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Questions continue over chairman’s appointment

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woodhamAS REPORTED in last week’s Herald, the appointment of the new lay member of the Audit Committee, Peter Jones, has caused controversy over the way in which his job application was processed. There are also concerns that councillors sitting on the Urgency Committee were not allowed to scrutinise the appointment. They were prevented from doing so by the Council’s Monitoring Officer, Laurence Harding. Information provided to The Herald ahead of last Monday’s (Sept 22) extraordinary meeting of the Audit Committee reveals that Morgan Cole, the Cardiff law firm of which Mr Jones is a former senior partner, represented Hundleton councillor John Allen Mirehouse. Mr Jones represented Cllr Mirehouse when he was before a standards panel – investigating an alleged failure by him to declare an ‘interest’ in a planning matter involving land he owned on the Angle peninsula. Cllr Mirehouse sits on the Council’s Audit Committee – the committee which is now chaired by his former lawyer, Peter Jones. Mr Jones formerly represented Milford Haven Port Authority at the time Cllr Allen Mirehouse sat on the Authority. Cllr Guy Woodham proposed Mr Jones as Chair of the Audit Committee. The Pembrokeshire Herald asked him whether he was aware of the past professional relationship between Cllr Mirehouse and Mr Jones. Cllr Woodham told us: “No, I was most definitely not aware! I nominated Mr Jones as Chair believing that, as the Lay Member, he was the most appropriate member of the Committee to hold this position, rather than an Elected Member. I was not involved in the selection process of the Lay Member and therefore have not been made aware of any background information on Mr Jones, other than he told us about at Monday’s Audit Committee.” The Herald also spoke to Cllr Paul Miller about the appointment of Mr Jones: “This situation further underlines the issue that I raised about the conduct of the meeting that ‘rubberstamped’ Mr Jones’ appointment. We were not allowed to have any meaningful information before voting on his appointment. It seems as though  this is a further example of elected councillors being denied the chance to make properly judged democratic decisions. It seemed to me that most everyone present agreed with me when I expressed that view at the Urgency Committee, but four voted in favour of the appointment anyway.” The Herald notes that Mr Jones told members of the Audit Committee that he had dealings with the Council in the past. It is not clear whether those dealings or their extent were made known to the Urgency Committee when they were presented with the appointment panel’s recommendation, or even if the appointment panel were made aware of them. The Herald asked the Council’s Monitoring Officer, Laurence Harding, on whose advice the Urgency Panel rubber-stamped Mr Jones’ appointment, for a comment on Mr Jones’ appointment. Mr Harding failed to reply.

 

 

Mr Mirehouse’s interest

PETER JONES was intimately concerned in Cllr Allen Mirehouse’s defence of a claim he had failed to declare an interest in land when he decided policy that might affect it when sitting on the National Park Authority. Mr Jones billed the former IPPG Chair over £5,360 from a total bill including QC’s fees of around £40,000. The bill included meeting with Viscount Saint Davids, Mr Allen Mirehouse, and his land agent Anthony Owen of Owen & Owen. Following the conclusion of the case, in which the Adjudication Panel for Wales found in his favour, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse sought to have the National Park Authority repay him the whole of Morgan Cole’s bill and claimed the Authority was obliged to indemnify him wholly for the same. Cllr Allen Mirehouse’s claim for his costs rather ignored the belated admission made by his QC, Robin Tolson, that his client did own land which “was capable of being developed when he participated in the relevant meetings of the National Park Authority”. Cllr Allen Mirehouse had previously maintained the opposite position and significant costs had been spent examining that denial. However, Cllr Allen Mirehouse’s submissions largely fell on deaf ears with the National Park Authority’s Monitoring Officers, Dewi Davies and John Parsons, who disputed liability to pay any of the legal costs on the basis that the Councillor had incurred excessive costs (including an eye-watering 24 hours of billable time at £200 an hour for travelling to a meeting at Angle Hall when Cllr Allen Mirehouse could have travelled to Cardiff); that he had not sought permission from the Authority to incur the costs before he did; and that he had engaged a QC at significant cost when such a level of representation was not required. In response to that last point, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse opined in correspondence that he was entitled to brief a QC because of his prominent position in public life. That plea fell on deaf years, and the Councillor received £8,000 plus VAT towards his professional fees following a vote.

 

THE HERALD asked
the County Council a series
of questions about Mr Jones’
appointment as lay member of the
Audit Committee and received the
following answers.

Q: How many had applied before
the original deadline and how
many additional applicants were
received before the extended
deadline? Please confirm at
which point in the selection
process Mr Jones applied.
A: Four applications were received
before the deadline of July 8
but one withdrew. One further
application (from Mr Jones)
was received before the end of
the extended deadline of July 18
(note the deadline was actually
extended by ten days not one
week).

Q: Please let me know who made the
decision to extend the deadline
and why a week was felt to be an
adequate period.
A: Deadline extended by ten days by
Chief Finance Officer because
he desired at least three suitable
candidates for the Appointments
Panel to consider.

Q: Please let me know where the
advertisement for the revised
deadline for applications
was placed. As the original
advertisement was by public
notice, was this also done by
public notice? If so, in which
publication or via which medium
or media was it disseminated?
A: Extended ten day deadline was
advertised on Council website.

Q: Please let me know the identity of
the persons who sat on the panel
that considered applications.
A: The Appointment Panel
comprised: Mrs Lynette George
(independent Chair); Cllr Tom
Richards; Cllr Stan Hudson (all
County Council appointed).

Q: Please let me know whether
the panel were made aware of
Mr Jones’ past professional
relationship with Cllr John
Allen-Mirehouse.
A: We are not aware of any
professional relationship
between the two parties

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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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