First Minister knew Sargeant was ‘fragile’ before sacking, former colleague says

(Ben Birchall/PA)
(Ben Birchall/PA)

First Minister Carwyn Jones knew that Carl Sargeant was “fragile” before he sacked him from the Welsh Government over allegations of inappropriate behaviour, a former colleague has said.

Mr Jones has insisted he acted “by the book” and had “no alternative” but to take the action he did against the former assembly member, who was found dead on Tuesday.

Mr Sargeant, 49, is understood to have taken his own life four days after being removed from his role as cabinet secretary for communities and children as well as being suspended from the Labour Party.

The First Minister has faced calls to quit after Mr Sargeant’s family claimed the former Welsh government minister had been denied “natural justice” because he was unaware of the detailed nature of the allegations against him.

Leighton Andrews, a Labour former minister in the Welsh Government, told BBC’s Newsnight: “I think it’s fair to say that the First Minister knew how fragile Carl was.

“There were occasions when I was a minister in the government when the First Minister said to me he was worried about Carl, how was he doing?

“I think he was worried about Carl’s frame of mind, he said that a number of times when Carl and I were ministers together.

“I’m assuming that he was making judgments about what he was hearing about Carl.

“There’s no question that Carl’s resilience was undermined during the previous period of government.”

Asked if that made it incumbent on Mr Jones to handle the situation carefully, Mr Andrews said: “Of course it was.”

Speaking to the media at the Welsh Government offices in Cathays Park, Cardiff on Thursday, Mr Jones became emotional as he paid tribute to his “friend”, who he described as “a person of great warmth, ability and charisma”.

Anger and disbelief here at Connah’s Quay Labour Club at First Minister’s statement regarding the late Carl Sargeant. @bernieatto tells me he feels “sick to the core” and has no confidence in Carwyn Jones. @leaderlive

— Rory Sheehan (@RoryFlintLeader) November 9, 2017

“These are the darkest days any of us can remember in this institution, but they are darkest of all for the family,” he said.

Mr Jones, who was speaking following a meeting of Welsh Labour Assembly members to discuss the situation, said: “I quite properly did all that I could to make sure that everything was being done by the book.

“I had no alternative but to take the action that I did, and I hope that people will understand that.”

My statement in full.

— Carwyn Jones (@fmwales) November 9, 2017

Mr Sargeant was facing allegations of “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping” at the time of his death.

The Alyn and Deeside AM’s family said Mr Sargeant’s distress at being unable to defend himself properly meant he was not afforded “common courtesy, decency or natural justice”.

Mr Jones, who spoke for around three minutes and did not take questions, resisted calls for his head, saying: “There is a legal process to go through and I am obviously acting within that.

“I welcome any scrutiny of my actions in the future and it is appropriate for that to be done independently.”

He said his team would co-operate fully with any questions raised in an inquest into Mr Sargeant’s death which will be opened and adjourned at 1pm on Monday in Ruthin, north Wales.

Mr Jones added that there had been “a lot of inaccuracies in the press” but it was “not appropriate for me to get into the precise details” about what happened.

“These are matters for the future, things that will need to be properly disclosed through what should be a coroner’s inquest,” he said.

Personal Statement

— Carl Sargeant (@carlsargeant1) November 3, 2017

Mr Andrews said there was “immense anger” in Wales at what had happened to Mr Sargeant.

He strongly criticised Mr Jones for commenting publicly on the allegations against Mr Sargeant after he had referred the matter to the Labour Party.

He has alleged there was a “toxic” culture of “minor bullying, mind-games, power-games, favouritism” and “inconsistency of treatment to different ministers” during the 2011 to 2016 Assembly term.

He claims there was “deliberate personal undermining” of Mr Sargeant from within the Welsh Labour government over several years, and that Mr Jones was aware of it.

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