The Hamilton report is the expected whitewash. It is partial, inconsistent, contradictory and ignores evidence from a number of witnesses.
This should be no surprise, because the Hamilton inquiry was flawed from the beginning.
First, it was misrepresented by some as an inquiry into bullying. It wasn’t an inquiry into bullying, as Mr Hamilton himself states in paragraph 7. It was a narrowly-drawn inquiry into whether or not the First Minister misled the Assembly on two named dates.
I have tapes and transcripts of my interviews with Mr Hamilton. When I met him on 8 February Mr Hamilton told me that he couldn’t ‘make a finding about a substantive complaint of bullying’ and that his concern was ‘simply to record whether there were allegations or not on the relevant dates.’
Second, at the outset Mr Hamilton was unable to give witnesses any assurances about confidentiality. I wrote to him on 17 December asking whether he could give assurances to witnesses who feared repercussions. In his reply to me on 22 December, he made it clear that he was not able to give such assurances.
As a result of that, several witnesses felt uncomfortable about giving evidence, as the BBC reported in January.
Some of these people were never even contacted by Mr Hamilton. Separately, according to paragraph 46 of Mr Hamilton’s report, one Minister who could have given evidence did not do so. I am aware of at least four people who could have given relevant evidence but did not wish to do so because of the framing of the Inquiry or the failure to give assurances about protection of witnesses’ identities or their evidence. I am also aware of people who were told that their evidence was unnecessary or not likely to be relevant.
At least one potential witness declined to give evidence to Mr. Hamilton as a direct result of clear failures by the inquiry to uphold a public guarantee made by the Permanent Secretary, to provide “safeguards to ensure due separation”.
I made it clear to the BBC last December that my complaint about the conduct of the chief special adviser to the First Minister was not about bullying – Mr Hamilton was aware of this.
There is no question that several Ministers raised concerns about the conduct of a special adviser prior to 11 November 2014. Matt Greenough, one of the First Minister’s special advisers, was aware that we wished to discuss these issues with the First Minister. Matt texted me on 14 October 2014 making it clear that he had told the First Minister that we wished to raise these issues with him.
My contemporaneous diary notes, supplied to Mr Hamilton, explicitly challenge the version of events given by Mr Greenough and the First Minister in paragraph 35 and this text from Mr Greenough confirms my version:
I have contemporaneous diary notes documenting my conversations with Matt Greenough and with the First Minister. Mr Hamilton told me that I was the only witness with contemporaneous notes, and told me ’I suppose it shows the wisdom of you keeping your diary’.
I asked the First Minister on 19 November 2014 for a formal inquiry into whether or not his chief special adviser had breached the code of conduct for special advisers. My complaint was specific and limited to the issue set out in paragraph 37 of Mr Hamilton’s report, as I have always said. It was not about bullying and I did not suggest that it was. I did not raise any other issues at that time.
Reluctantly, the First Minister agreed to a formal investigation and told me that the head of the Delivery Unit, Marion Stapleton, would carry out this inquiry. I had taken a letter setting out my complaint with me. I asked the First Minister if he wanted anything in writing from me, and he said he did not. At the time I took that in good faith.
When I asked the First Minister on 4 February 2015 what had happened to the Inquiry, he told me ‘Marion found nothing.’ He sent me the following text later that day:
All of these matters are recorded in my diary.
I heard no more.
I now know, from Written Answers and from a Freedom of Information request I submitted in 2017, that the First Minister never asked Ms Stapleton to carry out any such inquiry, despite what he told me on 19 November 2014 and 4 February 2015 in meetings, and on 4 February 2015 by text. I had sincerely believed at the time that the First Minister had commissioned her to do this, and I was shocked when I discovered in December 2017 that he had not.
I supplied Mr Hamilton with the text above from the First Minister to me. I am surprised that no reference is made to this in his report. I have therefore set out the evidence here and leave it to others to judge whether the First Minister deliberately misled me in 2014 and 2015 when I was a serving member of his Cabinet.
I need to comment explicitly on some points of detail made in Mr Hamilton’s report. In paragraph 39, Mr Hamilton says my ‘failure to hand over’ on 19 November the letter of complaint I had drafted ‘is difficult to understand.’ This wholly contradicts what Mr Hamilton said to me on 8 February. When I met Mr Hamilton on 8 February, he told me ‘I can understand why you didn’t’.
In paragraph 40 Mr Hamilton fails to mention that I have documentary evidence that I put the chief special adviser’s statement to me that Carl Sargeant had ignored legal advice on the Gender-based Violence Bill on 12 September 2014 directly to Carl on that very day in the form of a text message to him. Carl responded robustly making it clear that the statement was untrue. In respect of paragraph 41 I did not claim that these remarks were bullying. My complaint was limited and precise.
In paragraph 45 Mr Hamilton refers to a witness who asserted that he had raised concerns about bullying with the First Minister, but these claims were disputed by the First Minister. The witness is known to me. That witness gave written evidence, with dates of conversations with the First Minister, and also supplied Mr Hamilton with an email he had sent to the First Minister. Mr Hamilton makes no reference to this email.
In paragraph 47 Mr Hamilton refers to a ‘small number of friends or associates of the late Mr Sargeant.’ Elsewhere in paragraph 21 Mr Hamilton says that he interviewed 23 people. I am personally aware of at least 10 witnesses who gave verbal evidence to Mr Hamilton who could be referred to as friends of Carl Sargeant. I am aware of two others who had written communication with Mr Hamilton but did not give verbal evidence. 10 out of 23 – or 12 out of 25 – is not ‘a small number’. A leading Welsh journalist made it clear in November 2017 that he had been made aware in 2014 of complaints of bullying within Welsh Government. His evidence is ignored by Mr Hamilton. Evidence from a former civil servant that Mr Sargeant had been ‘constantly monitored and micro-managed’ is ignored by Mr Hamilton.
In paragraph 61 Mr Hamilton takes at face value the claim by the First Minister that when he said in the Chamber on 14 November 2017 issues brought to his attention had been ‘dealt with’ he meant issues ‘which arose from time to time involving disagreements between Ministers’. I do not agree that these issues were disagreements which from time to time happen between ministers. They were not issues between ministers. They were issues about the treatment of advisers and ministers. As I told Mr Hamilton, I did not regard those issues as having been dealt with. I am aware that evidence was given that Carl Sargeant did not believe that they had been dealt with either. I pointed out to Mr Hamilton that in a series of answers to Opposition Assembly Members arising from this the First Minister said that such issues were matters for the Independent Adviser’s Inquiry. Mr Hamilton told me, in respect of the First Minister’s answers, ‘to some extent, what he did was kick into touch I suppose, in a number of those sessions’. I do not believe that these issues have been adequately addressed by Mr Hamilton.
Mr Hamilton appears to have nothing to say about the documentary evidence I provided to him about my conversation and text exchange with the First Minister on 4 February 2015 to which I refer above.
I stand by my previous statements – confirmed by others – that at times in the 2011-16 Assembly there was a toxic atmosphere on the Fifth Floor and that Mr Sargeant and certain other Ministers were subject to persistent personal undermining: indeed, during 2018 I have subsequently learned that the undermining of certain Ministers, including myself, was more extensive than I thought at the time.
It is odd that, having stated that he was not tasked with testing whether there was a substantive case about bullying, Mr Hamilton then goes on to state that there was no substantive evidence of bullying or persistent personal undermining given to him. As he said, this was not an inquiry into bullying. Had it been, then more substantive examples could have been given, including by people who declined to give evidence. I have been told that some people had given evidence about being bullied but this does not appear in Mr Hamilton’s report. In my evidence, I told Mr Hamilton that I had been made aware of a series of complaints that any inquiry into bullying would have to look into, including breaches of employment practices and equal pay laws.
The Hamilton Inquiry was a narrowly-drawn investigation into whether or not the First Minister had misled the Assembly by his statements on two specific dates. I am not surprised at the conclusion. The Terms of Reference given to Mr Hamilton were designed and framed with one objective – to allow the First Minister to gain time for himself, or in Mr Hamilton’s vernacular, to ‘kick into touch’.
All of this makes it clear how important are the Terms of Reference for the QC-led Independent Inquiry which has yet to commence.