'Total devastation': friends and colleagues react to Carl Sargeant's death

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Carl Sargeant’s sudden death after a number of women had made allegations of improper personal conduct against him has left friends and colleagues in Welsh politics expressing concern that he died without being formally told the detail of what he was accused of and before he got the chance to defend himself.

Three women had made harassment complaints, leading to his stepping down on Friday from the Labour cabinet that runs Wales. No details of the complaints have been made public, although it is not thought they were of such a nature that the police had become involved.

But they were serious enough to suddenly cost him his position as the cabinet secretary of communities and children. At the end of last week Sargeant was summoned to the office of his friend, Carwyn Jones, the Welsh first minister, against a backdrop of intense focus on the conduct of politicians at Westminster and elsewhere.

Shortly after, Sargeant released a statement: “I met with the first minister and he informed me allegations had been made about my personal conduct, which was shocking and distressing to me.

“The details of the allegations have yet to be disclosed to me. I have written to the general secretary of Welsh Labour requesting an urgent independent investigation into these allegations in order to allow me to clear my name.

“Given the nature of the allegations, I agreed with the first minister that it was right that I stand aside from cabinet. I look forward to returning to government once my name has been cleared.”

Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Jones said he had become “aware of a number of incidents” at the beginning of last week. “I asked my office to speak to those women involved who had provided detail of those incidents. As a result of those conversations I felt I had no choice but to refer the matter to the party. If we have somebody who is in a position where they could embarrass the party or bring the party into disrepute, then action is taken.”

Given the limited information about the allegations, some started asking questions about whether Labour had handled the complaints appropriately. Leighton Andrews, the former Welsh Labour minister, said: “My understanding is that Carl was still not aware of the detail of the allegations against him even this morning. There are big questions to be asked about the process.

“Carl Sargeant was loved across the political divide. He was a unique politician. He arrived in the assembly from the factory floor. He grew up and still lived in the council estate that helped shape his roots in Connah’s Quay and he was still very much part of that community.”

A close friend, the lobbyist and political commentator Daran Hill, said Sargeant had a general understanding of the allegations against him but there were “no specifics”. He said: “That lack of detail ate away at him, every day it got worse and worse. It’s not a day for pointing fingers. I think there’ll be other days when we can reflect on the behaviour of the Labour party.”

It had been a good year for Sargeant until last week. He was delighted at Labour’s performance in Wales at the general election. Last month he was out the doorstep campaigning for Labour in a local election and announcing a new government regenerations scheme. He was also busy leading the Welsh government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire in London, spearheading action to ensure the safety of apartment buildings in Wales.

Born in 1968 in north Wales, Sargeant worked at a chemical manufacturing plant as quality and environmental auditor and an industrial firefighter. He also toured the area as a mobile DJ.

His commitment to social justice was sparked after seeing the devastation of his local community in the recession of the 1980s. At one point more than 30% of local men were unemployed. He witnessed the impact of heavy drinking and domestic violence on families locally, leading him to become a campaigner against domestic abuse.

Sargeant became a town councillor and elected to the Welsh assembly as member for Alyn and Deeside in 2003. Until he was selected as a candidate he had never even been to the Welsh capital.

He rose steadily through the ranks. He was appointed chief whip and deputy minister for assembly business following the 2007 election. He was promoted to the cabinet in December 2009 as minister for social justice and local government. He subsequently served as housing minister and natural resources minister before being appointed cabinet secretary for communities and children in May 2016.

Labour assembly member Lee Waters called him a “genuine guy who was in politics for the right reasons”. He said: “He was a passionate advocate for action on gender equality and domestic violence and he got things done. Carl was a rare cabinet minister to achieve office without going to university and use the levers to fight for what he believed in.”

Sargeant continued to live in Connah’s Quay, socialising in the same pubs and working clubs he always had. He was a football fan and president of the amateur club FC Nomads. The club has called off all its matches for this weekend as a mark of respect.

Sargeant’s death was confirmed after two ambulances and a police car arrived at his semi-detached home in Connah’s Quay shortly before midday on Tuesday.

“It’s total devastation,” said Stephen Jolley, 52, who lived opposite Sargeant. “He was a lovely man.” Another neighbour, Dave Evans, 54, said local people would have given Sergeant the benefit of the doubt until more was known. He said: “There’s a lot of that stuff flying around. It wouldn’t affect his name here unless they were proven.”

Meetings had been due to take place at the Welsh assembly on Tuesday to discuss how sexual harassment allegations are handled in Cardiff. The meetings, together with all business, were postponed.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Steven Morris and Josh Halliday, for The Guardian on Tuesday 7th November 2017 21.04 Europe/London

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