Under-fire watchdog Sir Roderick Evans quits UKIP barmaid video probe

By David Deans
BBC News

image captionSir Roderick Evans became Standards Commissioner in 2017

The man in charge of policing standards in the assembly has ruled himself out of re-investigating a video about a Labour AM.

Standards commissioner Sir Roderick Evans had planned to review his own decision that a clip by UKIP AM Gareth Bennett about Joyce Watson was not sexist.

But the matter will now be dealt with by someone else.

The video had superimposed Ms Watson's face on a woman in a low-cut top.

A review of the case had been called by Sir Roderick earlier in October after a number of Labour AMs, including ministers, demanded he look at it again.

Following calls from BBC Wales, the former high court judge confirmed that he believes it is "preferable" that an acting commissioner is sought to look at the complaint.

The standards committee was informed of his decision on Tuesday morning, and there were discussions about whether the assembly will be able to find another individual.

It is understood that further complaints had been made about the clip, made by Mr Bennett before he became UKIP assembly leader.

image copyrightYoutube/Gareth Bennett
image captionUKIP assembly leader Gareth Bennett has refused to apologise for the YouTube clip

"I have received requests to reconsider my decision on the complaint about a video posted by Gareth Bennett AM about Joyce Watson AM," Sir Roderick Evans said in a statement.

"There is no mechanism in the procedure set by the assembly for such reconsideration."

"However, each of the three requests contains a complaint about the video and I have decided to treat these requests as fresh complaints and they will, therefore, be investigated.

"In view of my previous consideration of this matter, it is preferable that an Acting Commissioner considers the issues afresh.

"I have, therefore, asked the Chief Executive to seek the Assembly's approval to appoint a temporary Acting Commissioner for Standards to consider these new complaints."

He added: "I am working with the Committee on Standards of Conduct and the Chief Executive to extend the expertise available to the office of the Standards Commissioner as I consider a wide range of complaints."

Former Welsh Government advisor Cathy Owens has the assembly does not have the right system in place to deal with complaints about sexual harassment, and that the matter is not Sir Roderick's area of expertise.

'Inherently sexist'

In the YouTube video, which has since been taken down, Mr Bennett said Ms Watson used to run a pub, but "you wouldn't guess that from looking at her".

Mr Bennett added: "She doesn't look like the life and soul of the party. I'm not sure I would fancy popping in for a quick one at the local if I saw her pulling pints at the bar."

Following the commissioner's decision, Ms Watson, the AM for Mid and West Wales, wrote to Sir Roderick saying: "You do not find it to be 'sexist or misogynistic'."

"I maintain that the video falls outside the parameters of robust debate - and that the allusion to 'buxom barmaids' is inherently sexist," she said.

A UKIP source said the standards commissioner had already investigated the matter, and said the new complaints are "politically motivated".

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