The first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has agreed to launch an independent inquiry into his handling of the harassment allegations against Carl Sargeant, following criticism from the sacked minister’s grieving relatives.
A spokesman for Jones said on Friday that a senior QC would examine his “actions and decisions” in relation to the former assembly member, who was found dead on Tuesday.
The news came 24 hours after Jones defended his handling of the case in an emotional press conference in which he said he had done everything “by the book”.
Just minutes before the announcement, Sargeant’s family had released a statement saying the first minister’s apparent reluctance to order an independent inquiry was deeply concerning.
Sargeant, 49, was found dead at his home in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, on Tuesday morning, having apparently killed himself four days after being sacked as the cabinet secretary for communities and children. It is understood that Sargeant was facing harassment allegations from three women which he had denied.
A spokesman for Jones said the first minister had asked the Welsh government’s permanent secretary, Shan Morgan, to begin “preparatory work” for the inquiry and contact Sargeant’s family to discuss its terms of reference and the identity of the QC who will lead it.
The family, however, cast doubt on whether the inquiry would be truly independent of the Welsh government.
They said the permanent secretary was not independent because the role reports directly to the first minister. “We believe that a truly independent body must also be responsible for agreeing the terms of reference and appointing the chair and secretariat to the inquiry.”
Jones’s spokesman said it was understood that the inquiry should not take place before the outcome of a coroner’s inquest.
A source close to Sargeant’s family said, however, that there was no need to wait until the inquest outcome, which was probably months away.
“All that needs to happen is that the inquest needs to open then adjourn, which will happen on Monday, and then the view of our lawyers is that any inquiry can then proceed,” the source said.
The family statement said they were concerned by the first minister’s suggestion on Thursday that the inquest would answer all the family’s questions.
They said Jones himself was a barrister and would know that the coroner’s inquest could examine “four questions only”: the identity of the deceased, place of death, time of death, and how the death was caused.
“The family believe they have the painful answers to each of those questions. What a coroner’s inquest cannot determine or appear to be determining is the civil or criminal liability, to apportion guilt or attribute blame, or to be seen to apportion guilt or to attribute blame.
“The first minister will also know as an experienced lawyer that to announce and commence a full independent review and inquiry does not hinder the coroner’s inquest and would run alongside the coroner’s inquest in any event.
“An independent inquiry will ask all the questions that need to be asked and have not been answered and will determine the reasons for the serious failings in following the correct procedures, practices and protocols, and the reasons for the complete abdication of responsibility and duty of care that was owed to Carl.”
In Sargeant’s home town of Connah’s Quay, there is resentment at the first minister’s sacking of the minister, his subsequent media appearances and the refusal to give Sargeant any details about the allegations despite requests from his solicitors, who warned about the detrimental effect on his mental health.
A growing number of ribbons and scarves adorn the railings outside the town’s Labour club, where hundreds of mourners have signed a book of condolence.
Bernie Attridge, the deputy leader of Flintshire county council and a childhood friend of Sargeant’s, said Jones “deserted Carl in his hour of need” and should resign immediately.
“I believe his days are numbered. The quicker he does resign the better. Although that won’t bring my best friend Carl back, but it will help the mourning process as, at the moment, the mourning has turned into anger that Carwyn Jones won’t do the decent thing. All I saw by him not resigning is him looking after himself.”
Attridge and another Labour county councillor, Andy Dunbobbin, said they were writing to every constituency Labour party in north Wales, urging them to sign a letter of no confidence in Jones, who has led the party since December 2009.
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