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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

First Minister tells inquest Carl Sargeant 'panicked but not distraught'

Written by Pat Hurst and Eleanor Barlow

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told an inquest that cabinet minister Carl Sargeant did not give him an "outright denial" as he sacked him after "bombshell" sexual misconduct allegations.

Mr Jones, watched by Mr Sargeant's wife Bernadette, his son Jack, and other family members on the third day of the inquest into his death, said after telling the then cabinet secretary for communities and children he could no longer serve in his cabinet, the "panicked" politician gave an "unusual" response.

Mr Jones sacked Mr Sargeant, 49, on November 3 last year, during a government re-shuffle, after allegations surfaced of sexual misconduct.

Four days later, the father-of-two was found by his wife hanged after an apparent suicide at his home in Connah's Quay, North Wales.

He had not been told who or exactly what he was accused of but he had denied the allegations to others.

The First Minister, who described Mr Sargeant as a friend, was questioned closely during the hearing at Ruthin County Hall about the meeting where he sacked Mr Sargeant and how it was handled.

He agreed the allegations and sacking would come as a "bombshell" to his cabinet colleague.

Mr Jones said: "I sat him down. I said, 'Look Carl, this is not going to be an easy conversation'.

"When I told him about the allegations, his response was unusual in a sense, that he did not recognise them.

"In politics, that's not a denial.

"It's not an outright denial. It was an unusual thing to say.

"He was not tearful. Panicked but not distraught."

The inquest heard an investigation was to be carried out by the Labour Party and Mr Sargeant was told not to "go public" as his sacking and the reasons for it, would be "handled" by others.

But the First Minister was left "f****** furious" the hearing was told, that within hours of the meeting Mr Sargeant issued a tweet saying he had been sacked for inappropriate conduct and vowed to clear his name.

Mr Jones continued: "I thought it was unwise. Very unwise.

"What then happened was the focus became Carl, where Carl was saying he was being removed for his personal conduct, then for the weekend the media was full of it."

John Gittins, Senior Coroner North Wales (East and Central), asked the politician: "He was being honest?"

Mr Jones replied: "But he was volunteering the information."

Mr Gittins continued: "So that's what happens in politics? We keep secrets because it suits everybody to do so?"

Mr Jones responded: "It's not secrets. It's a gentler way of doing it."

Mr Jones said Mr Sargeant accepted he had to be suspended, the Labour whip withdrawn and he had to leave government.

He suggested any "pastoral" care for Mr Sargeant after the "great shock" of his sacking and losing his cabinet job, would be handled by a member of Welsh government staff.

Mr Jones said he did not know until after Mr Sargeant's death that he suffered from depression, although he was aware of a traumatic life event he had experienced.

He said: "I had no indication that he had any kind of problem with his mental health.

"He was somebody who was chirpy, was the word I used."

He was asked by the coroner whether there had been any changes in terms of the support offered to ministers who lost their roles since Mr Sargeant's death.

He said: "The difficulty is this - the answer to the question is no - formally there is no employment relationship between the Welsh Government and ministers."

Mr Jones described politics as a "brutal business" and said it demanded "a certain level of resilience".

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andy Kelvin / PA Wire.