Questions asked over 'no hits' guidance website
- 7 July 2011
- From the section Wales politics
He's got the security pass.
He's already sworn the oath.
This morning Aled Roberts will make the journey to Cardiff to sit in his office and reassure himself that he is the new Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for North Wales.
But last night the Electoral Commission made sure his journey won't be an entirely comfortable one. Hours after AMs voted to overturn Mr Roberts' disqualification and reseat him in the assembly, an Electoral Commission officer in Wales told S4C's CF99 programme that they had conducted their own inquiry into visits to the website to check the electoral rules before May's election.
They found, he said, that there'd been "around 143 hits" on the English language guidance they'd published online. On the Welsh guidance? There'd been none.
You'll remember that Mr Roberts was let back into the assembly chamber because he'd been misled after checking the rules in Welsh. The commission admit those rules were out of date and wrong.
Why, asked our reporter Elliw Gwawr, had the commission not said as much to the man who led the independent inquiry into Mr Roberts' case, Gerard Elias QC? They had, he said.
But - and it's a substantial but - the Electoral Commission admit the technology they have to hand can't lead them to claim categorically that no-one clicked on the Welsh language guidance. It's not conclusive and therefore, wasn't reliable information. It's particularly tricky to be sure that no-one visited the site, not directly but via a link sent to them in an email, which is what Mr Roberts explained he had done.
We gather the CPS had said the information simply wouldn't stand up in court and was therefore, not something they would rely on.
We'd heard whispers about the 'zero hits' story (as had some politicians in Cardiff Bay) but when Gerard Elias' report came out, it simply said the commission "is unable to confirm or deny that its website Welsh pages were visited that day." [I've put in the direct quote from the Elias report here now.]
Last night some AMs were asking why the independent report hadn't at least reflected the information given by the Electoral Commission, inconclusive and unreliable as it may be. They're suggesting they would, at the very least, had liked to have known about it and made up their own minds about the weight they might give it.
I won't be in Cardiff Bay on Friday to find out how strong feelings are about this latest twist. I'm spending the next few days working on a short series for Radio Cymru on legal cases that have stirrred strong emotions and that reflected the political climate of their age.
Today I'm off to Monmouthshire to get to grips with the Tarw Scotch - the movement that fought for workers' rights and that certainly shrugged off legal niceties.
UPDATE: Statement by the Electoral Commission:
"The commission apologised on Thursday to the Welsh Assembly and Aled Roberts for the mistakes we made. We fully accept the conclusions of Mr Elias' report and have nothing to add to the statement we have already made.
"On the television programme CF99 last night, the commission gave information about usage of its Welsh language website in response to a specific question from a journalist about visits to our website.
"We provided the website statistics, along with an explanation about them, to Gerard Elias as part of his investigation. As we made clear to Mr Elias we do not believe they are a reliable guide to whether or not individuals used our website and this is reflected in the conclusions in his report."