Minister suggested that the Council had agreed to repay grant monies incorrectly paid out, to specify the amount in which payment was to be made, whether Mr McCosker agreed to indemnify the Council for this repayment and, if so, to identify with whom at County Hall any discussions took place.

A Council spokesperson told us: “As explained at the Council meeting on July 17, the fact that the grant is to be repaid does not mean that on all the properties concerned there are irregularities. The repayment is to expedite the continuation of the grant scheme and the lifting of the payment suppression. The grant to be repaid on the two properties that have been referred to the police is £144k. The owner of these properties has offered to repay grant paid to the Council. A charge has also been placed against the properties.”

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Port boss: Pembroke Dock development full permission an ‘important step’

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THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the Port of Milford Haven has welcomed a decision of “non-intervention” by the Welsh Government over plans to re-vamp Pembroke Dock’s historic port facilities.

The redevelopment scheme, approved by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Planning Committee in May, will see some areas such as a dock covered with sand and “infilled”.

Plans also include the demolishing of some buildings, erection of buildings and ancillary works.
Despite planning being granted at council level, full authorisation to go ahead with the development was not to be issued until the Welsh Government made its decision regards the matter.

More about the planning application can be read here: https://www.herald.wales/west-wales/pembrokeshire/major-marine-project-causes-concern-about-visual-impact-and-heritage-loss/

Now that the Welsh Government has decided not to interfere with Pembrokeshire County Council’s grant of planning permission, the Port’s boss, Andy Jones, expressed his delight, saying: “This marks an important step forward in the development of Wales’ clean energy centre at Pembroke Dock.

“It will provide sustainable opportunities for the many people who rely on the activity along the Milford Haven Waterway for employment.

CEO: Port Authority’s Andy Jones (Pic MHPA)

“Pembroke Dock Marine will unlock new opportunities for young people to enter the maritime, renewable and engineering sectors, build resilience within Pembrokeshire’s business community, and make a positive contribution to our natural environment as we transition to a low carbon energy generation.”

Tim James, head of commercial and energy at the Port of Milford Haven called the project a “once in a generation opportunity to improve Pembrokeshire’s economy for years to come”.

Objectors had complained that the plans were too large and would damage the historic dockyard, as well as having a visual impact on the dock.

The was opposition from local heritage campaigners, with complaints over the size of two huge proposed hangars which the project’s critics said would impact adversely the landscape.

The economic benefits of the £60 million marine energy “far outweigh” any impact on the historic environment, a report earlier this year to council planners said.

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Medical evacuation from LPG tanker off St Ann’s Head

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ANGLE Lifeboat was launched on service at 12:59pm on Thursday afternoon (Jun 10) to assist in a medical evacuation from a LPG tanker 13 miles SSW off St Ann’s Head.

The coastguard helicopter from Newquay in Cornwall was also on route. With the poor visibility due to fog, Angle all-weather lifeboat was to stand by the vessel to provide an alternative route for evacuation if needed.

After a choppy route in the poor visibility the RNLI volunteers arrived on scene at 2:07pm.

At the time of their arrival, the paramedic from the coastguard helicopter was aboard the vessel preparing the casualty to be winched to the helicopter.

In less than ten minutes the casualty was winched up to the helicopter and flown to hospital, at which point the lifeboat and crews were stood down and headed back to the station.

After rehousing shortly after 3:30pm the lifeboat was washed fuelled and made ready for service shortly after.

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Milford Haven child sex offender Colin Sharpe jailed for 10 years

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A MILFORD HAVEN child abuser sat crying in court as details of his four-year long abuse of a schoolgirl were read out.

Colin Sharpe’s teenage victim says she is now “plagued by nightmares” that he will return and abuse her again, Swansea Crown Court heard.

Sharpe, 40, of Howarth Close was told by Judge Paul Thomas QC at Swansea Crown Court that “Your only concern was your own selfish sexual pleasure.”

The court heard that after the matter was reported to police and officers began a search for tSharpe. He was found in his vehicle in a car park at St Ann’s Head.

The court was told that police used their car to block Sharpe’s exist from the car park but he “sped off” across the grass towards the cliff edge before crashing into a fence.

The defendant abandoned his vehicle and made off on foot to the clifftop. A standoff then developed during which police brought in a specialist negotiator to talk him down.

After a lengthy negotiation Sharpe was arrested.

Passing sentence, the judge told Sharpe: “You had no concern for the psychological damage you did.”

He added: “But it is to your credit that you immediately admitted what you had done; this had saved his victim the further ordeal of giving evidence in a trial.

Judge Paul Thomas jailed Sharpe for 10 years and imposed an indefinite order requiring him to sign the sexual offences register on release.

Sharpe will now be subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order and an indefinite restraining order when he is released.

As The Herald previously reported, Sharpe, who has been on remand since March, admitted one charge of sexual assault and five of sexual activity with a child, all between July 2017 and March 2021.

Police were informed about the sexual abuse by a third party, who discovered what he had done, and he was arrested and questioned early last year.

Earlier, Ian Wright, counsel for the CPS said that Sharpe used “emotional blackmail to frighten the girl into staying silent”.

He added “Matters seem to have come to a head on March 12 this year after Sharpe had once again sexually abused his victim.”

Dean Pulling, defending, said that when the police interviewed Sharpe he gave ‘guilty pleas and admissions’ at the earliest opportunity.

Excerpts from a personal victim statement highlighting the ongoing ordeal of Sharpe’s teenage victim were also read out in court.

“I am having nightmares,” the statement reads.

“I have nightmares of him coming back from prison and starting to do worse. My life has been greatly affected.”

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