Ex-aide accuses First Minister of ignoring ‘toxic bullying’
PRESSURE on Carwyn Jones following the apparent suicide of sacked Minister Carl Sargeant has intensified after one of his former key aides accused the First Minister of having been “unwilling or unable” to address a toxic bullying culture in his private office.
Steve Jones, who worked as the First Minister’s media special adviser from 2009 until 2014, claimed the atmosphere was “pure poison” and that Ministers including Mr Sargeant were persistently undermined by senior advisers playing power games.
The Welsh Conservatives claimed evidence was building that Carwyn Jones had himself broken the Ministerial Code.
Mr Sargeant was found dead in his home at Connah’s Quay last Tuesday, four days after being removed from his post as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children because of unspecified allegations of sexual harassment.
After agreeing to step down pending an investigation by the Labour Party into the allegations, Mr Sargeant, who was also suspended from the Labour Party, issued a statement saying he hoped for a quick inquiry so he could clear his name and return to government. But at the time of his death he had only been told that the allegations fell into the general category of “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping”.
Mr Sargeant’s solicitor expressed concern about the impact of the allegations on the politician’s physical and mental health, and asked the Labour Party for swift disclosure of the specific details of the allegations made against him. The party proposed a potential hearing date in mid-January.
It is understood there were complaints from three women, none of which have been referred to the police.
An as yet unnamed QC is to investigate the First Minister’s actions in relation to Mr Sargeant.
The Welsh Conservatives have called for an investigation into allegations of bullying at the heart of the Welsh Government made by former Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews.
Last week Professor Andrews wrote in a blog posting about an environment within Welsh Government where “minor bullying, mind games, power games, favouritism, inconsistency of treatment to different ministers and deliberate personal undermining” were allowed to flourish unchecked.
Steve Jones said: “I agree entirely with Leighton Andrews’ description of the toxicity that existed at top of Welsh Government. Soon after I arrived to work for Carwyn after his election as First Minister in 2009, it was clear that I was entering a toxic environment. The atmosphere that existed on the fifth floor and the First Minister’s Office was one of fear and loathing.”
A Welsh Government spokesman responded: “We do not recognise these comments. Complaints regarding staff and special adviser conduct are taken seriously and dealt with accordingly.”