Wales politics

Carl Sargeant family threaten legal action over probe 'exclusion'

Carl Sargeant
Image caption Carl Sargeant was found dead four days after he was sacked by the first minister

The family of Carl Sargeant has threatened legal action after lawyers claimed they had been excluded from a probe into the late minister's sacking by Carwyn Jones.

Neil Hudgell, their solicitor, says they may go to the High Court "if we have to" over "unsatisfactory" rules.

"The grieving Sargeant family are losing patience," he said.

A Welsh Government spokesman said the proposed legal action was "misconceived".

The AM for Alyn and Deeside was found dead four days after he was sacked as communities secretary by the first minister last November over allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women.

The Welsh Government has commissioned an independent investigator, Paul Bowen QC, to examine Mr Jones' actions before and after he dismissed Mr Sargeant.

Mr Hudgell said an operational protocol for the inquiry is "deeply unsatisfactory", and claimed that a memo sent on Friday asking all government staff to send information for the inquiry to civil servants was "a clear sign that the government is not committed to being open and transparent in its dealing with the inquiry".

The protocol was agreed between the Welsh Government and the inquiry, and it is the Welsh Government that is facing the legal threat.

"The family only agreed to the protocol in the interests of getting on with the inquiry," the solicitor said, but added they remain "deeply concerned" about Welsh Government senior civil servant Permanent Secretary Dame Shan Morgan's "decision-making" in relation to the family's exclusion.

"The permanent secretary, acting on behalf of the First Minister, has refused to allow the family to have their own legal representation at the inquiry, meaning they will be unable to have a barrister cross-examine any of the witnesses," Mr Hudgell said.

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Media captionNeil Hudgell has called for the first minister to be "good to his word"

Mr Hudgell said he has written to Mr Bowen and Dame Shan "to advise them that we believe the decision-making in relation to the protocol to be unreasonable and we will challenge it by way of a judicial review in the High Court if we have to".

He claimed that the timing of hearings had been deliberately convened for when the family's barrister is required to attend the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

"The grieving Sargeant family are losing patience and faith in the inquiry and are hurt and upset that everything they have asked for has been ignored," Mr Hudgell said.

"Mr Bowen can only go as far as the permanent secretary will allow and we currently have an inquiry process where there will be no effective involvement from the family. How can that be fair?"

'No concerns about timing previously'

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: "The principle that interviews be conducted by the investigation team is a common feature of inquiries and investigations undertaken at the request of Government, and this has been agreed with Mr Bowen throughout the recent discussions leading to the final version of the operational protocol.

"The protocol sets out the basis on which the investigation will be conducted and enables the family and any other participant to put forward questions they wish to be asked by the investigator.

"No concerns about timing have been raised previously, indeed earlier representations about timing indicated a wish for the investigation to proceed as quickly as possible, which is now happening.

"We will consider the detailed legal arguments carefully but consider the proposed proceedings to be misconceived."

A spokesperson for the independent investigator said: "Mr Bowen QC confirms that the independent QC Investigation will continue to run under the published Operational Protocol while this is resolved.

"Mr Bowen QC is committed to conducting a thorough and independent investigation," the spokesperson added.

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