Minister refuses to reimburse Caerphilly Council £1m costs of paying suspended officers

The Government will not reimburse a Welsh council the £1m salary costs incurred while three senior officers including its head of legal were suspended on full pay, the Courts Minister has said.

In February 2014 Caerphilly’s chief executive Anthony O’Sullivan and its deputy chief executive, Nigel Barnett, were charged by Avon & Somerset Police with misconduct in public office. Head of legal Daniel Perkins was also reported for summons in connection with the same offence.

Avon & Somerset had earlier conducted an investigation at the request of Gwent Police.

A date for a trial at Bristol Crown Court had been rescheduled and was set for November 2015. However, in October the charges were dropped.

Judge William Hart said: “I find that there is no evidence upon which a reasonable jury properly directed could convict any of the defendants of misconduct in a public office on the admissible evidence available.”

In response Caerphilly’s Leader, Cllr Keith Reynolds, said “serious questions” needed to be asked of the CPS about the length of time taken.

At a Westminster Hall debate this week Caerphilly MP Wayne David expressed concern about the actions of the CPS and Avon & Somerset Police, and how the court system had operated.

The MP added: “This whole legal saga dragged on for more than 18 months. There were many reasons for the longevity of the case. It was certainly complex, but a measure of responsibility must be borne by those involved in its prosecution: the police, the CPS, the judiciary and the legal system as a whole. If it stops anywhere, the buck stops with the Government and the Ministry of Justice, who are responsible for the legal system.

“Caerphilly County Borough Council were legally obliged to suspend the three officers concerned from the moment they were arrested. To date, the bill to the council and its council tax payers is more than £1 million. There is no need to remind the Minister that, like all other local authorities in the country, Caerphilly County Borough Council can ill afford £1 million at a time when services are being cut and jobs are at risk.”

David called on Courts Minister Shailesh Vara to give “careful and serious consideration” to his request that the council be reimbursed for the salaries it was obliged to pay to the suspended staff. “If he accepts the morality of my case, he should surely find a way to ensure that the people of Caerphilly are not unfairly penalised.”

Vara said he understood the concerns of the people of Caerphilly about the cost of the case. However, he added that the justice system was obliged “to investigate cases, even when they involve high-profile individuals, and the duty on judges to make decisions according to the information before them must continue”.

He continued: “Those responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct must be able to do so robustly and without intrusion, and it is crucial that those who make decisions in the system are independent and protected from undue state influence.

“It is not for this place to challenge the Wales Audit Office’s investigation, the independent prosecutorial decision to bring the proceedings or the judicial decision to bring the proceedings to a close.”

Rejecting the call for the council to be reimbursed, the minister insisted that the case had been concluded well within the average time for such complex cases. 

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Team @ AberdareOnline

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