THE SON OF THE MAN FROM UNCLE

October 14, 2013

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THE SON is the £160,000 a year BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies.

The man is Geraint Talfan Davies who held the same post for ten years.

The uncle is the late Sir Alun Talfan Davies — barrister, politician, businessman and a leading member of the Welsh establishment.

The Talfan Davies clan have been important players in Wales for half a century.

All are able people.

But eyebrows were raised when Rhodri Talfan Davies was given the job in 2011.

He was just 40 years of age.

He had never made a television programme in Wales.

He lived in England.

His appointment is shrouded in mystery.

No convincing reason has ever been given for his initial rejection — and subsequent appointment four months later.

He  declined to answer questions that nepotism and patronage may have played a part in his career development.

The BBC in London said these suggestions were absurd and did not “stand up to any form of sensible scrutiny”.

(Rebecca has made a declaration of interest in relation to this investigation — see the notes at the end of the article.)

♦♦♦

IN FEBRUARY 2011 three senior BBC executives from London convened to consider who should be the next Director of BBC Wales.

The trio — led by the Corporation’s deputy Director General Mark Byford — had interviewed seven shortlisted candidates to take over from Menna Richards, OBE.

One of them was Rhodri Talfan Davies.

He was already a member of the BBC Wales board, as Head of Strategy & Communications.

REMOTE CONTROLLER BBC Cymru Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies is the first-ever Director of the bi-lingual broadcaster to live in   another country. He has owned homes in Bristol for more than a decade and his children go to schools in the city. The issue of where he lived was to become an issue in the events leading up to his appointment.  Photo: BBC (supplied "in good faith, on the understanding that it will be used to illustrate a fair and balanced article" as BBC spokeswoman Kate Stokes helpfully pointed out)

REMOTE CONTROLLER
BBC CYMRU WALES Director Rhodri Talfan Davies is the first-ever head of the bi-lingual broadcaster to live in another country. He has owned homes in Bristol for more than a decade and his children go to schools in the city. The question of where he lived was to become an issue in the events leading up to his appointment.
Photo: BBC Wales (supplied “in good faith, on the understanding that it will be used to illustrate a fair and balanced article” as BBC spokeswoman Kate Stokes helpfully put it).

He had been appointed to the post four and half years earlier by a panel headed by then BBC Wales boss Menna Richards, a close friend of the Talfan Davies family.

Many insiders felt his board position combined with his membership of the Talfan Davies dynasty made him clear favourite for the job.

But Byford and the two other panel members — Journalism Group chief operating officer Dominic Coles and its human resources director Rachel Currie — stunned the Corporation’s 1,200 Welsh staff by deciding not to appoint.

On February 18, a spokeswoman announced that the search for a new Director “has been extended”.

An interim Director — the head of Welsh language programmes Keith Jones — was appointed.

His appointment was expected to last for “months”.

These events turned BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff’s Llandaff area into a ferment of gossip and speculation.

A week later a second press release was issued.

It said:

“The search for a new director of BBC Wales has been extended, after the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate.”

That search, said the BBC, “would continue until ‘the right person’ was found.”

“In light of the importance of this high-profile appointment it is clearly essential that the right person is appointed.”

“A number of strong candidates applied for the post and as we were unable to make an appointment we have extended the selection process.”

“The requirements for the role remain unchanged and we are currently finalising the approach we will take as part of this process.”

After his application failed, Talfan Davies was given the job of carrying out a strategic review of the BBC’s digital services.

The Corporation said this was a “pan BBC review which required travel between bases.”

“His main bases during this period were Cardiff and London.”

After the dramatic events of February, March passed without any new developments.

April came and went without a progress report.

May went the way of April.

Senior managers on the third floor of Broadcasting House in Llandaff were tight-lipped throughout June — and most of July.

The silence was finally broken on July 26 with the announcement that the new Director was … Rhodri Talfan Davies.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson gave him a glowing endorsement:

“His deep understanding of Wales — and the BBC’s crucial role in the nation’s life — will equip him brilliantly for the challenge of leading such a successful and ambitious part of the organisation.”

MARK THOMPSON The BBC's Director General when Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed.  Photo: PA

MARK THOMPSON
THE BBC’s Director General when Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed, Thompson praised the new BBC Wales Director’s “deep understanding of Wales”. Thompson left the BBC in September 2012 and is now chief executive officer of the New York Times group.
Photo: PA

Talfan Davies was “thrilled” and “sincerely honoured” to have been chosen.

“BBC Cymru Wales is of enormous importance to the creative and cultural life of the nation and is performing brilliantly on the UK networks.”

“There’s a great wealth of talent in the creative industries in Wales and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to lead the fantastic team at BBC Wales.”

Rebecca asked Kate Stokes, Head of Communications & External Affairs at BBC Wales, if there had been another round of interviews for the position in the run-up to the July announcement.

We also asked for details of the formal search for other candidates announced after the February interviews failed to come up with a successful candidate.

She said:

“As a matter of policy, the BBC does not disclose this level of detail around the recruitment of staff.”

The only hint of any problem in the selection process came in an article in the Western Mail newspaper.

“It is understood Mr Davies’ appointment was delayed because of concerns that he lives in Bristol,” chief reporter Martin Shipton noted.

“On taking up his appointment, it has been agreed that he will live in Cardiff during the week, returning to his family home at the weekends.”

Kate Stokes told us:

“It is a matter of public record that Rhodri’s family home — at the time of his appointment — was in Bristol.”

“In September 2011, in a Western Mail article, Rhodri confirmed his appointment as Director had been delayed because of concerns that his family home was in Bristol rather than Wales.”

Rebecca asked Kate Stokes to clarify this issue.

Was the “delay” a factor in the weeks leading up to the July appointment?

Or had it been the stumbling block back in February?

Was Talfan Davies rejected because deputy Director General Mark Byford wouldn’t tolerate a BBC Wales Director living in England?

In reponse, she said that “the reasons for the delay between Rhodri’s interview and appointment … is a matter of public record …”

She again cited the Western Mail interview where the Director “confirmed that his appointment … had been delayed because of concerns that his family home was in Bristol rather than Wales.”

We also asked her to confirm that the paper’s comment about him staying in Cardiff during the working week was accurate.

She told us:

“To be clear, Rhodri gave an assurance on taking up the role that he would spend his working week at the BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff (except where he was required to travel to London or other BBC centres as part of his role).”

♦♦♦

WHEN BBC Wales announced the appointment of Rhodri Talfan Davies in July 2011, there were two pieces of information that were conspicuous by their absence.

The first was his age.

He was just 40 — the youngest ever Director of BBC Wales.

The second was his journalistic experience of Wales.

It was virtually zero.

There is no doubt, however, that the new Director is an intelligent man — like his father, he attended Jesus College, Oxford.

He was born in Cardiff in 1973.

At the time his father was approaching the peak of his career as a print journalist.

Geraint Talfan Davies had started in 1966 as a graduate trainee at the Western Mail in Cardiff.

In 1971 he joined the Newcastle daily, The Journal.

By 1973, the year of his second son Rhodri’s birth, he was working for The Times in London.

The following year he returned to the Western Mail as assistant editor.

He moved into broadcasting in 1978 as head of news and current affairs at what was then HTV Wales.

At the time, his uncle Sir Alun Talfan Davies was the chairman of the Welsh board of the company which held the ITV franchise for Wales and the West Country.

THE MAN FROM UNCLE Geraint Talfan Davies acquired the nickname in 1978 when he was appointed head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales. His uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was chairman of the Welsh board. There was little criticism when he was appointed Controller of BBC Wales in 1990 — he had served a long apprenticeship in Welsh newspapers and television. He stood down in 2000 but remains active in public life — he's currently chairman of the Welsh National Opera.

THE MAN FROM UNCLE
GERAINT TALFAN DAVIES, who published his autobiography in 2008, acquired the nickname in 1978 when he was appointed head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales. His uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was chairman of the Welsh board. There was no criticism when he was appointed Controller of BBC Wales in 1990 — he had served a long apprenticeship in newspapers and television. He stood down in 2000 but remains active in public life: he’s currently chairman of the Welsh National Opera.

This is where his nickname — “The Man From Uncle” — comes from.

His son went to the Welsh-medium secondary school, Ysgol Gyfun Gymaeg Glantaf, in Llandaff — not far from the HQ of BBC Wales.

In 1987, however, the family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne when Geraint Talfan Davies was appointed Director of Programmes for Tyne Tees Television.

Rhodri Talfan Davies went to Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School before going to Oxford in 1989.

In 1992 he spent a year on the post-graduate course at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism.

Then it was time to start forging a career.

♦♦♦

IT BEGAN — as it had done for his father — on the Western Mail.

 in 1993 Rhodri Talfan Davies spent a short period on the newspaper as a sub-editor in Cardiff.

These few months are his only journalistic employment in Wales.

Later the same year, he was accepted as a news trainee at the BBC.

His father was, by this time, running BBC Wales.

His son went to work in the English regions.

For six years, between 1993 and 1999, he worked for various regional news and documentary strands in the North of England and the South East.

He started as a journalist and was promoted to producer.

Then, in 1999. he landed a major post — head of BBC West in Bristol.

His title was Head of Regional & Local Programmes.

The appointment came as a surprise to many at the BBC West headquarters in Bristol’s Whiteladies Road.

He was just 28.

He had never worked in the BBC West region.

He had no formal managerial experience.

(When his father was 28, he was still only a reporter on The Journal in Newcastle.

At 28, Menna Richards, was just a radio and television journalist at BBC Wales.)

Rhodri Talfan Davies and his wife Estelle moved to Bristol.

But in 2002  he moved on.

He went to work for the cable operator Telewest as Director of Television.

He stayed for four years and was part of the team which won a UK Bafta award in 2004 for its pioneering interactive and “catch-up” facilities.

In July 2006 he applied for the job of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences at BBC Wales in Cardiff.

The four-strong interviewing panel was headed by Menna Richards.

He was appointed — and joined the board — despite never having worked for BBC Wales.

Aside from a year as a student in Cardiff, he had not lived in Wales for nearly twenty years.

The son of the man from uncle was now 35.

(When Menna Richards was 35, she was still a journalist at HTV Wales.

Geraint Talfan Davies, at 35, had just been appointed to his first job in broadcasting — head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales — after twelve years as a print journalist.)

The man Talfan Davies replaced as Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences was Huw Roberts.

Appointed in 2002, Roberts had a formidable CV.

He’d been ITN’s chief press officer for five years.

He’d spent a year as a senior special advisor to the Welsh Office in 1997-1998, working for Ron Davies

He’d spent two years as the Welsh Development Agency’s Head of Marketing.

He also had a decade of press and information experience at various government departments including the Welsh Office.

BBC communications chief Kate Stokes told Rebecca that Talfan Davies “accepted a lower salary than his predecessor had received”.

In 2009 another important string was added to his bow — only this time he didn’t have to apply for it.

Menna Richards decided to change his job description.

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE Awarded the honour in 2010, she stood down from the post of Director in February 2011. There was little criticism of her appointment back in 2000 even though she was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. She had served a long apprenticeship  — all of it in Wales. Photo: PA

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE
AWARDED THE honour in 2010, she stood down from the post of Director in February 2011. There was little criticism of her appointment back in 2000 even though she was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. She had served a long apprenticeship — all of it in Wales.                                                                  Photo: PA

Instead of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences, she dropped marketing and audiences from his portfolio — and added strategy.

The post was now Head of Strategy & Communications.

Although a head of strategy had previously existed, it was not a board level position.

Strategy is an important position because it allows the holder to be a part of the Corporation’s forward planning.

It gave Rhodri Talfan Davies an inside track on what any new Director of BBC Wales might face.

The decision to add Strategy to his portfolio was Menna Richards’ sole decision.

It was, BBC Wales’ spokeswoman Kate Stokes told us, a decision “unique to Wales.”

“The new job … incorporated a wider set of responsibilities at Board level, but the salary did not change,” she said.

But, later, she changed her position.

“By way of correction to the previous response we gave you,” she said, “the additional responsibilities were recognised via a small increase but we do not disclose individual salary levels below Director level.”

 ♦♦♦

WHEN HE was took up the post of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences  in July 2006, Rhodri Talfan Davies decided he wouldn’t move his family to Wales.

At that point, he had two children — the first-born between 4 and 5, the second just a toddler.

This would have been a perfect time to start educating his children in Welsh-medium schools — as he had been.

But in 2002 he had bought a house in Westbury Park, Bristol for £329,000 and he and his wife Estelle decided to stay put.

By the time he applied for the post of Director, in the early months of 2011, he had also made up his mind that his family would not move to Wales.

In fact, in the months that followed he and his wife were negotiating to buy a more expensive property in the same area of Bristol.

In June 2011 the original house was sold for £477,500 — and a new one bought for £545,000.

The following month he was appointed Director of BBC Wales.

When he took up the post in September 2011, Talfan Davies admitted the issue of where he lived had delayed his appointment.

“Clearly it wasn’t ideal that my family home was in Bristol,” he told the Western Mail in September 2011, “but certainly I’ve given assurances that I would be based in Cardiff throughout the week.”

He added that “my wife and I moved 11 times during the first eight years of my career [1993-2001] and we took a view five or six years ago that while our children — aged 10, seven and one — are school age that we would offer them as much stability as possible, wherever my career led.”

He said Director General Mark Thompson had been concerned that he lived in England.

“Mark, I suspect, thought long and hard about that.”

“He came to the view in the end that that situation wouldn’t impact on my ability to do the job and I’m very grateful for the support he’s shown.”

The new Director was 40 years old.

(When his father, Geraint, was 40 he had risen to the heights of Assistant Controller of Programmes at HTV Wales.

It was to be another six years before he took the top job at BBC Wales.

The woman Rhodri Talfan Davies replaced as Director, Menna Richards OBE, was Director of Programmes at HTV Wales on her 40th birthday.

She had to wait until she was 47 before she took the top job at BBC Wales.)

On his first day as Director at Broadcasting House, Talfan Davies also discussed what he called “sniffy” comments about a family dynasty.

“I don’t worry about it too much.”

“Inevitably people may scratch their heads and say how is it that he can be appointed.”

“The truth is you see this in a whole range of fields.”

“There are plenty of friends I have who are teachers whose parents were teachers.”

“There are Welsh rugby internationals whose parents are rugby internationals.”

“I was brought up in an environment where there was a real passion for media and broadcasting and I guess that rubbed off.”

“I think the people I work with judge me on what I do rather than what previous relatives have done.”

He took a lower salary than Menna Richards — £140,000 against her £185,000.

But his confidential contract also carried with it a commitment to increase his salary by £20,000 after 18 months if certain targets were met.

BBC Wales has never disclosed what these targets were.

He got his £20,000 increase…

♦♦♦

SO WHAT is the truth about Rhodri Talfan Davies’ appointment?

Was he simply a brilliant and precocious administrator, streets ahead of the competition?

Or was he fortunate to come from a powerful media dynasty and well-placed to join the Corporation at a time when a close friend of the family was in charge of BBC Wales?

Rebecca wrote to the Director and asked him if the influence of his father and Menna Richards played any part in the four key “booster rockets” that catapulted him to the top of BBC Wales.

Booster Rocket 1

This was his appointment to Head of Regional & Local Programmes at BBC West at the tender age of 28.

We asked him how a producer with just six years in news and no formal managerial experience could possibly have beaten candidates with a more developed CV?

Was the fact that his father was the head of BBC Wales at the time and an influential figure in the Corporation a factor?

He didn’t reply — although the BBC’s Kate Stokes claimed that he had “significant management experience in a busy news environment.”

We asked the son to put this question to his father.

Geraint Talfan Davies didn’t answer.

Booster Rocket 2

This was Rhodri Talfan Davies’ promotion to Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences at BBC Wales in 2006.

There is no doubt that he had marketing credentials, having worked for Telewest for several years in a senior role.

But he had no work experience in Wales beyond a short stint as a sub-editor on the Western Mail back in 1993.

He had not lived in Wales for most of the previous two decades.

We asked him why Menna Richards had not declared an interest in his application on the grounds that she was a close friend of his father — and withdrawn from the interviewing panel.

He didn’t answer.

We also asked him to put this question to Menna Richards.

She didn’t respond.

Booster Rocket 3

In 2009 the key role of Strategy was added to his job title by Menna Richards.

The new role wasn’t advertised.

She also gave him an unspecified pay rise.

We asked him if the purpose of this change was to give him an inside track on the Corporation’s thinking about the way forward, both nationally and in Wales.

This was another question he wouldn’t answer.

Menna Richards was also silent on the subject.

Booster Rocket 4

Even though he was ruled out as a potential Director in the February 2011 interviews carried out by Mark Byford, he still managed to stay in the running and land the top job in July.

We asked him if deputy Director General Mark Byford, who chaired the February interview board, had decided either that he did not have enough experience or that his decision to stay in Bristol ruled him out.

We asked if the fact that Mark Byford had accepted redundancy the previous October had played a part.

MARK BYFORD Deputy Director General of the BBC when the panel he chaired rejected Rhodri Talfan Davies for the post of BBC Wales Director. He left the Corporation the month before Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed — and later was at the centre of a storm over his £1 million redundancy package and a £163,000 a year pension. Photo: PA

NO WAY
MARK BYFORD was deputy Director General of the BBC when the panel he chaired rejected Rhodri Talfan Davies for the post of BBC Wales Director. Byford left the Corporation the month before Talfan Davies was appointed. He was later at the centre of a storm over a £1 million redundancy package and his £163,000 a year pension.  Photo: PA

Byford left in June 2011 and the appointment was sanctioned — apparently without any further interviews — by the then Director General Mark Thompson a month later.

Had Thompson been in favour all along — and told Talfan Davies to bide his time until Byford was out of the picture?

Again, Talfan Davies didn’t answer these questions.

We also wrote to Mark Byford at his Winchester home.

He didn’t reply.

We asked Mark Thompson, now in charge of the New York Times, for a comment.

He didn’t come back to us.

♦♦♦

IN THE letter to Rhodri Talfan Davies, Rebecca also tackled the issue of him living in Bristol.

We pointed out that “many observers will find it hard to accept that, on your 2006 appointment to the Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences, you did not move your family to Wales.”
 
“Your eldest child was just four or five and at an ideal age to start primary education in a Welsh-medium school.”
 
“Your decision to stay in Bristol leaves you open to the charge that, in relation to English language programmes, you are an ‘absentee landlord’.”

“In relation to Welsh-language output, you are — by virtue of the fact that your family is growing up mainly outside the cultural life of Welsh-speaking Wales — a ‘remote controller’.”

He didn’t reply.

We also made several further attempts to clear up the central mystery in his appointment — what happened in the four months between his rejection in February 2011 and his appointment in July 2011?

We asked BBC Wales what the short-listed candidates were told in February.

We asked what Talfan Davies was told.

We asked for more information about the widening of the search for other candidates.

That search, BBC Wales said at the time, “would continue until ‘the right person’ was found.”

We asked if there was another round of interviews before Talfan Davies was appointed.

Kate Stokes, Head of Communications & External Affairs, told us “the BBC does not disclose the sort of details you have requested on staff recruitment …”

She did comment on the apparent contradiction between the rejection of  Talfan Davies in February (“after the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate”) and his appointment in July.

She insisted the “delay does not contradict the BBC statement in February 2011 that ‘the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate’.”

“The only reason Rhodri was not a successful candidate — i.e. appointed — at that time was because of concerns over his Bristol family home.”

We also asked why Talfan Davies living in Bristol was a problem in February — but no longer an issue when he was appointed in July.

There was no reply by the time this article was published.

When we sent our letter to Talfan Davies we asked for a response by close of play last Thursday.

By Friday morning it was clear that there would be no reply.

Rebecca then sent copies of the letter to Director General Lord Hall and BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten.

A spokesperson for the Trust said “this is a matter for Rhodri Talfan Davies”.

On Friday afternoon the BBC Press Office in London gave us a statement.

“The suggestion that Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed Director for any reason other than being the best candidate for the job is absurd and doesn’t stand up to any form of sensible scrutiny.”

♦♦♦

 NOTES

1  The refusal of BBC Wales to answer questions about sensitive issues is not surprising. Across Welsh broadcasting there’s a history of censorship — for ITV Wales see A Man of Conviction? about the suppression of material damaging to Welsh Ofcom chair Rhodri Williams. A Licence To Censor tells the story of how a critical documentary on Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering’s financial problems came to be shelved. Back at BBC Wales, In The Name Of The Father? examines the career of Menna Richards, a close family friend of the Talfan Davies clan. 

2  Rebecca is in dispute with BBC Wales over the Corporation’s failure to cover some of the material the website has published. In particular, we have complained about the decision to ignore major investigations into freemasonry, censorship in Welsh broadcasting and child abuse in North Wales. This led to an unsuccessful complaint to BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten. There will be more  on this in forthcoming articles.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca 2013

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THE MISTRESS OF THE MAN FROM OFCOM

March 6, 2018

rebecca_logo_04THE WALES Director of broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, Rhodri Williams, is to step down.

It follows a turbulent time for the Cardiff office of the main UK communications regulator.

Last October Ofcom in London admitted that a controversial contract — awarded by the Cardiff office to the Welsh lobbying firm Deryn Consulting — had broken its procurement rules.

The contract was awarded in February 2016 without going out to tender.

We asked Ofcom if the contract was a factor in Rodri Williams’ decision to step down.

It did not answer the question.

A spokesman told Rebecca yesterday:

“Rhodri decided to leave Ofcom after 14 years.”

“He will leave Ofcom this month and we wish him all the best for the future.”

The clear favourite to replace Rhodri Williams is his deputy, Regulatory Affairs Manager Elinor Williams.

She is also his wife — and, before that, his mistress.

Her marriage to civil servant Geraint Williams collapsed in 2013.

Rhodri Williams’ marriage broke up shortly afterwards.

Rhodri and Elinor were married last year.

Rebecca does not investigate personal affairs — unless the relationship raises issues of public patronage.

Rhodri Williams

RHODRI “BILLIONS” WILLIAMS
RHODRI WILLIAMS is a poacher turned gamekeeper. Gaoled in the 1970s for his part in the campaign to create a Welsh TV channel, he tried to become a media tycoon in the 1990s. This is where the nickname “billions” comes from. He was one of the founders of Tinopolis, the Llanelli-based independent production company, but was dramatically dismissed in 2001. He was accused of diverting a valuable contract to a rival. Rebecca has investigated his career in the article A Man Of Conviction? Rebecca editor Paddy French has declared an interest in the coverage of Rhodri Williams — see the article A Licence To Censor for more details.
Photo: Ofcom

The couple met in the 1990s and Elinor Williams went on to work for public bodies controlled by Rhodri Williams.

She joined the Welsh Language Board in 2003 when he was Chairman.

She joined Ofcom Wales in 2007 when he was Director.

She stood in as Director when Rhodri Williams was seconded to London.

Her experience — and her personal connections — may deter qualified candidates from applying for the Director post.

Ofcom told us:

“We can confirm that appropriate measures are in place to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest are avoided.”

(After this article was posted, Ofcom also asked us to add the following statement:

“We are conducting an open and transparent recruitment process to appoint a Director for Wales.”)

♦♦♦

IN FEBRUARY 2016 Ofcom Wales negotiated a contract with the high-powered lobbying firm Deryn Consulting.

Formed in 2011, the company is owned by Cathy Owens, a former advisor to the late Rhodri Morgan, and former Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Nerys Evans.

The contract was to provide the Cardiff office with “monitoring of proceedings, debates and Government announcement in Wales and UK-wide.”

The existence of the contract — which did not go out to tender — did not emerge until a year later.

Journalists began investigating and Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Neil McEvoy started to ask questions.

In February 2017 Western Mail chief reporter Martin Shipton published an article about the affair.

Team-Deryn-June-2016

POWER BROKERS
DERYN CONSULTING is a powerful lobbying business. Formed in 2011, it’s owned by Cathy Owens (pictured, far right), a former adviser to Rhodri Morgan, and ex-Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Nerys Evans (on the left). Owens has a reputation as an abrasive character: once describing journalists as “bastards”. Nerys Evans is a former Plaid Cymru Director of Strategy. Chairman Huw Roberts, the only man in the picture, worked for BBC Wales and ITN in London. He was also a spin doctor to former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies.
Photo: Deryn

The piece revealed that Nerys Evans and Deryn chairman Huw Roberts were also members of Ofcom’s advisory committee for Wales.

Ofcom defended the awarding of the contract without going out to tender.

Deryn were:

“able to provide a bespoke service tailored to suit the specific needs of Ofcom in Wales: so, for example, monitoring of National Assembly for Wales committees is provided immediately after committee sessions.”

Ofcom declined to reveal the value of the contract.

Assembly Member Neil McEvoy was not impressed.

He told the Western Mail:

“There are well-established rules for public procurement of goods and services.”

“But they’ve awarded a contract to Deryn, without any competition …”

“It’s impossible to know whether Deryn offered the public value for money since no other companies were able to bid for the contract, even though there is no shortage of such companies.”

“Overall, this is highly damaging to Ofcom’s reputation.”

“The person on the street is getting tired of the cosiness and the constant stitch-ups amongst the Welsh political elite.”

He asked Ofcom to investigate.

Ofcom moved quickly to scotch the scandal.

It immediately — but secretly — axed the contract and in October last year partially abandoned its defence of the process.

Ofcom’s Director of Corporate Services, Alison Crosland, wrote to Neil McEvoy to say she had reviewed how the contract was awarded.

“This concluded that the way the contract was awarded was not consistent with Ofcom’s required processes and a competitive procurement should have been undertaken.”

But she decided that patronage had played no part in the decision:

“The review concluded that the decision to procure the service was  based on its usefulness, and the fact that employees of the supplier hold positions on the Advisory Committee had no bearing on the decision.”

Neil smiling lrg

NEIL McEVOY
THE OUTSPOKEN Assembly Member was expelled from Plaid Cymru in January following a spate of complaints. One of these came from Deryn directors Cathy Owens and Nerys Evans who accused McEvoy of bullying and intimidation. Nerys Evans, a former senior Plaid Cymru politician, said McEvoy “has sought to undermine and harm my reputation, and that of my company, Deryn, by a campaign of bullying and smears.” McEvoy claims some of the complaints against him were orchestrated by Deryn because he’s critical of the company.

“As a result of these findings,” she added, “those colleagues [responsible for the contract] will receive further training to ensure that procurement policies and procedures are followed properly in future.”

Rebecca understands “those colleagues” included Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams.

The Ofcom contract was important to Deryn.

Shortly after the Ofcom contract was awarded in February 2016, Cathy Owens claimed “it’s been a spectacular few months for Deryn …”

2016 also proved successful financially.

Deryn was able to declare a dividend.

Cathy Owens received £78,000 and Nerys Evans £47,000 on top of their undisclosed salaries.

We approached Deryn for a comment but there was no reply by the time this article went to press.

♦♦♦

IT’S NOT known when the affair between Rhodri Williams and Elinor Williams began.

It’s been common knowledge in Cardiff and London for many years.

They were known as “Mr and Mrs Williams” because her married name was also Williams.

He is 61, she’s 46.

They first met in the 1990s.

In 1994 he was editor of the S4C programme Heno when it covered a talent competition held by the Welsh-language magazine Golwg.

Golwg was looking for amateur models and one of the contestants was Elinor Williams.

In October 2003 — by now married to civil servant Geraint Williams — she was appointed Director of Marketing and Communications of the Welsh Language Board.

ElinorWilliams

REGULATORY AFFAIRS
ELINOR WILLIAMS is a highly qualified candidate for the post of Director, Ofcom Wales. She joined Ofcom first as Communications Manager and then as Regulatory Affairs Manager. She held the post of Director, Ofcom Wales in 2012 when future husband Rhodri Williams was in London as acting head of UK Government and Regulatory Affairs.
Photo: Ofcom

Rhodri Williams — then chairman of the Welsh Language Board — said:

“We are delighted that Elinor will be joining us at the board.”

Two months later, he was offered the post of Director, Ofcom Wales.

The salary was between £80,000 and £110,000.

(His then wife, Siân Helen, is a close friend of former Labour Assembly Member Delyth Evans.

Delyth Evans’ partner is Ed Richards, who had been a media policy editor advisor to Tony Blair

Richards was appointed deputy chief executive of Ofcom early in 2003 and later took the top job in 2005.

He was not involved in the appointment of Rhodri Williams.)

In 2007 Elinor Williams joined Ofcom as Communications Manager.

She was later promoted to Regulatory Affairs Manager.

Rebecca asked Ofcom if Rhodri Williams was involved in these appointments.

Ofcom told us:

“We do not discuss individual employee matters.”

In January 2012 Rhodri Williams moved to Ofcom’s London HQ to become acting UK Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs.

While he was away, Elinor Williams was promoted to acting Director of the Wales office.

There was no appointment process — Ofcom says the post was “back-filled”.

Applications for the post of Ofcom Director Wales, close on March 19.

♦♦♦

Note
You can read more on this subject in the article  — Update: The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom — published on 9 May 9 2018.

Correction
This article was corrected on March 10. We stated that Elinor Williams was appointed Ofcom’s Regulatory Affairs Manager in 2007. In fact, that position was Communications Manager — she was later promoted to Regulatory Affairs Manager. Apologies for the error.

♦♦♦
Published: 6
 March 2018
© Rebecca
♦♦♦

COMING UP
THE SISTER OF THE WOMAN FROM AUNTIE
PATRONAGE AND NEPOTISM have long been features of broadcasting in Wales. The Rebecca investigation of BBC Wales — which already includes the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father? — continues with a detailed analysis of the crisis that engulfed the Corporation between 2008 and 2011. The article examines the controversial relationship between former Director Menna Richards and her sister. The current regime — headed by Rhodri Talfan Davies, the son of former BBC boss Geraint Talfan Davies, and a family friend of Menna Richards — declines to answer questions on the affair …

♦♦♦

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OWEN SMITH: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

August 8, 2016

 THIS ARTICLE first appeared on the Press Gang website. 

Owen_Smith_head_seasons

THE BATTLE for the Labour leadership is in full swing.

But so far the personal integrity of Owen Smith has not been an issue in the campaign.

The mainstream media have accepted his own sanitized version of his career.

The result is that it has largely been left to Press Gang to ask the searching questions about Owen Smith.

He still declines to provide the detailed CV we’ve asked for.

But, after some delay, he’s finally started to answer some of our questions.

He denies that nepotism and patronage in South Wales played any part in his rise to become a possible future Prime Minister.

But some of his answers are unconvincing.

And more questions are emerging …

♦♦♦

SEVEN HOURS after Press Gang published the article “Owen Smith: Forged by Patronage and Nepotism?” the Labour leadership candidate finally answered some of our questions.

His press team told us on Wednesday:

“The suggestion that Owen received any of his roles through patronage are (sic) completely false.”

A spokesperson said Owen Smith had forwarded our questions to Nick Evans, the senior BBC Wales radio producer who first hired him.

Nick Evans then sent us two emails.

Labour leadership challenge
LEFT — AND LEFT AGAIN?
JEREMY CORBYN and Owen Smith at the first public hustings of the leadership campaign in Cardiff on Thursday night. The British media have concentrated most of its forensic firepower on Jeremy Corbyn and have largely taken the challenger at face value. Press Gang is one of the few investigative outlets examining Owen Smith’s career in detail.
Photo: PA

In the first, Evans said it was Owen Smith who first approached him for work.

In his second, he gave a different version: Owen Smith had come into BBC Wales with his father and it was Evans who offered him work.

We asked Owen Smith about this contradiction.

His press team replied:

“Owen’s appointment followed casual work he had gained at BBC Wales, after contacting Nick directly, … without any input from his father.”

The press team also forwarded our questions to the man who was BBC Wales’ head of human relations at the time, Keith Rawlings, adding:

” … he would be able to confirm all of your allegations are completely false.”

“Keith sat on the interview panel alongside Nick [Evans] when Owen was originally interviewed.”

Press Gang rang Keith Rawlings.

He told us he wasn’t on the interview panel when Owen Smith was originally appointed.

He said the first he knew of Owen Smith was much later, after Dai Smith had been appointed Editor, Radio Wales.

In other words, Rawlings knew nothing about how Owen Smith was first introduced to Radio Wales …

♦♦♦

HAVE THE BBC been complicit in Owen Smith’s attempts to avoid questions about nepotism and patronage?

Two days after Owen Smith became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC political reporter Brian Wheeler posted a profile of the candidate headed “The Owen Smith story”.

This article set the tone for much of the general media treatment of Owen Smith’s early BBC career.

It contained this paragraph:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

By focusing on the actual appointments of Owen Smith to a post on Radio Wales and Dai Smith as Editor of Radio Wales, it gave the impression that Owen was already at the BBC when his father was picked to be the next Editor of Radio Wales.

It failed to say that Dai Smith had already introduced Owen before either appointment took place.

DaiSmith_35
DAI SMITH
OWEN SMITH’S father has been an important figure in Welsh public life for decades. He was the second most powerful man at BBC in the late 1990s and close to the clique that controlled broadcasting at that time. As one of the main historians of the south Wales miners, he’s also close to some of the key political figures in Welsh Labour. Owen Smith insists his father played no part in his career …
Photo: Parthian Books 

Given that the information in this article could only have come from one of two places — the BBC itself or Owen Smith — it raises the question of bias.

On Thursday Press Gang editor Paddy French wrote to BBC Director General Lord (Tony) Hall.

The email said there were several errors in the paragraph’s second sentence:

“His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

French noted:

” — there has never been an Editor of BBC Wales. The post being referred to here is Editor, Radio Wales.”

” — there is an issue about the date of [Dai’s] appointment: former BBC Wales contacts tell me this was actually 1993, not 1992.”

” — Dai Smith was not appointed head of programmes in the same year: that actually happened, as I understand it, in 1994.”

The Press Gang editor added:

“I am also concerned at the possibility that this paragraph was a deliberate red herring, designed to deflect attention away from the question about how Owen Smith was introduced to BBC Wales in the first place.”

“Given the sensitivity that surrounds the Corbyn-Smith contest for the Labour leadership, this article also raises questions about BBC impartiality.”

A spokeswoman for Tony Hall acknowledged receipt of the email but, at the time this article went to press, there was no reply.

♦♦♦

OTHER SERIOUS challenges to Owen Smith’s reputation for honesty are beginning to emerge.

In 2002 he left BBC Wales and took a post as special adviser to Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy, the MP for the Welsh constituency of Torfaen.

Owen Smith insists his family connections played no part in this appointment.

His press team told us:

“With regards to Owen’s appointment with Paul Murphy — again Dai [Smith] had absolutely no involvement.”

“Dai did not even know Paul Murphy at all, until after Owen began working for him.”

Paul Murphy also denied that Dai was involved in the appointment but wouldn’t explain how Owen Smith came to be selected.

Murphy told us:

“He came from BBC Wales, although I knew his father through Welsh Labour history circles.”

In 2005 Owen Smith joined the controversial US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

His exact role is not clear — one press report said he was Head of Policy and Government Relations.

We asked Pfizer for more information.

The company told us:

“We are unable to discuss the details of individuals’ roles; however, we can confirm that Owen Smith was employed by Pfizer UK in our Corporate Affairs Department between January 2005 and September 2008.”

The job involved a substantial increase in salary.

Owen Smith moved his family from London down to a £489,000 house in the Surrey village of Westcott near Dorking.

In 2006 Pfizer allowed him time off work to contest the Blaenau Gwent by-election.

Owen Smith said the company had been “extremely supportive” of his aspirations to public office.

But the fact that Labour had selected a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant was not popular in a seat which included Nye Bevan’s old powerbase.

Labour party annual conference 2015
“DRUG PUSHER”
WHEN OWEN SMITH was selected as the candidate for the by-election in Blaenau Gwent in 2006, there was concern that he was a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company — Labour MP Paul Flynn called him a “drug pusher”.  In the general election of 2005 local politician Peter Law had left the party in protest at the imposition of an all-woman shortlist and captured the seat as an independent. He died of a brain tumour a year later and Labour, dropping its all-woman shortlist, selected Owen Smith. The party confidently expected to regain the seat and spent more than £56,000 on the campaign, including holiday accommodation outside the constituency for party activists drawn in from all over Britain. Dai Davies, Law’s agent, spent less than £7,000 on his campaign but still managed to beat Smith with a majority of 2,484 votes.
Photo: PA 

Newport Labour MP Paul Flynn said:

“I wasn’t too pleased that we had a drug pusher as a candidate.

He added:

“The lobbyists are a curse, a cancer in the system. It’s insidious. One of my main interests in politics is areas in which lobbyists used their wicked wiles to get access to government. One example is the pharmaceutical industry, who are the most greedy and deceitful organisations we have to deal with.”

♦♦♦ 

OWEN SMITH’S time as a lobbyist with Pfizer haunts his political career.

In June 2014, when Owen Smith was shadow Welsh Secretary, there was a major controversy involving Pfizer.

The American company made a £69 billion bid for AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish company, which would have made Pfizer the world’s largest drug business.

It was opposed by then Labour Leader Ed Miliband who didn’t want a flagship UK company falling into US hands.

The fact that Labour were attacking a company when one of its own shadow Cabinet members had worked for the company as a lobbyist attracted media attention.

Owen Smith told the Sunday Telegraph:

“… obviously having worked there I’m probably a little more understanding than some of those other members …”

The paper added:

“Mr Smith said he was paid £80,000 a year to lobby for Pfizer.”

Pfizer eventually dropped the bid.

There have been suspicions that Owen Smith was paid far more than £80,000, so Press Gang did some digging.

Back in 2006, when he was working for Pfizer and contesting the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election, The Times sent two reporters to the constituency.

Their report contained the following statement:

“The Labour Party’s candidate for Westminster, Owen Smith, a … £200,000-a-year lobbyist for Pfizer ….””

We asked Owen Smith which was true: the £80,000 a year he told the Sunday Telegraph or The Times which said it was £200,000?

At the time we went to press, he had not replied.

♦♦♦

OWEN SMITH left Pfizer in 2008 and went to work in a similar role for the pharmaceutical company Amgen.

In 2010 he was selected as the Labour candidate for the safe Pontypridd constituency.

Again, he insists that his family and friends played no part in his selection.

One of these friends is Kim Howells, the MP who held the seat for Labour and had decided to step down at the 2010 election.

Howells is an old friend of Dai Smith and knows his son well.

Kim Howells MP
KIM HOWELLS
THE LABOUR politician held the safe Labour seat of Pontypridd for 21 years. Although he’s a friend of Dai Smith, and knows his son well, Owen Smith insists Howells played no part in his selection for one of the safest Labour seats in the UK.
Photo: PA

Owen Smith’s press team told us:

“The suggestion Kim helped Owen in his selection as the candidate for Pontypridd is also entirely false.”

“Whilst it is correct that Kim knew Dai, at no stage did Kim support or endorse Owen’s candidature.”

Once again Press Gang went back to the newspaper cuttings.

In a Western Mail report on Owen Smith’s selection in March 2010, the paper reported that he’d been selected after a second round of voting, winning by 104 votes to 74.

The article then states:

“Mr Smith … was supported by Kim Howells …”

Press Gang asked Owen Smith to clear up the contradiction.

There had been no reply by the time this article was published.

When Owen Smith was elected Labour MP for Pontypridd, he sold his Surrey home for £745,000.

♦♦♦ 

THE PROBLEM with Owen Smith is no-one knows what he really stands for.

In 2006 The Independent called him a “dyed-in-the-wool” New Labourite.

Now he’s the man to carry out the old Labour policies Jeremy Corbyn has revived.

Which of these two Owen Smiths is the real one?

Or is he just a political chameleon?

The manner in which he and his team have dealt with his past career is disturbing.

Take his political commitment.

“I grew up in South Wales during the miners’ strike, he says, “That’s when I came alive politically.”

He adds that he then joined the Labour Party in 1986.

Yet between 1986 and his selection as Labour candidate in the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election — two entire decades — there’s no evidence at all of any involvement in labour Party politics.

He doesn’t seem to have served a political apprenticeship at all.

Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, was active in politics while at school, became a trade union official at 21 and a London councillor at 24.

In fact, Owen Smith’s career is much closer to David Cameron’s — a spell as a special adviser and years working in the corporate affairs of a major company.

When Smith says —

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

 — it’s the last sentence that rings false.

He’s been an active politician for just six years.

His attempt to push back from suggestions that his father helped his career is unconvincing.

He seems to believe any hint of nepotism and patronage is toxic to his reputation.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much the fact that his father helped him — it’s the fact that he seeks to deny it.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much what his salary was at Pfizer —  a huge salary is inevitable when working for a global combine — it’s the fact that he seeks to minimise it.

It’s a question of personal integrity.

If he can’t be trusted to give a true account of his own career, how can he be trusted to be the custodian of the values which Jeremy Corbyn has brought back into mainstream politics?

♦♦♦

THIS INVESTIGATION continues.

A crowdfunding project has been launched on the By-line site here.

♦♦♦
Published: 8 August 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes
1. The first part of this investigation was published on August 3 — Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism? Click on the title to read it.
2. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story.
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
— he’s one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
3. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
4. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

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Welsh Water

November 1, 2017


rebecca_logo_04
WELSH WATER is a not-for-profit company that claims to be run solely for the benefit of customers.

Until 2010, this claim had considerable validity.

Between 2004 and 2010 the company returned £150 million to customers in the form of a “customer dividend”.

In 2010 the company axed the dividend and ploughed the money into reducing its debt and accelerating investment in infrastructure.

WELSH WATER LOGO

WEAK GOVERNANCE
ALTHOUGH WELSH WATER claims it is operated “solely” for customers, the fact is consumers have no say in running the business. The company is controlled by the board and a small number of so-called “members”. The latter are chosen from among the ‘great and the good’ by a committee itself chosen by the company. There are no representatives from employees, unions, local authorities or community groups. The members are unpaid, meet only a few times a year, have no staff of their own and are dependent on the board for information.
Graphic: Welsh Water

Rebecca says this was unjustified.

By 2017 the total amount given back to customers represents less than 2 per cent of the £10 billion customers have paid in bills.

In Scotland, the water industry is owned by the government which waives its dividend.

This allows prices to be lower.

Direct comparisons are impossible but, in 2017-2018, the average bill in Scotland is £357 a year.

In Wales, it’s £439.

The England and Wales average is £395.

Rebecca has published three articles on the scandal.

The Great Welsh Water Robbery, published in July 2014, traced the origins of the company from 2001.

Two senior executives — Nigel Annett and Chris Jones — seized control of the company by raising billions of pounds worth of loans in the form of bonds.

This investigation showed how they and the other directors went on to pay themselves twice as much as their Scottish counterparts — even though Scottish Water is twice the size.

The article showed that, by 2014, customers should have received at least £250 million in “customer dividends.”

GDP_2633 - Chris Jones

WATER MILLIONAIRE
CHRIS JONES is one of the most powerful chief executives in Britain. With no shareholders to trouble him — and a weak governance system — he dominates Welsh Water. He has the wealth to prove it — he’s made millions from Welsh Water, adding £773,000 in 2016-2017.  
Photo: Welsh Water

(Rebecca now estimates that the figure has risen to half a billion pounds.)

In 2015 The Great Welsh Water Conspiracy revealed that the water regulator Ofwat had effectively “fined” the company £85 million for spending too much on infrastructure between 2010 and 2015.

The company insisted this was simply a technical adjustment.

The £85 million came off customers bills in the 2015-2020 period.

The article also examined the company’s use of the Cayman Islands tax haven to raise its loans.

This raises the possibility that some of the companies lending money to Welsh Water could be avoiding UK tax.

In 2017 The Great Welsh Water Poverty Racket investigated the company’s record in dealing with poverty.

At first sight the record is impressive — by March 2017 Welsh Water was helping 66,000 low-income customers with a range of social tariffs.

This is better than any of the privatised companies in England and Wales.

But this has to be seen against the scale of the problem of low-income in Wales.

Statistics from water regulator Ofwat suggest that more than 460,000 people — nearly a third of all Welsh Water’s domestic customers — are eligible for the social tariffs.

This means that only one in seven households actually receive help.

Between 2010 and 2015 Welsh Water picked up the tab for the social tariffs.

In 2015, however, it took advantage of legislation which allows companies to charge some customers more to subsidise its social tariffs.

In the three years since then, Welsh Water has secretly added £8.45 to customers bills.

Customers have not been told they are paying this extra levy.

What is worse is that the 400,000 low income families who miss out on the social tariffs are now having to pay the secret tax as well.

♦♦♦

THIS INVESTIGATION started as a result of a separate probe into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales.

Throughout its history Welsh Water has had a former head of BBC Wales on its board who enjoyed close links with the current head.

Geraint Talfan Davies was a non-executive director of Welsh Water from 2001 to 2010.

In that period, the head of BBC Wales was Menna Richards.

She was Talfan Davies’ protégé.

PA-8806261

MENNA RICHARDS
MENNA RICHARDS, the £70,000 a year senior independent director of Welsh Water, is part of the reason why Welsh Water has escaped proper scrutiny. A former Director of BBC Wales, she continues the Welsh Water tradition of always having a former head of BBC Wales on its board … 
Photo: PA

In 2010 Menna Richards was appointed a non-executive director of Welsh Water even though she was still serving as head of BBC Wales.

This raised eyebrows because the Corporation frowns on senior figures taking paid posts.

When Menna Richards joined Welsh Water, she was replaced as BBC Wales Director by Rhodri Talfan Davies.

He’s the son of Geraint Talfan Davies and was himself a protégé of Menna Richards.

This means that Welsh Water has a former head of BBC Wales on its board who is also a close family friend of the current head of BBC Wales …

For more on this see the articles in The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?

♦♦♦

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Nepotism & Patronage

November 15, 2016

rebecca_logo_04

THE ESTABLISHMENT in Wales is artificially small.

Normally, a country of three million would be able to call on the services of a substantial number of the great and the good.

However, the requirement to have a Welsh-speaker in many key posts drastically reduces the number of eligible candidates.

This means some family ties and connections can often come to dominate parts of Welsh public life.

In the past quarter of a century Welsh broadcasting has been controlled by a powerful media clan and its allies.

This is headed by Geraint Talfan Davies and includes his son, Rhodri, and close friend Menna Richards.

Broadcasting is a particularly sensitive area given its traditional role in holding other parts of the establishment to account.

Rebecca has been shining a light on the Talfan Davies clan and its allies.

Already published are:

The Son Of The Man From Uncle — a profile of the family history of current BBC Wales supremo Rhodri Talfan Davies.

Rhodri_Talfan_Davies_39

THE SON OF THE MAN FROM UNCLE
RHODRI TALFAN DAVIES rocketed through the ranks of BBC Wales to become its director at the age of 40. Would he have done it without the mighty patronage of the Talfan Davies clan?
Photo: BBC Wales

The son of Geraint Talfan Davies, he was carefully groomed to take over the Corporation.

He was appointed despite never having made a television programme in Wales.

In The Name Of The Father? examines the rise of Menna Richards who was the boss of ITV Wales when she took over BBC Wales from her mentor Geraint Talfan Davies in 2000.

One of those who became prosperous in Menna Richards’ reign at the Corporation was her sister.

Her company prospered by making programmes for BBC Wales.

More articles are in the pipeline.

Patronage also dominates other areas of broadcasting.

Rhodri Williams, current Wales Director of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, has friends in high places.

These were powerful enough to get a critical Rebecca documentary called Hidden Agenda taken down.

It contained an explosive interview with Williams’ former boss, Ron Jones of the independent production company Tinopolis.

Jones revealed he’d sacked Williams in 2001 for sabotaging the company.

Jones gave the interview in 2003 but ITV Wales decided not to broadcast it.

In 2012 Rebecca included the interview in a damning documentary called Hidden Agenda.

Rhodri Williams

“BILLIONS”
RHODRI WILLIAMS is a poacher turned gamekeeper. Gaoled in the 1970s for his part in the campaign for a Welsh-language TV channel, he tried but failed to become a media tycoon. Hence the “billions” nickname. For 14 years he’s been Ofcom’s man in Wales but his departure is surrounded by controversy.
Photo: Ofcom.

A year later, ITV Wales insisted the footage be removed.

The video had to be taken down.

The full story is told in the article ITV Bid To Gag Rebecca.

The material in the documentary is still available, see A Man of Conviction? 

Rhodri Williams has decided (March 2018) to step down as Ofcom’s Wales Director.

He leaves a Cardiff office hit by scandal.

Ofcom Wales awarded a valuable contract to the lobbying firm Deryn Consulting without going out to tender.

Ofcom HQ initially defended its actions but then admitted it had broken Ofcom’s own procurement rules.

Now another scandal is brewing over patronage.

For many years the Regulatory Affairs Manager Elinor Williams was Rhodri Williams’ mistress.

Since she first joined the Cardiff office as Communications Manager in 2007, she’s risen to become the de facto No 2 in Wales.

Last year she and Rhodri Williams were married.

Read more in The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom.

More recent developments are covered in Update: The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom.

In June 2018 Ofcom decided to appoint a career civil servant to take over from Rhodri Williams.

See The End Of The Mr and Mrs Williams Show for more details.

♦♦♦

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CITIZEN SMITH

September 7, 2016

Note: this article was originally published on the Press Gang website. 

Owen_Smith_head_citizen

ONE OF the most common criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn is that he’s unelectable.

Critics point to the poll ratings, with Labour currently trailing the Tories.

But little attention has been paid to challenger Owen Smith’s electoral record.

In the past decade he and his wife have stood in four elections — all in traditional Labour strongholds.

They’ve lost two of them.

Even when Owen Smith wins, he does so with a reduced majority.

Some voters are not impressed with his style: he was nicknamed “Oily” in one election and arrogant in another.

Is there something toxic about “brand Smith”?

♦♦♦

THREE YEARS ago Owen Smith was the driving force behind a political manifesto.

He co-edited a series of essays called One Nation: power, hope, community.

The Guardian said:

” … a group of the party’s rising stars call for it to end the lockout of local communities from power and to bury top-down statist solutions that have failed in the past.”

It was a time when Labour was searching for a way to appeal to the middle ground of British politics.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband summed it up in the preface:

“… a One Nation Labour Party is a party of the national interest, not one part of the country or any sectional interest.”

In the opening chapter Owen Smith was candid about the problems he faced in his own constituency, Pontypridd in south Wales.

“Membership and majorities are counted carefully now, when once they were weighed. Belief in our mission is dwindling.”

He was also clear about the solution:

“I believe the answer comes in two parts: we need both bottom-up participation and leadership from the top; to simultaneously cultivate our roots and command the heights.”

But he admits his attempt to regenerate Labour grass-roots in Pontypridd isn’t working:

“ … in the three years since I was elected the means to galvanise that engagement has proved elusive and frustrating.”

“This is undoubtedly partly a result of the many previous false dawns that have promised progress but failed to deliver: it’s hard to feel progressive when there seems so little sign of progress for you and yours.”

But he was still confident things could be turned around.

“Slowly but surely, Labour is re-engaging with dialogue in our communities, and developing new common objectives and solutions that will prove the real foundations for our rebuilding.”

Part of the strategy was a move to bring greater democracy to the party:

“Iain McNicol [Labour’s General Secretary] has been leading reforms in the party aimed at building a more open and inclusive movement.”

Labour leadership challenge
BACK TO THE FUTURE?  
THREE YEARS ago Owen Smith was praising Labour for “… leading reforms in the party aimed at building a more open and inclusive movement.” But it was not until Jeremy Corbyn stood for leader that membership began to rocket — from under 300,000 to more than 500,000. Ironically, the party’s National Executive Committee have now barred some 130,000 recently joined members — most of them believed to be Corbyn supporters — from voting in the leadership election.
Photo: Ben Birchall / PA

In Pontypridd Smith thought he’d found a way to galvanise the community:

“Pontypridd Citizens, which will bring together churches and parties, unions and residents, in order to determine local needs and empower local leaders, is launching this year, taking its cue and its form from similar schemes that are energising communities across Britain.”

“It will mark a new beginning in the politics of Pontypridd, and Labour will be at its heart.”

The organisation should be three years old by now.

But Press Gang could find no evidence of Pontypridd Citizens — and when we asked people in the constituency, no-one had never heard of it.

We asked Owen Smith for an explanation.

He didn’t reply.

♦♦♦

WHEN OWEN SMITH was chosen to be the Labour candidate for the 2006 Blaenau Gwent election, he had no experience of grass-roots politics. 

The seat had a troubled past but the party was expecting it to revert to being a Labour stronghold.

Owen Smith probably thought he had a safe seat for the rest of his political career.

In 2005 popular local politician Peter Law stood as an independent.

A former Labour member of the Welsh Assembly, he’d been barred from standing as a candidate for the general election because the party had imposed an all-woman short-list.

Labour nominated trade union leader Maggie Jones.

Many Labour voters deserted the official candidate and chose the independent.

But Law — already diagnosed with brain cancer — died the following year.

His agent, Dai Davies, decided to stand in the by-election that followed.

Labour strategists felt Law’s death had taken the sting out of the rebellion — and that the faithful would return to the fold.

In the early days of the campaign a poll gave Owen a massive 12 per cent lead.

Labour mounted a huge campaign to retake the seat — spending £56,000 to Davies’ £7,000.

But Smith’s organisation was cack-handed.

Telephone canvassers angered voters when they began calling within days of Law’s death.

Activists were bussed in from all over Britain but they knew nothing about Blaenau Gwent.

Smith himself acquired the nickname “Oily”.

Dai Davies was a well-known political figure who outgunned Smith on many fronts.

One of them was Nye Bevan, the political midwife of the NHS, whose old Tredegar constituency was now part of Blaenau Gwent

Smith claimed Nye Bevan as his hero.

But Dai Davies could trump that.

He was a trustee of the Bevan Foundation, a left-wing think tank formed in his memory.

Smith did not become a trustee of the Foundation until after the by-election.

The result was Dai Davies won a narrow victory — by just 2,488 just votes.

It was a bruising experience for Smith and he decided not to seek the nomination again.

Labour regained the seat in 2010.

♦♦♦

THE LIKELIHOOD is that plans were already afoot to shoehorn Owen Smith into the Pontypridd constituency.

Just before Christmas 2009 the sitting MP, Kim Howells, announced he was standing down as the MP.

Soon after, there were press reports that Owen Smith was ringing members of the constituency Labour Party to make his pitch to replace Howells.

Howells is, of course, an old friend of Owen Smith’s father, Dai Smith but Owen Smith denies that the Howells played any part in his selection.

Smith gained the nomination.

IMG_1090
NEPOTISM HOUSE?
OWEN SMITH’S home in his Pontypridd constituency has an intriguing past. Shortly after he was elected in 2010, the MP paid £285,000 for the north wing of the listed building in Llantrisant. It was previously owned by the sister of former BBC boss Menna Richards who bought the property shortly after she formed an independent production company. She won millions of pounds worth of contracts from the Corporation. It was under Menna Richards that Owen Smith made his breakthrough into television — as producer of the politics series Dragon’s Eye in 2000.
Photo: Press Gang

In Pontypridd Labour was united — but there were other problems.

The Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, were riding high in the polls — and they had a well-known local candidate in Mike Powell.

When Labour councillor Glynne Holmes had his picture taken with Powell as part of a campaign to save the Post Office in Llantrisant, he found himself the subject of a disciplinary hearing.

He was cleared but it was a sign of how anxious Labour officials were.

In the end, Smith won by just 2,791 votes.

The Western Mail noted:

“There were relieved faces as Labour held on to the Pontypridd seat.”

Smith polled 14,200 votes — a drop of more than 6,000 on Howells’ figure in 2005.

In the 2015 election, when Lib Dem support collapsed, Smith was able to clawback less than 1,400 of the lost votes.

In the ten years from 2005 to 2015, Labour has lost a quarter of its support in Pontypridd.

♦♦♦

EARLY THIS year Owen Smith’s wife, primary school teacher Liz, decided to stand for election to the Llantrisant town council.

There was a vacancy in the Llantrisant ward where she and Owen Smith had lived for five years.

The Labour Party ticket plus the fact that her husband was the MP were expected to secure her election.

But there was another candidate who was far more active in the town.

Louisa Mills, an independent, had started a local charity and was campaigning for a community garden.

She beat Liz Smith by 320 votes to 273.

Owen Smith may not have been as asset in the poll.

Some residents find him arrogant.

One said:

“He’s risen quickly … due to his PR skills and actually believes his own hype.”

“In my view he cares more about power than he does about using that power to help people.

All of this means Owen Smith and his wife have now contested four elections between them.

They’ve lost two.

In the two elections Owen Smith has won, he has presided over a decline in the Labour vote.

What will happen when the right-wing press goes to work on him?

♦♦♦
Published: 7 September 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes
1
The statistics for Owen Smith’s Pontypridd constituency make disturbing reading for Labour. These are are the number of votes cast for Owen Smith’s predecessor Kim Howells and the share of the poll:
1989   20,500   53%
1992   29,700   61%
1997   29,290   64%
2001   23,000   60%
2005   20,900   53%
From a peak of 64% of the vote in 1997 — the landslide year when Tony Blair became Prime Minister — it was down to 53% by 2005.
Owen Smith hasn’t arrested the decline. The result for the two elections he’s fought are:
2010   14,200   39%
2015   15,600   41%
In the face of a Lib Dem resurgence in 2010 he was lucky to hold on to the seat. And even with the collapse of the Lib Dems in 2015 he was able to retrieve only a small proportion of the Labour vote he’d lost in 2010.
2
This the fourth instalment of this investigation. The other articles are:
Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism?
Owen Smith: A Man For All Seasons
BBC Forced To Correct Owen Smith Profile.
Click on a title to read it.
3
Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story:
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith, Owen Smith’s father, was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade
— French is one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
4
The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles:
The Son Of The Man From Uncle
In The Name Of The Father?
5
The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

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BBC FORCED TO CORRECT OWEN SMITH PROFILE

August 13, 2016

Note: this article was originally published on the Press Gang website. 

Owen_Smith_head_BBC

THE BBC has been forced to correct an inaccurate profile of Owen Smith following a complaint by Press Gang.

In July the Corporation published an online article which included details about Smith’s career at BBC Wales.

Press Gang complained to Director General Lord Hall.

We said the article gave the false impression that Owen Smith was already at the BBC before his father, the historian Dai Smith, became involved.

In fact, the evidence suggests it was Smith the father who introduced Smith the son to the Corporation.

Press Gang also cited several errors of fact — and criticised the fact that the BBC has not provided a detailed CV of Smith’s broadcasting career.

Yesterday the BBC corrected the article but didn’t admit the original errors.

The Corporation also acknowledged the complaint.

Smith has declined to provide a full CV of his career as a journalist, lobbyist and politician.

The Press Gang investigation continues.

We have now asked Smith:

if he’s ever been a member of the National Union of Journalists

if he’s been a member of the Labour Party continuously since he joined at the age of 16 and

if he will, as Jeremy Corbyn has done, make his tax returns public.

There was no reply by the time this article went to press.

♦♦♦

JUST TWO days after he became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership, BBC online published an article called “Profile: The Owen Smith story”.

It contained the following statement about Owen Smith’s early career:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

Press Gang complained about this paragraph to BBC Director General Lord Hall.

First, we said it gave the impression that Owen Smith was at BBC Wales before his father.

Press Gang was concerned that the paragraph was a “red herring” designed to avoid the question of nepotism and patronage in Owen Smith’s career.

rhodri-talfan-davies
TAFFIA TELLY 
RHODRI TALFAN DAVIES, BBC Wales Director, controls an organisation which has been dogged by allegations of nepotism and patronage for more than a quarter of a century. There was controversy when he was appointed in 2011 at the age of 40 because he’s the son of former BBC Wales boss, Geraint Talfan Davies. It was Geraint Talfan Davies who appointed Owen Smith’s father, Dai Smith, to the second most powerful post in BBC Wales in the 1990s …
Photo: BBC Wales

The evidence is that his father was already an established broadcaster at BBC Radio Wales and that it was he who introduced his son to a senior producer at the station.

Second, the paragraph is inaccurate: there’s no such role as editor of BBC Wales (the post is Editor, Radio Wales) and Dai Smith was not appointed head of programmes until much later.

Finally, Press Gang complained that BBC Wales is refusing to release a full CV of Owen Smith’s broadcasting career.

Yesterday, the BBC corrected the errors — but didn’t admit the original mistakes.

The BBC journalist who wrote the piece, Brian Wheeler, told Press Gang he talked to BBC Wales political journalists at Westminster before filing the article.

He said he wasn’t aware there were allegations of nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales.

The Director General’s office also acknowledged our complaint.

But the Corporation has still not provided Smith’s broadcasting CV.

Owen Smith denies that nepotism or patronage played any part in his broadcasting career.

We asked him for a full CV of his career as a journalist, a lobbyist and a politician.

So far, he’s not provided one …

♦♦♦

FOR EIGHT days we’ve been waiting for Owen Smith to answer questions about other aspects of his career.

On August 4 his press team apologised “for the delay in getting back to you — as you’ll be aware it’s an incredibly busy campaign and we have a lot of competing demands … … please do bear with us as we try to reply to everyone.”

One of the questions we put to him was his salary as a lobbyist for Pfizer.

In June 2014, when Smith was shadow Welsh Secretary, he told the Sunday Telegraph his salary was £80,000.

Press Gang found a Times article of 2006, when he was the candidate for the Blaenau Gwent by-election, which said he was a “… £200,000-a-year lobbyist for Pfizer.”

We asked him which figure was correct.

There was no reply by the time this article went to press.

We also asked him to expand on his statement:

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

We asked him for proof of this devotion.

The available evidence suggests that, until he was in his early thirties, his interest in politics was virtually nil.

We’ve now asked him if he’s been a Labour Party member continuously since he first joined at the age of 16.

He says Nye Bevan, one of the founders of the NHS, is his great hero.

A think tank in Bevan’s memory — the Bevan Foundation — was established in 2001.

Smith said he did not become a trustee until 2007 — after he was selected as Labour candidate for the Blaenau Gwent by-election in 2006.

Blaenau Gwent includes Tredegar which was Bevan’s constituency.

And Smith didn’t stay long  — he resigned in 2009.

Yesterday we asked him if he’d been involved in the Foundation before joining as a trustee in 2007.

We have also asked Smith if he was a member of the National Union of Journalists during his career as a broadcaster.

There’s no evidence in the public record of any membership.

Finally, we have also also asked him if he will make his tax returns public, as Jeremy Corbyn has done.

He did not answer any of these questions before this article went to press.

♦♦♦
Published: 13 August 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes

1. This the third instalment of this investigation:  the first, Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism?, was published on August 3. The second, Owen Smith: A Man For All Seasons, was published on August 8.  Click on a title to read it.
2. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story.
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
— French is one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
3. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
4. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

DONATIONS Investigative stories like this one are expensive and time-consuming to produce. You can help by making a contribution to the coffers. Just click on the logo …

Donate Button with Credit Cards

CORRECTIONS Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.


OWEN SMITH: FORGED BY PATRONAGE & NEPOTISM?

August 3, 2016

Note: this article was originally published on the Press Gang website.

Owen_Smith_head_400c

WHY HAS there been so little examination of Owen Smith’s career by the British press?

In the two weeks since Smith became Jeremy Corbyn’s sole challenger for the Labour leadership, journalists have largely accepted his CV at face value.

For national newspapers he’s a credible candidate.

Smith says:

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

No-one has drilled down into this statement.

Press Gang investigation into Owen Smith’s 24 year career shows little dedication to politics — or any other profession:

he displayed no appetite for a political career — until he walked into a plum job for Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy.

he had no experience of lobbying — until he was appointed to handle “government affairs” for the UK branch of global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

he had absolutely no journalistic experience — until he was appointed a producer at BBC Radio Wales.

The only constant in his working life is his father Dai Smith, historian-turned-broadcasting mandarin and a key figure in the Welsh establishment.

Dai Smith was a senior manager at BBC Wales for most of his son’s ten-year stint there — and he and his friends have been influential figures in his political career.

So is Owen Smith’s current high-profile the result of nepotism and patronage?

♦♦♦

TWO DAYS after Owen Smith became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC published an article called “The Owen Smith Story”.

There’s a fascinating paragraph about his early career:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

DaiSmith_35
NEVER SAY DAI
DAI SMITH, Owen Smith’s father, insists he’s played no part in his son’s career. Smith the father was born in the Rhondda valley, educated at Oxford and is a well-known Welsh left-wing historian with several landmark books to his name. By the early 1980s he was also presenting TV programmes for BBC Wales and gradually became an important figure at its HQ in Cardiff. In 1992 he became editor of Radio Wales and, in 1994, was appointed head of English language programmes — becoming the second most powerful BBC man in Wales.
Photo: Parthian Books 

Ignoring the inaccuracies — there has never been an editor of BBC Wales and Dai Smith didn’t become head of programmes until 1994 — it’s worth noting the order of these two sentences.

The first sentence says Owen Smith joined Radio Wales as a radio producer.

The second says his father was appointed editor of BBC Wales “in the same year”.

The impression being conveyed is that Owen was appointed first and his father Dai Smith second.

In other words, the egg (Owen) got his job before the chicken (Dai).

But, if that’s the case, why didn’t the BBC just say so?

Press Gang has been trying to solve this riddle.

We spoke to Dai Smith — he insisted that Owen was already working at BBC Wales when he arrived.

We asked BBC Wales boss Rhodri Talfan Davies which came first: Owen Egg or Chicken Dai?

There was no answer.

We also asked Owen Smith about this.

He never came back to us.

But then, out of the blue, we received an extraordinary email from the man who claims to have first employed him at BBC Wales …

♦♦♦

AT FIVE o’clock on Monday night Nick Evans, a former senior producer on Radio Wales, wrote to us from Tenerife.

“Owen and Dai have forwarded the points you put to Dai about his role in Owen’s career,” he wrote.

“I hope I can clarify some aspects of the timeline.”

Nick Evans said that in the early 1990s he was working on the Meet For Lunch midday programme presented by Vincent Kane, BBC Wales’ leading presenter.

When Kane wasn’t able to present the programme, Dai Smith would often stand in.

On some of these occasions, in the summer and early autumn of 1992, Dai Smith brought the young Owen Smith into Broadcasting House in Cardiff and introduced him to Evans.

Evans said:

“As I did with anyone who approached me for work (it was Owen himself) and who was clearly bright, committed and possessed of proper integrity, I gave him some casual work.”

“So it is no surprise that he rose quickly — both in Wales and London.”

Press Gang asked Evans for more detail.

When he replied, there was a change of emphasis:

“When Owen started it was when he was still considering the Swansea option.

(Owen Smith had been planning to do an MA at Swansea University.)

“I liked him”, said Evans, “and knew he was considering his options and offered as I often did the chance to come in and ‘shadow’ / work as a researcher on MFL [Meet For Lunch].

After a few days unpaid work experience, Evans gave him paid freelance work.

“Then he got a contract job on the programme as a researcher through the next competitive board (which no-one other than myself had any say over, apart from HR [Human Resources].”

“He had no experience as such … but then again nor did many of the others who came through the same (yes loose) process.”

“It might not have been as rigorous a system as has became the norm but it had its merits and I can put my hand on (very self-examining) heart and say that Owen got where he got (when I had a say) absolutely because he was (often head and shoulders) the best person.”

When Dai Smith became Editor of Radio Wales, Evans said the two of them tried to avoid favouritism:

“… much of what myself and Dai attempted was to try and move away from the kind of nepotism that had pervaded the Welsh media for years … maybe didn’t work for long … but I tried.”

He made it clear that “Owen became (as Dai did) a close friend.”

Nick Evans’ comments leave many unanswered questions but it’s clear Dai Smith was already an important fixture at Radio Wales long before he was appointed Editor — and while his son was still a student at Sussex University.

It’s also clear that Dai Smith was instrumental in introducing his son to a senior producer on the Meet For Lunch programme.

The unanswered question is: would Owen Smith ever have got a foothold in the BBC if his father hadn’t been Dai Smith?

♦♦♦ 

FOR TEN years Owen Smith was a competent but undistinguished broadcaster.

Neither Owen Smith nor the BBC would provide a detailed chronology of his career.

There’s no evidence Dai Smith intervened to further his son’s prospects.

There’s no evidence Owen Smith tried to take advantage of his father’s position.

Owen Smith worked on many radio programmes before moving to television producing the BBC Wales flagship political programme Dragon’s Eye.

Insiders say his Dragon’s Eye performance ranged from “tough and uncompromising” to “heavy-handed” with some accusations of “bullying” of junior staff.

For a spell he worked on the Radio 4 Today programme in London.

Owen Smith claimed there was a culture of bullying at Today.

rhodri-talfan-davies
FATHERS’ BOYS
THERE ARE remarkable similarities between the current Director of BBC Wales, Rhodri Talfan Davies (above), and Owen Smith. They’re both in their mid 40s — Talfan Davies is 45, Owen Smith 46. Both rose to prominence when relatively young, both have powerful fathers — and both face questions about the role of nepotism and patronage in their careers. Rhodri Talfan Davies is a member of a powerful media clan which has controlled BBC Wales for a quarter of a century — his father Geraint Talfan Davies was BBC boss from 1990 to 2000. An investigation by Press Gang’s sister website Rebecca entitled The Son Of The Man From Uncle revealed that Rhodri Talfan Davies’ rise to the top was eased by the previous Director, Menna Richards, who was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. Rhodri Davies was just 40 when he took over from Menna Richards in 2011 but the appointment was dogged by controversy. He was initially rejected before BBC Director General Mark Thompson stepped in to confirm the post. BBC Wales is extremely touchy about allegations of nepotism and patronage surrounding the Talfan Davies clique. In 2014 it refused to answer any further questions on the subject, telling Rebecca “… we will not be commenting in future other than in truly exceptional circumstances”.
Photo: Wales Online

Former Today editor Rod Liddle believed that charge was levelled against him because he had once criticised Smith.

Smith had been asked to arrange a police spokesman for the programme.

To the amazement of colleagues he picked up the phone and dialled 999 to arrange one.

The police complained.

Liddle said:

” … there was a culture of shouting at Owen when he did something deranged”.

Liddle added that, aside from this one mistake, he was “perfectly competent”.

But Smith never secured promotion to senior editorial roles at the BBC, either in London or Cardiff.

By the early 2000s, according to one insider, he faced a future of either moving sideways — or out.

In 2000 the boss of BBC Wales, Geraint Talfan Davies, retired.

Talfan Davies had been a strong supporter of Dai Smith.

The new broom, Menna Richards, was not.

Dai Smith left BBC Wales to become Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan.

In 2002, Owen Smith also decided to switch tack — and became a special adviser to the South Wales MP, Paul Murphy, who was Secretary of State for Wales.

♦♦♦ 

AGAIN, THERE’S no evidence of a political backstory.

Owen Smith is on record as saying the 1984 miners’ strike was his “political awakening” and that he joined the Labour Party when he was 16.

However, as far as the public record is concerned, he then seems to have lapsed into a political coma.

Press Gang asked him what other political activity he’d been involved in  — student politics, constituency activism or involvement in local politics.

He didn’t answer the question.

His appointment as a “special advisor” to Paul Murphy, a veteran Labour MP representing the South Wales seat of Torfaen, came as a surprise to many Labour Party members in Wales.

Smith’s experience as a political journalist at BBC Wales qualified him to be a special adviser at the Wales Office.

But was another family connection also involved in the appointment?

Paul Murphy is a friend of Dai Smith.

Press Gang asked Murphy if this played any part in the appointment.

He replied saying it hadn’t.

Paul Murphy
MURPHY’S LAW
PAUL MURPHY insists Owen Smith’s appointment as one of his special advisers at the Wales and Northern Ireland Office had nothing to do with his friendship with Dai Smith. But he wouldn’t explain how Owen Smith came to be chosen. Murphy was a leading figure in Welsh Labour for many decades and MP for the south-east Wales seat of Torfaen from 1987. He was made a life peer in 2015, taking the title Baron Murphy of Torfaen.
Photo: PA 

We asked how Owen Smith came to be selected.

Murphy’s reply was enigmatic:

“He came from BBC Wales, although I knew his father through Welsh Labour history circles.”

Owen Smith was a special adviser until 2005 when he left to join the controversial US pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer.

But his political connections were powerful enough for him to secure the Labour nomination for the 2006 by-election in Blaenau Gwent.

Normally this was a safe Labour seat.

But Peter Law, the dominant Labour politician in the area, had fallen out with the party — and won the 2005 general election as an independent.

His death led to the 2006 by-election — and many expected the seat to return to Labour.

But Labour remained deeply unpopular in the constituency and Owen Smith failed to turn the tide — he was convincingly beaten by an ally of Law’s.

It was another four years before another opportunity arose, this time in Pontypridd.

The sitting Labour MP, Kim Howells, is another friend of the Smith family.

Owen Smith was selected and this time was elected MP — although with a reduced majority.

But he remains an elusive character for many in Welsh Labour — a man who seems to have emerged out of the shadows.

One Labour MP, who didn’t want to be named, told Press Gang he was a deeply unimpressive character:

“I can’t believe the Parliamentary Labour Party have been taken in by him.”

Within six years of taking Pontypridd, Owen Smith is a candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party …

♦♦♦

Notes
1. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares a personal interest in this story. In the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
2. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
3. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

DONATIONS Investigative stories like this one are expensive and time-consuming to produce. You can help by making a contribution to the coffers. Just click on the logo …

Donate Button with Credit Cards

CORRECTIONS Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

 


THE RETURN OF THE BANK OF WALES

February 23, 2016

rebecca_logo_04

TOMORROW THE American economist Ellen Brown will give a talk in Cardiff about setting up a Public Bank of Wales.

Brown is at the forefront of a US movement promoting publicly-owned banks as a solution to the problem of low growth and stagnant living standards.

The lecture is organised by Cardiff University Business School and the pressure group Arian Cymru.

Few attending the event will remember that nearly half a century ago the Liberal Party proposed a public Bank of Wales.

That initiative was sabotaged by the Welsh establishment which supported a rival — the Commercial Bank of Wales —  promoted by the moneylender Julian Hodge.

Backed by James Callaghan and George Thomas, both Cardiff MPs, Hodge’s bank was a fraud.

It was designed to enrich the elite while doing virtually nothing for the people of Wales.

It was taken over by the Bank of Scotland in 1986 and ceased trading in 2002.

The only exposé of this sordid episode was an investigation by the magazine Rebecca in 1977.

Called Cheque Mates: The Selling Of The Commercial Bank Of Wales, it’s reprinted here as a cautionary tale about the way the establishment worked in Wales back in the 1970s.

One of those who backed Hodge’s Bank, the former Controller of BBC Wales Geraint Talfan Davies, has been calling for its return.

In 2009, in the aftermath of the banking crisis, the Western Mail published an article by Talfan Davies.

“In this new situation,” he wrote, “the title Bank of Wales might have a real value for society and government in Wales.”

“After all, it is a name that has too much of a public resonance to languish as a discarded private pawn.”

“It should be regarded as a Welsh national asset.”

Talfan Davies did not say that the name had been tarnished by its association with the unscrupulous Hodge.

He did not say that he’d supported the Hodge bank — and revealed nothing of its sorry history …

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THE MORNING of 9 February 1971 was an important occasion for Geraint Talfan Davies, then Welsh Affairs Correspondent of the Western Mail. First he attended the birth of his second son Rhodri (father and son would later lead BBC Wales). The father then rushed to join the celebrations of another birth — the Commercial Bank of Wales. On the top floor of Sir Julian Hodge’s Cardiff skyscraper, he was just in time to join the “Usurer of the Valleys” and former Welsh Secretary George Thomas. Thomas was smoking a giant cigar — Hodge puffing on his pipe. Talfan Davies had written some ‘supportive columns’ about the new bank — and there were high hopes for this new powerhouse of the Welsh economy. In his autobiography, At Arm’s Length (Seren, 2008), Talfan Davies admitted: “In the 1970s it appeared a more important victory than it turned out to be.” Talfan Davies went on to become the head of one of the most important cliques in modern Welsh history — and has been featured in a series of Rebecca Television articles (see The Son Of The Man From Uncle, In The Name of The Father? and The Great Welsh Water Robbery).   Photo: Seren    

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CHEQUE MATES: THE SELLING OF THE COMMERCIAL BANK OF WALES
Rebecca, Spring 1977

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FOR GEORGE THOMAS  ‘the biggest event for Wales in my lifetime’ was the launching of the Commercial Bank of Wales in February 1971.

At the time Thomas was Shadow Secretary of State for Wales in the Labour opposition and had been an MP for 20 years with five of them spent in Harold Wilson’s cabinet as Welsh secretary.

In his lifetime he had seen many changes in Wales — the nationalisation of the coal and steel industries, the introduction of the National Health Service, comprehensive education and even the Labour victory in the 1964 general election.

All were passed over.

And if the establishment of the bank was the ‘biggest event’ there was no doubt in his mind about the greatest Welshman — Julian Hodge, the Welsh merchant banker knighted the year before by Wilson’s government, and the man behind the bank.

“I believe,” said Thomas, “Sir Julian has done more for Wales than David Lloyd George and all of us politicians together.”

“I see this as an act of faith in the future of Wales. No one can measure what this bank could mean for us in the years ahead.”

No other comment by a Labour politician more accurately captures the political bankruptcy of the Labour party in its support for big business at the expense of ordinary people.

Julian Hodge was equally ecstatic but with good reason:

“I believe this is the first time for many years that a company with the word ‘bank’ in its title has been incorporated in the United Kingdom”.

It was no easy task — he had to overcome the resistance of Civil Service and Bank of England mandarins and beat off an attempt by the Liberals to set up a genuine Bank of Wales.

When the board of directors for the Commercial Bank of Wales — including George Thomas and James Callaghan — was announced in May 1972, Hodge admitted it was ‘like a dream come true’.

This article tells part of the incredible story of how two Labour Cabinet ministers helped the Welsh merchant banker to overcome all obstacles and make that dream come true.

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IN JUNE 1968 the Secretary of State for Wales bumped into the London financier John Ellis at a garden party held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

Ellis, chairman of a sizeable finance house in the City of London, was the prospective Liberal candidate for James Callaghan’s Cardiff South East constituency.

In the conversation that followed Ellis told George Thomas that there was a need for a Bank of Wales.

JULES ET JIM 2 1

GEORGE THOMAS fawned on Julian Hodge. The photograph shows Thomas presenting the merchant banker with a gold watch to celebrate his knighthood in 1970. Thomas turned a blind eye to the misery caused by the accountant-turned-moneylender in the 1960s and 1970s. Hodge made millions out of a ruthless second mortgage operation, some of it involving a fraudulent pyramid-selling scheme. The number of victims who lost their homes as a result of the scandal is not known — a Rebecca investigation in 1977 estimated it could have been as high as 5,000 …

Wales had no independent banks — unlike Scotland which boasted five — with the result that all financial decisions affecting Wales were taken in London.

More important, a Bank of Wales could organise a system where the ‘special deposits’ demanded by the Bank of England as a means of controlling the economy could be reduced.

At the time the five main clearing banks in England and Wales had to deposit 2 per cent of all the money they held with the Bank of England.

In Scotland the rate was only 1 per cent — if the figure had been the same for Wales then the clearing banks in Wales would have had an extra £25–30 million to spend.

Thomas was impressed by Ellis’ ideas and agreed to meet him in Cardiff to discuss his proposals in greater detail.

The meeting took place over lunch at the Queens Hotel in Cardiff’s St Mary Street on Saturday, 7 September 1968.

During the meal Ellis stressed that the bank could be opened at the same time as the planned investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 — with the heir to the throne becoming the first account holder.

Although it was never stated, there would be considerable prestige for George Thomas as the Secretary of State who acted as political midwife to the new bank.

So enthusiastic was Thomas — he went so far as to ask the banker to prepare a detailed memorandum on his scheme — that Ellis thought the idea well and truly sold.

It was not until the meal was over and the two men standing on the pavement outside the hotel that the conversation took an unexpected turn.

Ellis remembers the moment vividly because, looking back, it was in those seconds that the Liberal idea for a Bank of Wales died.

Thomas said — “what about Julian Hodge?”

He swept his arm along the frontage of the massive James Howell department store and added, “he owns all of this you know”.

A surprised Ellis replied that Hodge was welcome as a shareholder and director but the Bank of Wales would have nothing to do with either second mortgages or hire purchase agreements on second hand cars.

Before taking his leave, Thomas asked Ellis to send a copy of his memorandum to Julian Hodge.

He then promised to return and make a statement to waiting reporters.

An hour or an hour or so later, he rang Ellis at the hotel to say that he could not make a statement on the Bank of Wales at that time.

And that was the last Ellis was ever to hear from George Thomas — the Secretary of State never acknowledged the memorandum Ellis sent him (ironically enough, Hodge did) let alone reply to it.

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ELLIS PLOUGHED on nevertheless.

On 26 November 1968 he met the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, Jasper Hollom, to discuss his proposals.

Hollom — now Sir Jasper and a deputy governor — was sympathetic and agreed that it was unfair that Wales should suffer the same rate of ‘special deposits’ as England.

Despite this, it soon became obvious to those involved in the Ellis scheme that they had come up against an official brick wall.

The campaign came to an end on 20 December 1968 when the Board of Trade refused permission for the bank on the grounds that it was not owned by an existing bank or a company with a strong financial position.

In fact Ellis had plenty of banking support — what was then the National Provincial Bank (now part of National Westminster) was interested as were the powerful merchant bankers N. M. Rothchild and Sons.

But the Board of Trade decision was a clear sign that a Bank of Wales along the lines suggested by Ellis and the Liberals would not be tolerated.

And, as they would settle for nothing less, they excepted that they had been beaten.

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WHILE THE Liberal campaign for a Bank of Wales was grinding to a halt, Julian Hodge was quietly preparing the ground for what was to become the Commercial Bank of Wales.

Part of the groundwork was to shut out the possibility of a Liberal-inspired Bank of Wales.

In these preparations George Thomas, then Secretary of State for Wales, played an important part.

RHUDDLAN PENNY

HODGE CHOSE a 12th century Welsh penny as the symbol of the Bank of Wales. In February 1972 he proclaimed it would “be an independent bank with no company or group of companies holding more than 10 per cent of the shares.” By October the same year, the Hodge Group held 16 per cent and the First National Bank of Chicago 20 per cent …

It was he who set up the Welsh Council in 1968 and appointed Julian Hodge as one of its 14 members.

The first task of the Council, decided at its second meeting in June 1968, was to set up a Finance Panel “to enquire into the availability of public and private capital in Wales for development purposes and to look at means of improving the flow if difficulties were found to exist.”

When George Thomas met Ellis at Buckingham Palace, and again in Cardiff, he made no mention of the Finance Panel deliberations that were to lead to the Commercial Bank of Wales.

The Ellis campaign certainly worried Hodge — it was a public campaign by a political party (a Bank of Wales was proposed in the 1970 Liberal manifesto) while Hodge’s strategy was to persuade a small group of key people that his bank was a sound idea.

When the details of Ellis’ memorandum were released in October 1968 Hodge was forced into the open.

The proposals in the Ellis document, he commented, were not realistic.

“The setting up of a national Bank for Wales is an extremely complicated business, requiring a great deal of research.”

He added — “this work is now being carried out by the Finance Panel of the Welsh Council”.

When Ellis was seeking Board of Trade approval for the Liberal Bank of Wales, the Western Mail noted (22 October 1968) — “a projected investment bank is also being considered by the finance committee of the Welsh Council, who will be reporting soon to the Secretary of State for Wales”.

By the time the Finance Panel report presented its report to the full Welsh Council meeting at Llandudno on 21 April 1969, its purpose was revealed to be little more than a thinly disguised attempt to justify a Hodge-controlled Bank of Wales.

The report was not finally published until 7 October 1969.

Under the title The Availability of Capital for Small Firms in Wales, it stated “that a financial institution with a commitment to Wales … is urgently required”.

It recommended “that, if private sources should put up viable proposals for the registration of a bank or a similar institution, the authorities concerned should pay full regard to the analysis and recommendations contained in this paper “.

At Llandudno the Welsh Council, with just one dissenting vote, accepted the report — handing George Thomas a blank cheque to give the political go-ahead for a Bank of Wales.

On the very same day Hodge admitted that “some months ago, preliminary steps were taken through our solicitors towards registering a company with a proposed initial capital of £5 million to be called the Bank of Wales”.

What could be more blatant?

And Rebecca can now reveal that the published report was completely different to the one presented to the Welsh Council at Llandudno in April 1969.

The earlier version was far more pointed — its title was The Case for an Indigenous Investment Bank in Wales — and it was never published.

This first version ends:

“Finally, the Council are of the opinion that if some private source should put up really sound proposals for the registration of a bank or similar institution then the authorities concerned should, when considering the application, have full and sympathetic regard to the views of the Council as to the benefits which would accrue to Wales from a firmly-based and financially viable institution of this sort.”

The published report says sources, the earlier unpublished version mentions a single source and there can be no doubt to what it was referring — Julian Hodge’s plans for a Commercial Bank of Wales.

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THE FINANCE Panel report was one of the meanest and most poorly argued documents ever to come out of a Welsh Office sponsored body.

After ten months of work on what Hodge himself described as ‘an extremely complicated business, requiring a great deal of research’, the Panel produced a report exactly eight pages long.

There were just 31 paragraphs — four dealt with other countries and a further nine were taken up by a minority report that came up against the whole idea of a Bank of Wales.

Most of the evidence was oral and there were only five witnesses.

RHUDDLAN PENNY

WHEN REBECCA asked the Welsh Office for a copy of the Welsh Council’s Finance Panel report, it sent — by accident — an earlier draft which talked of a single source for a possible bank. When the report was finally published, the word had changed to “sources”…

With so few ‘experts’ giving evidence, it must have been deeply embarrassing to the panel that two of them felt there was no need for a bank.

The local director of one of the clearing banks ‘stated that he knew of no case in Wales when money had been refused for industrial development’.

The general manager of the government-backed Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation ‘suggested that the problem was not so much a shortage of finance in Wales as a relative lack of demand’.

Although the Confederation of British Industry in Wales and the Development Corporation for Wales were more enthusiastic, they could provide little in the way of hard evidence.

In the words of the report — “their views were that, whether or not a general flow of finance appeared adequate, there were known to be a certain number of cases where firms have been unable to raise finance without a great deal of difficulty, despite the fact that their subsequent history has shown them to be successful”.

No names, no evidence — and the companies mentioned did get their money.

Indeed, and ironically, the only ‘concrete’ evidence was to come from ‘a well-known merchant banker’ — none other than Julian Hodge, a member of the Panel.

Hodge “supplied confidential evidence of a number of cases where firms, unable to raise credit from normal sources, had approached his firm and had thereby been enabled to show a successful subsequent growth record, even though his firm, as a merchant bank, concerned largely largely with short-term bridging finance, was not so ideally suited to deal with, and further develop, this kind of business as would be an investment bank designed purposely to meet such a demand “.

Thus it was Hodge’s confidential — and therefore secret — evidence that formed the basis of the Finance Panel recommendation that a (Hodge-controlled) Bank of Wales should be established.

Only one member of the panel did not swallow this rubbish.

In his minority report, the district secretary of the APEX trade union, Graham Saunders, wrote:

“in my opinion, insufficient evidence was presented to the Finance Panel of the Welsh Council, demonstrating that there is a real shortage of Risk Capital in Wales and, therefore, the conclusions of the Welsh Council in my view are irrelevant “.

He suggested that, instead of relying on evidence presented by one of its own members, the Finance Panel investigate the lack of demand for capital and look for ways to increase it.

But the Finance Panel was clearly not interested in considering such complex questions questions — its report didn’t examine the impact of the regional aid policy or the ‘special deposits’ that were one of the central features features of the Ellis memorandum — and concentrated on giving Julian Hodge exactly what he wanted.

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BUT THIS is only part of the selling of the Commercial bank of Wales.

The most important gaps being the parts played at Board of Trade, Bank of England and Cabinets levels by George Thomas and James Callaghan.

JULES ET JIM 2

JAMES CALLAGHAN’S friendship with Julian Hodge — the “Usurer of the Valleys” as Private Eye called him — was long-standing. Hodge supported Callaghan’s election campaigns and often gave work to his constituency agent Jack, later Lord, Brooks. After he resigned as Chancellor in 1967, Callaghan attended the annual conference of the International monetary Fund as the guest of Julian Hodge …

There are clues however.

On 3 March 1971, for example, the Western Mail gossip column carried this intriguing item on the chairmanship of the bank:

“I am reliably informed that the shortlist has been narrowed down to two eminent candidates — former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Leonard James Callaghan and William David Ormsby-Gore, Fifth Baron Harlech and chairman of Harlech Television.”

Another clue to the role of Callahan came with the Stonehouse row in the House of Commons in April 1976.

Stonehouse, the runaway Labour MP now gaoled, attacked the relationship between Hodge and Callaghan.

Stonehouse told the House that the head of the Civil Service (Sir William Armstrong now chairman of the Midland Bank) “named Sir Julian Hodge as a person who couldn’t be appointed to the Bank of England Court — although he was nominated by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer the present Prime Minister (Callaghan) — because he was not a worthy person for the appointment”.

When Hodge was asked by a reporter about this remark, he flippantly replied “its complete news to me. I think that was a figment of Mr Stonehouse’s imagination. I have never heard of it before but it is very interesting”.

It is surprising that Sir William Armstrong has never publicly denied opposing Hodge as a member of the Bank of England Court.

And Hodge’s reply must also be set against a revealing profile of him which appeared in May 1966.

Written by the then Conservative MP and South Wales industrialist Sir David Llewellyn, and published in the Voice Of Welsh Industry, the two-page article explained that Julian Hodge had ‘arrived’ as a member of the establishment.

“So much so,” continued Llewellyn, “that recently his name is been canvassed as a new Director of the Bank of England. Since he enjoys the Chancellor’s confidence (Mrs Hodge was the guest of the annual dinner of Cardiff South East Constituency Labour Party), the chances are this is an honour deferred.”

RHUDDLAN PENNY

IN APRIL 1969 Hodge said that “the more successful it is making profits, the more funds it will bring to bear on the problems of developing Welsh industry.” A week later, he’d changed his tune: “It must be recognised that in the development business we cannot always behave like hard-fisted moneylenders.”

Nor was this mere gossip or idle speculation — Llewellyn was not only a director of four Hodge companies but also a close friend of the family and there can be little doubt that his words echoed Hodge’s personal feelings on the subject.

The reason why these clues are important is a simple one.

Although the certificate of incorporation for the Commercial Bank of Wales was issued during the Heath administration, the political go-ahead may have come much earlier .

There are many people — John Ellis among them — who believe the green light was given in the dying weeks of the 1964-70 Wilson government.

So why did George Thomas and James Callaghan favour the Commercial Bank of Wales?

All the promises made for it soon evaporated and, unlike the people of Wales, the two politicians must surely have known this would happen — and that the Ellis bank would have served Wales better.

In March 1973 Hodge explained that Thomas and Callaghan joined the board of directors because of their dedication to the Welsh economy.

He added:

“I shudder to think what some of the areas in Wales would be like today without their masterly help in the past.”

You only have to walk the single mile from the Commercial Bank of Wales headquarters in St Mary Street to the decay of Riverside in George Thomas’ constituency or the squalor of James Callaghan’s Roath to understand the bitter betrayal that the selling of the Commercial Bank of Wales represents.

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IT WAS not just George Thomas and James Callaghan who backed the Commercial Bank of Wales — the Labour Party in Wales also gave it support.

Besides Thomas and Callaghan, each with £5,000 worth of shares, other Labour MPs also bought shares in the bank.

The present Secretary of State John Morris had £1,300 worth, Leo Abse (£4,000), Donald Coleman (£500), Ifor Davies (£100), Fred Evans (£1,000), Cledwyn Hughes (£1,000) and Alec Jones (£500),

Many Labour councillors — such as formal Cardiff City Council planning chairman David Seligman with £100 — also supported the enterprise.

RHUDDLAN PENNY

“JIM CALLAGHAN will not, according to Julian Hodge, receive ‘any remuneration as a director’ — any more than will George Thomas,” reported the New Statesman in August 1972. The Western Mail noted, in March 1974, that “Cardiff MPs Mr James Callaghan and Mr George Thomas have resigned as £1,000-a-year directors of the Commercial Bank of Wales because they have been appointed to posts in the government.”

“The general feeling of the time,” according to Emrys Jones, secretary of the Welsh Labour Party, “was that a bank of this nature established in Wales could be of value in aiding industry and helping to attract new industry into Wales.”

What did these Labour politicians get for their support — besides dividends — and, more important, what benefits came to the people of Wales?

In April 1976, when Callaghan became Prime Minister and there was criticism of his links with the Welsh merchant banker, Hodge strongly defended the bank’s record.

“Jim believed in the importance of a regional bank for Wales and events have shown that belief to have been abundantly justified because the Bank of Wales in the past two years has been instrumental in providing thousands of jobs for the indigenous people that they would not otherwise have got.”

“It has been a tremendous help to Welsh industry in the past two years. Thousands of jobs have been saved and I can prove it ”

As usual no one challenged the ‘Welsh wizard’ to prove that ‘thousands of jobs have been saved’ by the bank and that it has succeeded in ‘providing thousands of jobs’.

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THE BANK is not independent — despite an attempt by chief executive Michael Gwyther to prove otherwise.

On October 26 he told the Western Mail — “a surprising number of the public do not realise that the Commercial Bank of Wales is an independent organisation with 7,000 shareholders”.

Gwyther forgot to mention that in, October 1972, sixteen of these 7,000 owned 57 per cent of the bank with the remaining 6,984 shareholders held less than 40 per cent.

Today, in 1977, two shareholders control 42 per cent of the bank.

Gwyther’s main concern in the Western Mail article was to prove that people were wrong in assuming the Commercial Bank of Wales to be a Hodge bank.

An extensive press and TV advertising campaign is partly designed to emphasise its independent identity.

The most significant of these appeared in the Western Mail in December 1976.

It quoted Charlie Webber, general manager of Avana Bakeries in Cardiff, on the installation of an air conditioning unit in part of the plant.

“It was,” he said, “the Commercial Bank of Wales who gave us the courage to invest at a time when industry was in recession and the food industry particularly badly hit.”

A glowing tribute by any standards — except Rebecca’s.

The ad left out the most significant factor of all — the chairman of the Avana Group and holder of 6.9 per cent of the ordinary shares, is none other than the chairman of the Commercial Bank of Wales, Sir Julian Hodge.

Much more important — just two months before Gwyther stressed the independence of the bank in the Western Mail — Hodge had become its largest shareholder.

In August he quietly bought out the Standard Chartered Banking Group, increasing his family stake in the bank from 6 to 22 per cent …

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SO MUCH for the bank’s independence — now for its Welshness.

In the same Western Mail article Gwyther added that Hodge “regards it as the bank of the people of Wales, Welsh-based with a Welsh board, having a Welsh outlook and primarily concerned with the Welsh economy “.

The bank of the people of Wales?

Although the bank has bilingual cheque-books and uses the 12th century ‘Rhuddlan penny’  from North Wales as its symbol, one in every five shares is owned by a subsidiary of the First National Bank of Chicago, the ninth largest US bank with deposits of £19 billion.

The ‘Welsh board’ contains two American nominees of the First National Bank.

“Primarily concerned with the Welsh economy?”

Almost half of the bank’s activity – the so-called ‘instalment credit’ business that includes hire purchase and second mortgages — is of no direct benefit to welsh industry.

In 1975 the bank lent £7.4 million in this way and almost 80 per cent went to clients outside Wales.

The bank lent exactly the same amount to industry in the form of loans and overdrafts — yet nearly a third went to companies outside Wales.

Only half of one percent of all requests for finance were successful and the policy of the bank, in the words of the Western Mail, is one of ‘spreading investment as widely and thinly as possible’.

The money that is lent Welsh industry does not come cheaply — in January the banks base rate was 15 per cent compared to the Co-op’s 14 per cent, with overdrafts often a great deal more expensive.

The performance of the Commercial bank of Wales is a far cry from the extravagant claims made for it back in the early seventies.

Emrys Jones, Welsh Labour Party secretary, admits “it doesn’t seem to have lived up to its promises”.

The truth is that the Commercial Bank of Wales is not, and was never intended to be, a genuine Bank of Wales.

Unlike the Liberal proposals — which included a Board of Trustees ‘drawn from the trade unions, Welsh Farmers Union, industry and the universities’ to make sure ‘the Bank of Wales will belong to the people of Wales’ —  the prime concern of the Commercial Bank of Wales is to make profits for Sir Julian Hodge.

And his friends …

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COMING UP
THE INVESTIGATION into the closed world of BBC Wales continues with a detailed analysis of the crisis that engulfed the Corporation between 2008 and 2011. The article — The Sister Of The Woman From Auntie — examines the relationship between former Director Menna Richards and her sister. The current regime — headed by Rhodri Talfan Davies, a family friend of Menna Richards — has taken the unprecedented step of announcing it will no longer answer questions from Rebecca Television 

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THE GREAT WELSH WATER ROBBERY

July 1, 2014

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WELSH WATER customers have been cheated of more than a quarter of a billion pounds.

That’s the conclusion of a Rebecca investigation into Glas Cymru, the company which owns Welsh Water.

Glas Cymru was set up in 2001 as a not-for-profit business claiming to exist solely for the benefit of its customers.

Since then consumers have paid nearly £8,500 million in bills.

Glas Cymru has given them a cash “dividend” of just £150 million over the same period — less than 2 per cent of the total.

Rebecca believes they should have received at least a further £250 million — equivalent to roughly £300 for every customer.

The analysis also demonstrates that the real winners in the Glas Cymru saga have been the members of the board.

They’ve taken millions out of the business when their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland have been satisfied with modest payments.

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ON FRIDAY the 66 people who control Glas Cymru will meet for the fourteenth annual general meeting of the company.  

The company has no shareholders and appoints “members” to take their place.

Nine of these members are the directors of the board.

The other 57 — who receive no payment — are drawn from all over Wales as well as parts of England served by Welsh Water.

They include university professors, retired water employees and trade unionists, accountants, farmers, solicitors — a broad cross-section of the community.

Seventeen are women.

The company they control was conceived in the dying days of the break-up of the Welsh conglomerate Hyder which owned Welsh Water and South Wales Electricity.

Hyder had been created when Welsh Water bought South Wales Electricity in 1996.

WATER MILLIONAIRE  One of the key architects of Glas Cymru, Chris Jones is the current chief executive. In the 14 years of the company's existence he has prospered — awarded nearly £4 million in salary, pensions, annual and long-term bonuses.   Photo: Glas Cymru

LIQUID ENGINEER
ONE OF THE key architects of Glas Cymru, Chris Jones is the current chief executive. In 2001 the company farmed out almost all of its activities to other English utilites — leaving just 130 staff. Until most of these activities were brought back in-house in recent years, Glas Cymru was more a finance company than a genuine water business. Jones is well-rewarded — picking up more than £3.5 million in salary, annual and long-term bonuses in the past 14 years. 
Photo: Glas Cymru

Hyder expanded disastrously and was soon burdened with debt.

In the 1990s Labour accused the privatised water and electricity companies of profiteering.

When it came to power in 1997, the new government quickly imposed a £282 million “windfall tax” on Hyder.

Hyder’s share price collapsed.

It was eventually taken over by the US energy giant Western Power Distribution who were mainly interested in the electricity business.

Two young Hyder executives — Nigel Annett and Chris Jones — came up with the idea of creating a not-for-profit company and using money raised on the international bond market to buy Welsh Water.

Annett was a former merchant banker and Jones had been a civil servant at the Treasury when the water industry was privatised.

Western Power Distribution indicated that it was willing to sell Welsh Water — if Annett and Jones could raise the money.

Annett and Jones began to assemble a board of directors.

They recruited Lord Burns — former Treasury Permanent Secretary — to chair the new company.

Another appointment was Alison Carnwath, also a merchant banker.

Recently retired Controller of BBC Wales, Geraint Talfan Davies, also joined the team.

LORD BURNS  TERRY BURNS welcoming the new chancellor Gordon Brown to the Treasury after Labour's 1997 victory. The Permanent Secretary left the post the following year and was made a Life Peer. Lord Burns was to play an important role at Glas Cymru — and was handsomely rewarded for his contribution. Photo: PA

LORD BURNS
TERRY BURNS welcoming the new chancellor Gordon Brown to the Treasury after Labour’s 1997 victory. The Permanent Secretary left the post the following year and was made a Life Peer. Lord Burns was to play an important role at Glas Cymru — and was handsomely rewarded for his contribution.
Photo: PA

In May 2001 Glas Cymru raised £1,910 million on the bond market and took control of the company.

That same month the existing managing director of Welsh Water, Dr Mike Brooker, joined the board.

♦♦♦

IN 2001 the directors of Glas Cymru faced a fundamental choice about how they were going to be rewarded.

They had two models to choose from.

They could follow the nine other companies in the water sector in England — companies like the giant Thames Water which supplied water and sewerage services to London.

These were companies controlled by shareholders who expected a return on their investment.

The directors were rewarded with substantial salaries and pensions, bonus schemes and lucrative share option schemes.

This was the “Capitalist Nine” option.

Or the Glas Cymru directors could choose the publicly controlled model in Scotland and Northern Ireland where water had not been privatised.

There were three water authorities in Scotland and a single body for Northern Ireland.

These were spartan undertakings where the board were paid decent amounts but had to forego the valuable perks of their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

This was the “Public Sector Four” route.

Glas Cymru’s not-for-profit structure and its early statements suggested it should have been more sympathetic to the “Public Sector Four” club.

In 2001 a company press release was clear — Welsh Water:

” … a monopoly providing an essential public service, is a very low risk business.”

But the board members decided to follow the “Capitalist Nine” when it came to their pay and conditions.

This meant that the pay of the full-time directors would be decided by the non-executives while the latter’s fees would be decided by the entire board.

Soon after the company was formed, Annett and Jones were each awarded a £100,000 bonus.

By 2003 it was clear what the remuneration policy meant in practice.

In that year Scottish Water, a merger of the country’s three water authorities, was created under public control.

The new Scottish Water was far larger than Glas Cymru — its turnover in 2003 was £895 million, compared to the £462 million of Welsh Water.

The chief executive of Scottish Water was paid £175,000 in 2003.

Glas Cymru’s managing director, Dr Mike Brooker, was paid £311,000.

WATER NOT WINE First Minister Alex Salmond is having none of the English "fat cat" syndrome on his patch. The much larger Scottish Water pays less than half the amount Glas Cymru feels it needs to pay its chairman and non-executive directors Photo: PA

WATER NOT WINE
FIRST MINISTER Alex Salmond is having none of the English and Welsh “fat cat” syndrome on his patch. The much larger Scottish Water pays less than half the amount Glas Cymru feels it needs to pay its chairman and non-executive directors
Photo: PA

The chairman of Scottish Water was paid £70,000 compared to the £140,000 taken by Lord Burns, Glas Cymru’s chairman.

Ordinary non-executives in Scotland were paid £18,000 — their counterparts in Wales, like Geraint Talfan Davies, were awarded £35,000.

Fast forward to 2013 and the gap had widened.

Scottish Water’s chief executive’s £252,000 package was less than half of the £538,000 taken home by his then Glas Cymru counterpart Nigel Annett.

Glas Cymru’s new chairman, former British Airways boss Bob Ayling, was paid £204,000 — more than double what Scottish Water felt its chairman deserved.

Non-executive directors of Glas Cymru were paid £56,000 while their Scottish colleagues had to make do with an average of £22,500.

Glas Cymru stoutly defends its remuneration policy:

“Despite Welsh Water being equivalent in scale to that of one of the largest FTSE 250 companies, the Chief Executive’s remuneration (July 2013) was less than half of the average FTSE 250 CEO [chief executive officer].

“We provide drinking water of the highest quality and reliable sanitation to 3 million people; manage over 550 service reservoirs; 27,000km of water mains; over 30,000km of sewers and over 800 wastewater treatment works.”

“The scale and complexity of providing such an essential service warrants directors of the highest calibre and appropriate remuneration packages.”

Geraint Talfan Davies is the only director of Glas Cymru to publish a version of the company’s history.

Yet this account — in his book At Arms Length — is curiously muted about the achievements of Glas Cymru.

GERAINT TALFAN DAVIES  A MEMBER of the powerful Talfan Davies clan, the former BBC Wales Controller became one of the highest paid non-executives in Welsh corporate history when he joined the board of Glas Cymru, the company that owns Welsh Water. He was later joined by Menna Richards, the friend who succeeded him at BBC Wales. It was his son, Rhodri, who took over BBC Wales after Menna Richards departed — a saga explored in the Rebecca Television article The Son Of The Man From Uncle.                                                                 Photo: Seren Books

CAPTAIN OF INDUSTRY, OBE
GERAINT TALFAN DAVIES made nearly £500,000 as a non-executive director of Glas Cymru. The former BBC Wales Controller became one of the highest paid non-executives in Welsh corporate history when he joined the board of Glas Cymru in 2000. He was later joined by Menna Richards, the friend who succeeded him at BBC Wales — she’s currently paid £56,000 a year for her part-time role at Glas Cymru. Photo: Seren Books.    

Just three paragraphs are devoted to the company in a book of more than 350 pages.

There’s no mention of the “customer dividend” which, by the time he finished writing the book, had reached nearly £50 million.

Was he aware that the board faced the possibility that some journalist might come along and make the damaging comparison with Scottish Water?

And that, while the directors were lining their pockets, customers were losing out?

We put these questions to him.

He didn’t reply.

♦♦♦

IT WAS two years before Welsh Water customers began to benefit from the new structure.

In 2003-04 the company began to pay a dividend to its customers.

In this first year the average customer got a rebate of £9 — worth £12 million in all.

The company continued to pay a dividend — it later became known as the “customer dividend”— until 2010.

In that year the “customer dividend” amounted to £28 million — an average payment of £22 for every household.

The total given back to customers was £150 million.

But in 2010, as the world-wide recession kicked in, the company decided that it would suspend the dividend “until prudent to do so”.

The new chairman, former British Airways boss Bob Ayling, said average bills would fall by 7 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

He added:

” … the board has decided that our customers’ interests are best served by accelerating future planned investment to improve the reliability and quality of the essential public service our customers rely on …”

REWARDS Nigel Annett collecting his CBE at Windsor Castle earlier this year. He made over £4 million in his years as a director of Glas Cymru. photo: PA

WATER GONG
NIGEL ANNETT collecting his CBE at Windsor Castle earlier this year. One of the key figures in Glas Cymru, the former merchant banker was part of a team obsessed with the company’s credit rating. Between 2001 and 2010 part of the team’s bonus came from improvements in this rating. Better credit ratings came largely from increased company reserves — money Rebecca believes should have gone to customers. Annett was paid more than £4 million in his years as a director of Glas Cymru.  Photo: PA

Glas Cymru said that, by 2015, £136 million would be spent on this additional capital programme.

Rebecca believes this money should have gone to the company’s hard-pressed customers in the form of a cash dividend.

And our analysis suggests it should have formed part of a total rebate of at least £250 million.

In the period Glas Cymru was giving back £150 million to its customers, South West Water — a company roughly the same size — was paying more than £700 million in dividends to its shareholders …

♦♦♦

THE OWNER of Scottish Water — the Scottish Government — has given up its right to a dividend from the company.

As a result, the regulator can impose lower charges.

In 2014 Scottish Water’s average bill was £339 compared to Welsh Water’s £445 — one of the highest in the UK.

To be fair, it is notoriously difficult to compare one water company’s charges with another.

Completely different circumstances — such as geography, population densities — apply.

However, the trend of pricing is significant.

In 2005 Scottish Water harmonised all of its charging into one integrated system.

In that year the average household bill was, in todays prices, £379.

This year that bill is £339 — £40 a year lower.

In 2005, Glas Cymru’s bill was £396 in today’s money.

This year it’s £445 — £49 a year higher.

Against that increase, Welsh Water can say that it gave consumers back £150 million in the form of “customer dividends” over its 14 year history.

But the value of the £40 reduction in the Scottish Water bill is probably worth £100 million in this year alone.

In March last year Jonson Cox, chairman of the water regulator Ofwat which covers England and Wales, gave a lecture.

“Customers, particularly vulnerable customers, are having a tough time,” he said.

JONSON COX Chairman of the water regulator OFWAT,

JONSON COX
CHAIRMAN OF the water regulator Ofwat, Jonson Cox has pointed out that water companies made higher profits than expected in the period 2010-2015. He called on water companies to share some of their good fortune with customers.   Photo: Ofwat

He noted that, across the industry, bills had risen by 7 per cent in real terms since 2005.

He added ” … over the same period there have been reductions in some household incomes of as much 5 per cent.”

He noted that the sector had enjoyed higher profits because of lower interest rates and higher inflation.

“Given that the licence relates to a long-term monopoly public service, I would have hoped that companies would have shared gains that derive from external factors with their customers (‘gainshare’) …”

He added that Glas Cymru’s structure

“… does provide a form of gainshare with customers …”

But, despite making windfall profits in the period 2010-15, Welsh Water gave none of it back to its customers in the form of cash.

And its figure of £150 million in “customer dividends” has to be treated with some reserve.

Many of the other private equity water companies also gave rebates.

For example, in 2006 South West Water made huge profits and gave each customer a rebate of £20 at a cost of nearly £15 million.

♦♦♦

SO WHAT should the “customer dividend” have been? 

The regulator Ofwat pays close attention to water companies “gearing”.

This is the ratio of debt to what Ofwat calls the Regulatory Capital Value.

By the end of next year, the company expects to have a Regulatory Capital Value of £4,800 million.

The company has debts of £2,900 million.

Glas Cymru’s gearing is 60 per cent.

When Ofwat was preparing its pricing structure for the industry in the period 2015-2020, it believed gearing “should be in the range of 60 to 70 per cent.”

So Glas Cymru is currently right at the bottom of the range.

The lower the percentage, the less is available to pay a “customer dividend”.

The higher the percentage, the more money is available to give back to consumers.

So a straightforward approach would be to say that Welsh Water should go for 65 per cent — bang in the middle of Ofwat’s range.

So what does that five percent mean in terms of a potential “customer dividend”?

The arithmetic is complex but in crude terms it means Glas Cymru could have given back an additional £250 million over the past 14 years.

♦♦♦

ALL IS not lost.

Although the Rebecca investigation shows that customers have been denied £250 million of badly needed cash refunds, the money hasn’t been stolen.

Of course, millions of pounds have been pocketed by the board — but that’s only a fraction of the total sum.

Some of the money — £136 million — was spent on additional capital projects.

That is, on improvements to the infrastructure over and above what the regulator Ofwat required.

Rebecca asked Glas Cymru if that money could have used instead to pay “customer dividends”.

“Correct”, was the response of a spokesman.

The rest of the £250 million lies in the company’s £1,900 million reserves.

♦♦♦

THE AGM next Friday has the power to remedy the situation.

The 57 ordinary members can instruct the board to restore the “customer dividend” with immediate effect.

And they could order the board to find the most cost-effective way to repay the rest of the £250 million cash bonus it owes customers for the period up to 2015.

Rebecca has written to First Minister Carwyn Jones about this investigation.

The Welsh Government has no powers to intervene in the affairs of the company.

CARWYN JONES Rebecca Television has  waof the atasked him to investigate Glas Cymru's stewardship

CARWYN JONES
Rebecca has asked Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones to investigate Glas Cymru’s handling of the “customer dividend” issue. Labour is campaigning about the “cost of living” crisis for ordinary working people — and a refund from Glas Cymru would be welcomed by many hard-pressed families in Wales.  Photo: PA

But it does have a moral right to speak out on behalf of more than a million Welsh customers if it feels they’re being unfairly treated.

We also asked him to examine the constitution of the company.

In particular, the fact that ordinary members meet formally only twice a year, have no structure of their own, have no secretariat and no research officer.

We also sent a copy of the letter to the leaders of Plaid Cymru, Welsh Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

None had replied before this article went on-line.

♦♦♦

GLAS CYMRU was angry we had sent the letter before they had a chance to answer the last set of questions we put to them.

“It is very disappointing that you have issued this letter to the First Minister before receiving our final response,” a spokesman said.

“Your hypothesis that customers have been short-changed is wrong.”

The company says it would “be remiss of you” not to acknowledge that

— throughout the decade 2010-2020 bills will have risen by less than the rate of inflation

— in the same period, £3 billion will be invested in improvements to service

— the company’s good credit rating allows it to borrow cheaply, keeping bills lower than they otherwise would be: “a win, win for our customers”

— £250 million has been returned to customers either through dividends, accelerated investment, social tariffs and lower bills

— this is money “that in any other company would have gone to shareholders”

— customer satisfaction and “perception of value for money ranks us either top or second compared to other companies …”

— Glas Cymru adds £1,000 million to the Welsh economy

— although the 57 ordinary members meet formally only twice a year, other meetings with high-profile experts also take place

— the company also has a Customer Challenge Group which scrutinises the company’s plans.

In another statement, the added that its social tariffs helped 64,000 households in Wales compared to 72,000 for the whole of England.

Glas Cymru said it is

“proud of its unique non-shareholder business model which has delivered significant benefits to our customers in the form of lower bills and increased investment.”

Many of these points had been made in earlier responses to our questions.

Some we disagree with.

Others are irrelevant.

The fundamental point is that every penny Glas Cymru is talking about comes from consumers.

And the plain fact is that the actual direct cash benefit most customers have seen from Glas Cymru’s stewardship of Welsh Water is pitifully small.

The money given back to customers is £150 million — just 2 per cent of the £8,500 million they’ve paid out in bills.

♦♦♦

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IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER?

June 18, 2014

rebecca_logo_04

WHEN RHODRI Talfan Davies takes his leave as Director of BBC Wales in the years ahead, will he once again follow in his father’s footsteps?

It’s become the practice of departing Directors to take up one of the best paid part-time jobs in Wales — a directorship in Glas Cymru.

Glas Cymru owns Welsh Water and claims to be a “not-for-profit” business with customers as its “sole” concern.

But a forthcoming Rebecca Television investigation will claim consumers have been cheated of £100 million.

It’s the board of directors who really benefit.

When Geraint Talfan Davies left BBC Wales in 1999, he helped set up Glas Cymru — and soaked up more than £450,000 in fees in his decade with the company.

He was still there when his friend Menna Richards, who succeeded him as BBC Wales Director, was appointed to the Glas Cymru board in November 2010.

She currently gets £57,000 a year for her part-time role.

Talfan Davies and Richards are part of the tight-knit group which controls Welsh broadcasting.

Rebecca Television continues its investigation of this media clique — and asks if the axing of a controversial series in the late 1990s was part of a strategy to secure the succession at BBC Wales …

♦♦♦

WHEN GERAINT Talfan Davies left the BBC at the end of 1999 he was only 56 years old.

“I have always been clear that I wanted to retire from the BBC while I still have the energy and the appetite to pursue new avenues,” he said at the time.

Within months he’d been recruited to become the Welsh face of a dramatic take-over of the Welsh water industry.

At the time, Welsh Water had swallowed South Wales Electricity and become Hyder plc.

GERAINT TALFAN DAVIES  A MEMBER of the powerful Talfan Davies clan, the former BBC Wales Controller became one of the highest paid non-executives in Welsh corporate history when he joined the board of Glas Cymru, the company that owns Welsh Water. He was later joined by Menna Richards, the friend who succeeded him at BBC Wales. It was his son, Rhodri, who took over BBC Wales after Menna Richards departed — a saga explored in the Rebecca Television article The Son Of The Man From Uncle.                                                                 Photo: Seren Books

THE MAN FROM UNCLE
A MEMBER of the powerful Talfan Davies clan, the former head of BBC Wales became one of the highest paid non-executives in Welsh corporate history when he joined the board of Glas Cymru, the company that owns Welsh Water. He was later joined by Menna Richards, the friend who succeeded him at BBC Wales. It was his son, Rhodri, who took over BBC Wales after Menna Richards departed — a saga explored in the Rebecca Television article The Son Of The Man From Uncle.     Photo: Seren Books

But the two privatised utilities made huge profits and in 1997 the new Labour government hit Hyder with a massive combined £282 million “windfall tax” on its excess electricity and water profits.

The water regulator Ofwat, stung by accusations that it had been too lenient on the sector, also waded in with what looked like draconian new price caps.

This “double whammy” left Hyder sinking under a wave of debt.

Its share price sank and predators closed in.

It came down to a battle between the Japanese investment bank Nomura and the US power conglomerate Western Power Distribution.

The Americans won.

But they only wanted the electricity business — and quickly agreed to sell Welsh Water to a new company called Glas Cymru.

Glas Cymru, a company limited by guarantee, agreed to take over Welsh Water’s massive debt burden.

It did so by borrowing the money from the bond market.

The idea was the brainchild of two senior executives who worked for Welsh Water — former merchant banker Nigel Annett and ex-Treasury official Chris Jones.

They brought in former Treasury Permanent Secretary Terry Burns to chair the outfit.

And Geraint Talfan Davies was recruited to become the Welsh face of the enterprise.

Glas Cymru has always presented itself as a people’s company — with no shareholders, it claims, “our only purpose is to deliver the best outcomes for our customers.”

It points to £150 million worth of “customer dividends” — £139 for every customer — paid out since 2001.

(However, a forthcoming Rebecca Television investigation will reveal that consumers should have done far better.

An article entitled The Great Welsh Water Robbery argues that consumers have been cheated of £100 million in the last four years alone.

The final tally could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

See the note at the end of this article.)

While Welsh Water’s more than one million domestic customers have been short-changed, the directors have done exceedingly well.

By the time he resigned as a part-time non-executive director in March 2011, Geraint Talfan Davies was earning £54,000 a year.

In the ten years he was on the board, his total haul from the company was £452,500.

Unlike Geraint Talfan Davies, Menna Richards was appointed a non-executive director at Glas Cymru while she was still Director of BBC Wales.

She took up the Glas Cymru role in November 2010 — two weeks after she announced her intention to leave BBC Wales.

She didn’t leave the Corporation until February 2011.

Her appointment is understood to have caused concern at the BBC.

MISS PRINCIPALITY  Menna Richards has taken the two-step routine (BBC Wales to Glas Cymru) pioneered by her friend and mentor Geraint Talfan Davies and given it another twist. She's turned it into a conga by also becoming a non-executive director of the Principality Building Society — following in the footsteps of current Glas Cymru chief executive Chris Jones. The post adds another £45,000 a year to her annual bank balance and increases her clout as one the "great and the good" of Welsh public life.  Photo: PA

MISS PRINCIPALITY
MENNA RICHARDS has taken the two-step — BBC Wales to Glas Cymru — routine pioneered by her friend and mentor Geraint Talfan Davies and given it another twist. She’s turned it into a conga by also becoming a non-executive director of the Principality Building Society — following in the footsteps of Glas Cymru chief executive Chris Jones. The post adds another £45,000 a year to her annual bank balance and increases her clout as one the “great and the good” of Welsh public life.
Photo: PA

In its accounts, Glas Cymru states that Menna Richards did not receive any fees until 1 March 2011.

This was after she had finally left BBC Wales.

She’s already one of the most trusted non-executive directors on the Glas Cymru board — for six months in 2013 she was the acting senior non-executive director at an annual rate of £67,500.

By March 2014 she had received total fees of £177,750.

♦♦♦

WE ASKED Glas Cymru to explain the high levels of fees it awards non-executive directors.

Compared to a company like Cardiff-based Admiral Insurance, a successful business operating in one of the most competitive markets in British capitalism, Glas Cymru’s fees appear excessive.

With a turnover of £2.2 billion, Admiral has to fight for every customer‚ unlike Welsh Water whose £717 million income in 2013 came almost entirely from captive customers paying fixed prices.

Back in 2001, a Glas Cymru press release was clear — Welsh Water “… a monopoly providing an essential public service, is a very low risk business.”

Admiral made a pre-tax profit of nearly £350 million in 2012 — but still managed to pay two of its non-executive directors less than Menna Richards.

It took three rounds of questions before Glas Cymru finally came up with a justification for the pay of non-executive directors:

“Regardless of our ‘not-for-profit’ model, we must attract the highest calibre of directors to ensure that the company continues to perform to the highest levels,” a spokesman said.

“Our business provides essential public services and so is heavily regulated by numerous independent bodies, which means we need a high quality board which can provide a credible commitment to good governance for our regulators and bond investors.”

It said that non-executive fees are “reviewed annually” with independent advice from outside consultants.

And it added that the “members” of Glas Cymru — the 59 people appointed to act as the owners of the company — “vote annually on directors’ remuneration.”

The need to attract the “highest calibre” people to run the board doesn’t seem to apply to the “members” who actually control the company.

They’re paid nothing.

♦♦♦

THERE’S ANOTHER UK business which is directly comparable to Glas Cymru — Scottish Water, owned by the Scottish Government.

Water was never privatised in Scotland.

Scottish Water, the result of the merger of three local authorities in 2002, is much bigger than Welsh Water.

Its revenue of £1.1 billion outstrips Glas Cymru’s £717 million.

So you might expect its non-executive directors to be paid more.

Not a bit of it.

Scottish Water’s non-executive salaries are decided by First Minister Alex Salmond and his cabinet.

The average basic fee for a non-executive director in 2013 was £22,000.

That’s less than half of the £57,000 Menna Richards currently receives at Glas Cymru.

And Scottish Water doesn’t seem to have any trouble finding “high calibre” people to take these jobs.

After Menna Richards took up the Glas Cymru post, the Western Mail newspaper published a letter from a Glynneath reader called Jack Kearns:

“She follows Geraint Talfan Davies who preceded her as controller of BBC Wales,” he wrote, “so could it be whoever replaces Menna Richards will be assured of a long and high-salary future with BBC Wales and then Welsh Water?”

RHODRI TALFAN DAVIES There is speculation that the current BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies will follow in the footsteps of both his father and Menna Richards and join the board of Glas Cymru in the years to come. We asked him if this was on the cards — he did not reply. Photo: BBC Wales

THE SON OF THE MAM FROM UNCLE
THERE’S ALREADY speculation that the current BBC Wales Director, Rhodri Talfan Davies, will follow in the footsteps of both his father and Menna Richards and join the board of Glas Cymru in the years to come. We asked him if this was on the cards — he did not reply.
Photo: BBC Wales

Kearns’ letter was published before it was announced that Rhodri Talfan Davies would replace Menna Richards as BBC Wales Director.

We asked Rhodri Talfan Davies if he had any plans to follow his father onto the Glas Cymru board.

This was one of a raft of questions we put to the BBC Wales press office on June 2.

No answers were forthcoming.

We emailed Geraint Talfan Davies for a response.

We also asked Menna Richards to comment.

Neither replied by the time this article was posted.

♦♦♦

THE TALFAN Davies clan aren’t the only family to have prospered at the BBC.

Relatives of Menna Richards have also done well.

In the period she was Director of BBC Wales, her sister Ceri Wyn Richards won more than a million pounds worth of commissions from the broadcaster.

Ceri Wyn Richards is a former BBC Wales staffer who once held the post of Editor, Radio Cymru.

In the early 2000s she and her husband, producer Mark Jones, set up an independent company called Torpedo Limited.

For eight years the company waxed prosperous on the back of commissions from BBC Wales.

As a small company, Torpedo did not have to declare the salaries of its two directors in its annual accounts.

But its balance sheet was healthy — and the company, which was paid in advance by BBC Wales, always reported “cash in hand and at the bank” of between £100,000 and £260,000 throughout the decade.

For the first four years of her time as Director, the BBC did not declare Menna Richards’ interest in Torpedo or the amount of work the Corporation was awarding her sister’s company.

In 2005-06, however, the BBC’s annual report and accounts began listing the amount of work the company was being awarded.

The figures were surprisingly high:

— in 2005-06, Torpedo received £324,000 worth of work

— in 2006-07, the figure rose to £360,000

— in 2007-08, contracts dipped to £321,000

— in 2008-09, the amount declined to £147,000.

The reason the figure fell in that year was that there was a crisis at Torpedo at the end of 2008.

The marriage between Ceri Wyn Richards and Mark Jones hit the rocks — and the partnership that created Torpedo foundered.

In the four-year period 2005-9, the company earned £1,153,000 — making it one of the most successful Welsh broadcasting independents.

We asked BBC Wales for the figures for the period 2001 to 2004.

There was no response.

In December 2008 a new company, Parrog Limited, was registered at an address in Whitchurch, Cardiff.

This was the home of Menna Richards and her husband Patrick Hannan.

A widely respected BBC journalist, Hannan signed the documents which set up the company.

For the first six months of 2009, he was the sole director and holder of the company’s only share.

In June 2009, Ceri Wyn Richards also became a director of the company.

The following month, Patrick Hannan resigned.

(Diagnosed with cancer, he was to die in October 2009 at the age of 68).

In the summer of 2009, an anonymous letter was sent to national newspapers in London drawing attention to the links between Menna Richards and her sister’s companies.

BBC_flag

ON THE surface, the Parrog affair caused hardly any ripples at the BBC. Behind the scenes, however, there were reports of considerable unease in London about the Director’s close ties with the company. Some observers believe the issue may have played a part in Menna Richards’ ultimate decision to leave the Corporation in 2010…

It also pointed out that Menna Richards’ husband was a director  of Parrog and that the company’s registered office was their home.

In August 2009 Jenny Rathbone, a Labour Parliamentary candidate for one of the Cardiff constituencies, learnt of the allegations.

Rathbone, a former producer of the BBC 2 Money Programme and a Labour councillor in the London borough of Islington, wrote to BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons.

Four days later, he wrote back to say the matter was an “operational” issue — he’d passed her letter on to deputy Director-General Mark Byford.

The next day Rathbone received a reply from the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer, Caroline Thomson.

She wrote:

“I can reassure you that Menna Richards has declared all business relationships between the BBC and members of her family in line with … stringent conflict of interest policies.”

“I am satisfied that she has had no involvement in the management of either Torpedo Ltd or Parrog Ltd, and has no role in the commissioning of any independent production companies.

Thomson added that the “BBC will be responding to your letter more fully in due course.”

Rathbone — currently a Labour member of the National Assembly in Cardiff — doesn’t remember receiving a second letter.

The BBC’s accounts for the year 2009-2010 carried no declaration from Menna Richards — who served throughout the year — about the value of any commissions obtained by Parrog.

In November 2010 Menna Richards announced that she was stepping down as Director and eventually left in February 2011.

Again, the BBC accounts for 2010-2011 did not include a declaration of her connection with Parrog.

Parrog’s own accounts indicate that, in the four years between 2009 and 2013, the amount of work does not seem to have reached the levels Torpedo achieved.

The company’s cash balances ranged from £67,000 to £100,000.

We asked BBC Wales for details of commissions the company received from the Corporation.

Once again, the press office failed to provide a response.

♦♦♦

THE PROFESSIONAL relationship between Menna Richards and Geraint Talfan Davies began at HTV Wales in the 1980s.

After eight years at BBC Wales, Menna Richards moved to HTV Wales in 1983 to become a journalist and presenter on the Welsh language current affairs programme Y Byd Ar Bedwar.

At the time Geraint Talfan Davies was HTV Wales’ Assistant Controller of Programmes.

His uncle Sir Alun Talfan Davies was coming to the end of his term as chairman of HTV’s Welsh board.

Menna Richards’ managerial career did not begin until Geraint Talfan Davies had left HTV.

In 1987 Talfan Davies moved to Newcastle to take up the post of Director of Programmes at Tyne Tees TV.

By 1990, he was back in Cardiff 1990 as Director — at the time the title was Controller —  of BBC Wales.

A year later Menna Richards began to climb the managerial ladder at HTV Wales.

First she was appointed Controller of Factual and General programmes, then in 1993 she became Director of Programmes.

By the mid 1990s she was emerging as a powerful figure in Welsh broadcasting — and a potential successor to Geraint Talfan Davies as head of BBC Wales.

In 1996 there was a revealing internal argument at HTV Wales which suggests she may have begun positioning herself as a candidate for the top job at BBC Wales.

Bruce Kennedy, a former editor of the channel’s Wales This Week current affairs series, was in charge of commissioning programmes from the independent sector.

He decided to make a series about the scandal-torn Welsh Development Agency (WDA) to coincide with its 21st anniversary in 1997.

From 1988 to 1993, the Agency’s chairman had been the charismatic but controversial self-made businessman, Dr Gwyn Jones.

In the late 1980s Jones outflanked the traditional Welsh establishment by persuading Welsh Secretary Peter Walker to appoint him to head the Agency.

Within months, he increased the number of days he was working from two and a half to four days a week.

He became a favourite of Margaret Thatcher — when she made one of her few visits to Wales in 1989, she extolled Jones’ virtues:

“I just want to say what a marvellous chap they’ve got at the Welsh Development Agency.”

DR GWYN JONES WHEN THE self-proclaimed millionaire was appointed chairman of the Welsh Development Agency in 1989, he was in need of some hard cash. He persuaded the Agency to buy his Jaguar for £26,000 and later lied to Parliament about the reasons why it was a good deal for the quango. In the 2000s his career declined — he is now Director of Essex University Business School. Photo: Essex University

DR GWYN JONES
WHEN THE self-proclaimed millionaire was appointed chairman of the Welsh Development Agency in 1988, he was in need of some hard cash. He persuaded the Agency to buy his Jaguar for £26,000 and later lied to Parliament about the reasons why it was a good deal for the quango. In the 2000s his career declined — he’s now Director of Essex University’s Business School.
Photo: Essex University

By 1992, he had been appointed the BBC’s National Governor for Wales.

He also used the patronage of senior Tories as a springboard to more powerful posts.

One of his contacts was the merchant banker and freemason Sir Michael Richardson, a personal friend of Margaret Thatcher.

Vice-chairman of the powerful N M Rothschild merchant bank, Richardson secured Jones a series of profitable directorships.

In 1992 Jones also became a director of Tesco — and stayed until 1998.

But as he was beginning his rise through the ranks of corporate Britain, turmoil erupted at the WDA.

Jones’ abrasive style provoked conflict with senior staff — one was paid off with a controversial payoff.

He also made jaw-dropping appointments — one of them a conman who Jones hired as the agency’s marketing director without checking his CV.

The crook was later gaoled.

There were also scandals about unauthorised perks and Jones was accused of obtaining an Agency grant for one scheme and then using it for another.

In December 1992 the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called in Jones and other officials.

Days before the hearing, Jones announced he would leave the Agency in 1993.

The PAC report was damning of the Agency and its political masters at the Welsh Office — it was:

“.. unacceptable that the Welsh Office took no action against anyone in the top echelons of the Agency who presided over a catalogue of serious and inexcusable breaches of expected standards …”

It was this back story which persuaded Bruce Kennedy that a series about the history of the Agency would be a worthwhile project.

He asked Paddy French, then an independent TV producer and currently the editor of Rebecca Television, to carry out the research.

At the time, French did not realise the series would itself become a pawn in a political intrigue …

♦♦♦

THE RESEARCH for the series began at the end of 1995.

French spent several weeks going through the history of the WDA.

Concerned that the series would be stale and academic, he felt it needed a dramatic revelation to bring it alive.

He decided that the most promising line of attack lay in the curious affair of Dr Jones’ Jaguar.

The WDA had authorised a dealer to buy the Jaguar off Jones in March 1989 for £26,000 — the market rate.

The Agency then signed a new lease with the dealer for the Jaguar to become the chairman’s car.

All costs were paid by the Agency.

Jones insisted the deal was a good one for the WDA.

When the Public Affairs Committee grilled him about it, in 1996, he made a remarkable claim.

He insisted that it was cheaper for the Agency to buy the car than to continue paying him mileage.

He told the Committee:

” … when it became clear how many days and how much travel I was doing — and that was working out something like 60,000 miles a year, which I have maintained for the period of my chairmanship — in a discussion it was put to me that it would be financially beneficial to the Agency if I went on to a different car scheme.”

Committee member Alan Williams, MP for Swansea West, was not persuaded:

“Really, it was an act of generosity on your part to the WDA rather than the other way around. Is that it?”

ALAN WILLIAMS THE MP didn't believe  Dr Gwyn Jones was telling the truth when the WDA chairman appeared before the Publis Accounts Committee in 1992. Photo: PA

ALAN WILLIAMS
THE LABOUR MP for Swansea West didn’t believe Dr Gwyn Jones was telling the truth when the WDA chairman appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in 1992.  Photo: PA

Jones replied:

“The arithmetic was such that it would be a lesser cost to the Agency than paying me for 60,000 miles per year at 34.4 pence a mile.”

French was also sceptical.

“Actually, Jones’ arithmetic completely undermined his own argument,” he said.

“He was claiming he travelled 60,000 miles a year on Agency business.”

“Given the quality of the road system in Wales, the average speed can’t have been more than 50 miles an hour.”

“Divide 60,000 by 50 miles an hour and you get 1,200 hours behind the wheel.”

“Assume a 7 hour day and Jones would have been on the road  for 171 days a year — at a time when he was only paid for two and a half days a week.”

“It was a commonly held view in Wales at the time,” noted French, “that this level of mileage was physically impossible.”

“I felt that Jones’ claim was a serious hostage to fortune.”

“If the Jaguar could be located, its records were likely to show that he had lied to Parliament — a very serious offence.”

♦♦♦

IT TOOK several months to track down the Jaguar.

It had been bought by a relative of BBC presenter Vincent Kane.

The service log showed that in June 1989 — three months after Jones sold it — the Jaguar had only 14,267 miles on the clock.

“The evidence was overwhelming — Jones had lied to Parliament,” said French.

“This was the dramatic revelation the HTV series needed to bring it bang up to date.”

In July 1996 filming started — until a dramatic call from Cardiff intervened.

“The film crew, Bruce Kennedy and I were having lunch in a pub in London when Menna Richards rang,” French remembers.

“Menna asked Bruce Kennedy what was going on and he told her that shooting had started on the series.”

“She told him that filming was to stop — he was to return to Cardiff immediately.”

Shortly afterwards, the new chairman of the WDA, David Rowe-Beddoe, asked to meet the team responsible for the series.

It took place in Rowe-Beddoe’s office at the WDA’s HQ in Cardiff and was attended by Kennedy, French and HTV’s head of news and current affairs, Elis Owen.

DAVID ROWE-BEDDOE ANOTHER BUSINESSMAN who supported the Tories, David Rowe-Bedoe — seen here at the official opening of the Wales Millennium Centre in 19xx — was opposed to HTV Wales broadcasting a series about the Welsh Development Agency

DAVID ROWE-BEDDOE
ANOTHER BUSINESSMAN who supported the Tories, David Rowe-Beddoe — seen here at the official opening of the Wales Millennium Centre — took over from Dr Gwyn Jones as WDA chairman. He was opposed to HTV Wales broadcasting a series about the troubled history of the Agency.                                                                                                         Photo: PA

Rowe-Beddoe tried to persuade them the series should not be made.

The three journalists insisted the programmes were in the public interest.

The next day Bruce Kennedy met with Menna Richards.

Richards said she wasn’t persuaded the series was editorially sound.

There was, she said, nothing new in it, it was boring and she even had her doubts about the Jaguar story.

In a memo written a week later, Kennedy said he was “surprised” and “unprepared” at her tone.

He added:

“I am concerned at the growing suggestion that in some way we (notably me) are trying to keep you ignorant of the true nature of the WDA programme.”

“There seems to be a suggestion that the research is not up to the standard required to substantiate some of the points we are making.”

“All I can say is that the research I’ve seen Paddy French conduct is second to none.”

“I think the research Elis and I have conducted must stand for you to judge.”

Five days after this memo was sent, Menna Richards axed the series.

No attempt was made to use the new material about the Jaguar in any other programme.

Bruce Kennedy has never believed that censorship was the reason for Menna Richards’ decision.

For him, it was simply a difference of editorial opinions.

He left HTV Wales shortly afterwards.

French, though, was not convinced that it was just a matter of editorial judgement.

“There are two reasons why I felt outside factors may have played a part,” he said.

“The first is that I believe that Menna Richards was building up a formidable CV as a candidate to take over as Controller of BBC Wales from Geraint Talfan Davies.”

“The only glaring gap in her CV was that senior BBC executives are expected to have had wider experience than just broadcasting.”

“Up to that point, Menna Richards’ career was entirely in broadcasting.”

“She needed a stint as a director of another, unrelated public body.”

“And to land such an appointment, she needed the support of the business establishment, including people like David Rowe-Beddoe.”

“A programme critical of the WDA was likely to antagonise that community.”

(The gap in her CV was later plugged when she was appointed a director of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, serving until the quango was wound up in 2000.)

“The second reason was that Gwyn Jones was still the BBC’s National Governor for Wales.”

“It would have been obvious to Menna Richards that the Corporation would prefer to avoid the embarrassment of a programme that exposed its National Governor for Wales as a man who had lied to Parliament.”

We asked Menna Richards to comment.

She didn’t reply.

But that was far from the end of the story.

Within months of the decision to axe the WDA series, Menna Richards abruptly reversed her decision — and cleared the decks for an HTV broadside against Dr Jones.

♦♦♦

IN THE autumn of 1996 it was widely assumed Dr Gwyn Jones would not seek another term as National Governor for Wales. 

His reputation had been damaged by the Public Accounts Committee and it was assumed he would move on to pastures new when his term ended in December.

However, Jones began to indicate that he thought differently.

The position of National Governor for Wales gave him a seat on the BBC’s UK Board of Governors and was an immensely influential platform.

Word began to circulate in Cardiff that he was canvassing for a second term.

“This really put the cat among the pigeons,” recalls French.

“A second term for Jones would have been a serious blow to Menna Richards’ chances of becoming BBC Wales Controller.”

“HTV had made several highly critical programmes about his chairmanship of the WDA and there was a danger he would not support Menna Richards.”

Inside BBC Wales Jones was not popular among many senior executives and journalists.

In one Broadcasting Council for Wales meeting he had openly attacked the Corporation’s own Week In Week Out series over a programme critical of a WDA land deal.

Many felt this was an attempt to intimidate programme-makers.

Behind the scenes, a secret campaign began to de-rail his campaign.

Part of this campaign was the resurrection of the Jaguar story.

“Out of the blue, HTV Wales suddenly decided that it was time to prepare a profile of the man now seeking a second term at BBC Wales,” said Paddy French.

“It was decided the channel’s current affairs strand, Wales This Week, would rush out a programme — the core of which was the allegation that Jones lied to Parliament over the Jaguar affair.”

“An issue which Menna Richards decided wasn’t newsworthy back in July, was now a matter of vital public interest,” added French.

MENNA RICHARDS WITHIN MONTHS of deciding that a series about the WDA should be axed, Menna Richards authorised an emergency Wales This Week programme about the controversial career of Dr Gwyn Jones' time at the Agency. At its heart, his lies to Parliament about the Jaguar ...  Photo: PA

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE
WITHIN MONTHS of deciding that a series about the WDA should be axed, Menna Richards authorised an emergency Wales This Week programme about the controversial career of Dr Gwyn Jones’ time at the Agency. At its heart, his lies to Parliament about the controversial sale of his Jaguar …
Photo: PA

Menna Richards kept a close eye on the programme — she asked to see a rough version several days before screening.

Jones heard about the programme and wrote to HTV Group chairman, Louis Sherwood, in early December.

Jones pointed out that the last time Wales This Week examined his stewardship of the Agency, he’d had to instruct the libel lawyer Peter Carter Ruck.

The programme went ahead.

The schedule was so tight that the commentary wasn’t laid down until minutes before transmission.

“It was a fraught session,” recalls French, who’d been brought in to help with the production.

“Elis Owen, head of news and current affairs, was in charge — and HTV had a libel barrister on hand to make sure the script was safe.”

The programme was broadcast two weeks before Christmas 1996.

“By then the Welsh establishment had made sure the corridors of power in London were informed about what was coming,” said Paddy French.

“Dr Gwyn Jones — who could also see which way the wind was blowing — decided not to seek a second term as Governor.”

♦♦♦

THE REST is history.

Geraint Talfan Davies left BBC Wales at the end of 1999.

With a Labour government in power, and the Tory grip on the Welsh establishment broken, Menna Richards slipped effortlessly into his shoes…

♦♦♦

NOTE

1 The Rebecca Television investigation into Glas Cymru, the company that owns Welsh Water, was published as  The Great Welsh Water Robbery. It argues customers have seen few benefits while some of the executives who actually control the business have become millionaires …

♦♦♦

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RASH JOURNALISM — THE SWANSEA MEASLES EPIDEMIC

June 14, 2013

14 June 2013rebecca_6aTHE CURRENT measles epidemic in the Swansea area has led to more than fourteen hundred children and adults catching the disease throughout Wales.

A large part of the responsibility for the outbreak rests with Swansea’s local paper, the Evening Post.

In 1997 the paper ran a high-profile series of articles on behalf of a group of parents who believed the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — MMR — had damaged their children.

No medical evidence has ever been found to justify these concerns.

The paper’s campaign led to a dramatic fall in vaccination rates in the area which helped to create a large reserve of unprotected children. This allowed the current outbreak to take hold and spread.

The newspaper refuses to accept its share of the responsibility for the largest measles epidemic in Wales this century.

The current editor says the Evening Post was only doing what any responsible newspaper would have done.

But Rebecca Television has investigated the campaign — and finds the paper guilty of rash journalism.

THE MEASLES VIRUS Before the introduction of the single measles in 1968, around 100 children in England and Wales. But the single vaccine failed to eradicate the disease — before MMR was introduced in 1988, there were still between 50,000 and 100,000 cases a year.

THE MEASLES VIRUS
Before the introduction of the single measles vaccine in 1968, the disease killed 100 children a year in England and Wales. But the single vaccine failed to eradicate the disease — before MMR was introduced in 1988, there were still between 50,000 and 100,000 cases a year.

ON APRIL 18 this year a young Swansea man called Gareth Colfer-Williams, 25, was found dead at his home.

His mother, Angela Colfer, said the day before he died he went to the doctor complaining of a rash all over his body except his arms.

She added that he had also recently been treated in hospital for asthma.

Post-mortem tests showed he was suffering from measles but the precise cause of death was unclear. Further tests are taking place.

If his death is shown to be due to measles, he will be the first fatality of the disease in Britain since 2008.

By June 10 this year the number of cases in the Swansea health board area — which includes Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend —  had reached 934.  The total for Wales stood at 1,413.

The local paper, the South Wales Evening Post, has been reporting the epidemic.

It now supports the campaign to give all children the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — known as MMR.

But in the late 1990s the paper was sending out a different message — and one that led to a massive drop in the number of children getting the jab.

The saga started with a straightforward Evening Post article at the end of July 1997.

The piece highlighted a warning from the local health board urging parents to ignore press reports of a possible link between the MMR jab and cases of autism and the bowel disorder Crohn’s disease.

The warning was issued because, two days earlier, the Daily Mail carried a story about claims that MMR caused autism and Crohn’s disease in a small number of chidren.

The Daily Mail was, in turn, picking up an interview in the doctors’ magazine Pulse with an academic researcher called Dr Andrew Wakefield who was flagging up a piece of research he was undertaking at London’s Royal Free Hospital.

The Daily Mail said the “two illnesses most commonly linked to vaccination problems are Crohn’s disease, which causes ulcers by leading to chronic inflammation of the gut, and autism, the condition in which children are unable to mature socially”.

Wakefield told Pulse the results of his and other studies “clearly confirm our suspicions and take them further. We have not enough published evidence to change policy at the moment, but we have accumulated enough evidence … to conduct an independent review.”

Wakefield was questioning one of the most successful immunisation programmes Britain has ever seen.

MMR — which reduced the number of injections for measles, mumps and rubella from six to two — was introduced in Britain in 1988.

It had already been used in the USA for 25 years and in Sweden for ten.

MMR is given to children on their first birthday with another booster injection just before they go to primary school.

The programme is a spectacular success.

In the Swansea area, in the three years before MMR was introduced, there was an average of more than a thousand cases of measles every year.

By the time of Wakefield’s interview in Pulse in 1997 there had been no cases at all in Swansea in the previous two years.

In its July 1997 article, the Evening Post reported that Dr Peter Donnelly, Director of Public Health for the Iechyd Morgannwg Health authority, insisted there was no medical evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and the two diseases.

PETER DONNELLY Dr Donnelly — the  Public Health Director for the Swansea area in 1997— warned that even discussing alleged  links between MMR and autism and bowel disorders risked driving down vaccination levels.

PETER DONNELLY
Dr Donnelly — the Public Health Director for the Swansea area in 1997— warned that even discussing alleged links between MMR and autism and bowel disorders risked driving down vaccination levels.

He also laid down an important marker which the Evening Post would later ignore.

Donnelly told reporter Nick Dermody that “merely debating such fears could prompt parents to do the worst thing of all and stop taking their youngsters for their jabs.”

Donnelly warned: “If we were to have an outbreak of measles because people stopped taking their youngsters for their jabs that would be very serious indeed.”

Fifteen years later that’s precisely what happened.

♦♦♦

ON 12 August 1997 Evening Post reporter Jo Bailey wrote a front page story — “Mum’s Plea in Vaccine Scare” — about a Swansea mother whose son was given MMR and later developed autism and a serious bowel disorder. 

Although the mother believed MMR was responsible for her son’s problems, she wasn’t blaming anyone.

She was simply asking for parents to be given more information about the possible risks involved in taking the MMR jab.

The next day the Evening Post also carried a response from Dr Brendan Mason, then a public health consultant for Iechyd Morgannwg Health.

“Allegations about the MMR vaccine have been around since the early 1990s,” he said, “and there has been a great deal of research into links between the vaccine and conditions such as autism and the bowel ulcer condition Crohn’s disease.”

“However, despite all this research, no evidence has been found of any such link.”

But, two days later, the seeds of the Evening Post campaign were sown.

On August 15 reporter Nick Dermody wrote a piece about Port Talbot mother Jackie Eckton who blamed MMR for turning her three-year-old son Daniel into a “distant and silent recluse”.

She believes to this day that her son’s problems are the result of MMR.

Dermody reported that Jackie Eckton was calling on other parents who believed their children had also been affected by the jab to “team up” and form an action group.

The piece included health officials’ insistence there was no evidence to back up the assertion.

After this article Jackie Eckton was contacted by other mothers concerned that their children’s problems had been caused by the MMR jab.

Three days later this produced a key front page lead story.

Written by Jo Bailey, it was marked “Exclusive” with the headline — “Jab Mums Fear A Rogue Batch” — running across the entire front page.

A much smaller sub-heading added that “Experts say no proof of  vaccine link”.

2013-06-01 21.44.34

FRONT PAGE EXCLUSIVE
The story that claimed the Post had “discovered that dozens of children in the Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea areas” who were believed to have been damaged by the MMR vaccine in the space of a few months. That claim was false.

The piece reported Jackie Eckton’s fear that a rogue batch of MMR was circulating in the Swansea area.

This article, published on August 18, said ” … the Evening Post has discovered that dozens of children in the Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea areas, who were all given the jab in the period between the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995, are believed to be suffering problems.”

Rebecca Television can find no evidence to back up this claim.

A later study into 36 alleged victims by the local health board found that only seven had been given the vaccine in the whole of the year from July 1994 and June 1995.

Only two of them had been given vaccine from the same batch.

This was shoddy journalism — the Evening Post was giving massive publicity to alarming claims without making any attempt to substantiate them.

By the time of the article, the Evening Post had only published  stories about three alleged victims.

As it did with all its reporting, the paper also included a comment from the public health side.

This time it quoted Singleton Hospital’s consultant paediatrician Dewi Evans who insisted there was no evidence of any link.

♦♦♦

BUT BY now the Evening Post had decided it would mount a campaign on behalf of parents with children allegedly damaged by the MMR vaccine.

It began the next day, August 19, with another front page lead story by Jo Bailey, headlined “We’ll Check Jab Batch Numbers”.

This reported the agreement of Iechyd Morgannwg Health to investigate the possibility that a batch of the vaccine had been contaminated.

This piece carried the first use of the logo of a syringe with the words “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts”.

THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS The paper's "MMR Parents' fight for the facts" begins.

THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS
The paper’s “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts” campaign starts with a distinctive logo featuring a syringe. In the year that follows, vaccination rates in the paper’s circulation area fall dramatically.

In another piece the same day reporter Paul Turner interviewed solicitor Michael Green of Swansea law-firm Smith Llewellyn.

Green told the paper that, if parents could prove that 80 per cent of their children’s health problems was due to the vaccine, they were entitled to compensation under the Vaccine Damage Payments Act.

Inside there was a two page spread, again illustrated by the campaign logo, giving the pros and cons of each side of the argument.

However, the spread was dominated by an article headed “Solicitor takes up the fight for truth”.

Reporter Jo Bailey introduced this piece with the words: “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate is the most pressing issue facing South Wales parents today.”

The article featured the battle by Norfolk solicitor Mike Barr who had been given Legal Aid to assess 903 cases across the UK of alleged damage to see if they could sue the manufacturers of the vaccine.

The feature also detailed four more cases of alleged damage to local children from the MMR jab.

On the same day, there was an editorial entitled “Parents must have jab choice.”

It said the paper’s coverage “should be required reading for every parent. We are not trying to alarm anyone.”

It says that was the reason it was putting the case for and against the vaccine in a special feature.

“What is needed most of all,” it says, “and this must come from Government rather than local level, is a commitment to give parents the right to a truly informed choice when it comes to vaccination.”

It then says that when people are given advice about contraception, they are given an assessment of the effectiveness and possible dangers “in percentage terms”.

“Giving parents the same sort of detailed information and statistics when it comes to vaccinating their child should not be a lot to ask for in a world where science has given us the ability to see the surface of Mars on our television screens.”

The next day, August 20, a story on the front page reported that more than 40 families had now contacted the Evening Post.

In the same edition, Jo Bailey and Paul Turner reported a further seven cases of alleged MMR damage to local children.

Again, the denial of any link from health officials was carried.

By August 21, the Post was reporting health officials’ refusal to give single jabs instead of MMR with an article headlined “Health chiefs stand by jab”.

The piece reported that health officials admitted there was “no medical reason why single vaccines are not offered.”

The Post reported that this view “has incensed parents who claim their youngsters have been permanently affected by the jab”.

When MMR was introduced in 1998 licences for single vaccines were withdrawn.

Another feature the same day reported another batch of five children allegedly adversely affected by the jab. The headline was “Parents’ cry for answers”.

On August 29, health officials reported, as the headline said, “No proof of rogue vaccine batch.”

This article was written by chief reporter Susan Buchanan. It did not make the front page.

By August 29, the Post was reporting that 50 families are forming themselves into an official action group and teaming up with the national anti-MMR organisation JABS.

♦♦♦

BUT IN this same edition, there was an indication of unease about the campaign at a senior level.

The Post published its second editorial on the issue entitled  “Parents are still waiting for answers”.

Of the cases it had reported, it asks “Can there really have been so many coincidences?”

“Logic would immediately say no, but medical research effectively says yes.”

It repeats the position of the Singleton Hospital paediatrician Dewi Evans — that there was no evidence linking MMR with autism and Crohn’s disease.

“There are few more respected and experienced paediatricians than Dewi Evans,” noted the editorial, “and neither has Dr Evans been afraid to oppose the party line has he felt the need to do so.”

“Yet Dr Evans says he is not aware of any scientific research which links MMR injections with subsequent learning difficulties or chronic health problems.”

If any research existed, “Dr Evans would know about it.”

“As things stand there is no answer …”

The editorial ends with the advice that parents should talk to their doctor or health visitor.

But, whatever the misgivings, the Evening Post campaign continued.

On September 3 the paper reported on “calls to withdraw MMR jab” from the action group.

By September 9, the Post reported that Michael Green of local solicitors Smith Llewellyn was preparing an application for Legal Aid for some of the families.

On September 22, in an article which reported the health board’s detailed research dismissing the “rogue” batch of MMR theory, the Post increased the number of children allegedly affected by the vaccine to 60.

By this point, the paper had carried reports of only 21 of these 60 alleged cases.

Before the paper’s campaign, the uptake of MMR in the Swansea area had been higher than the rest of Wales.

After the campaign got under way, vaccination rates began to fall.

In February 1998 Andrew Wakefield finally published his research in The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals.

Even though it stated categorically that the article “did not prove a link between MMR vaccine and the syndrome described”, the article sparked a massive controversy which lasted several years.

It even reached No 10 in 2002 when Tony Blair refused to say if his young son Leo had been given the jab.

Vaccination rates fell throughout the UK.

But a study carried out by the Iechyd Morgannwg Health officials, Peter Donnelly and Brendan Mason, and published early in 2000, showed that the decline was much sharper in Swansea.

The two experts compared the uptake rates of MMR in the period July to September in 1997, when the Post campaign was at its height, with the rates in the same quarter a year later.

They found that the rate of vaccination in the Swansea area dropped by more than 13 per cent compared with a fall of less than three percent in Wales.

The two doctors concluded the data “suggests that the [Evening Post] campaign has had a measurable and unhelpful impact over and above any adverse national publicity.”

The Post continued its campaign.

In September 1998, it published an editorial in which the unease of a year before had vanished.

The line was now uncompromising.

“Parents are making it abundantly clear they want separate vaccinations,” it stated.

“Any further debate on why and how that feeling is so strong is pointless and, increasingly, dangerous.”

“It is a fact of life and blithely repeating ad infinitum that ‘MMR is safe’ is not going to change that.”

And it defended the Evening Post campaign.

“If the uptake rate on MMR falls any further there will only be one place to point the finger of blame — and that is not at the drug companies or the press.”

♦♦♦

IT TURNED out that Dr Andrew Wakefield, the man who started the MMR scare, was a charlatan.

An inquiry by the investigative journalist Brian Deer, commissioned by the Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, revealed that Wakefield was already working for the Norfolk solicitor Mike Barr in 1996.

Barr was the lawyer, as the Evening Post reported on August 19, who was trying to put together a “class action” to sue the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine.

The case was initially funded by the Legal Services Commission until barristers decided in 2003 that there was no hope of the action succeeding — the medical evidence didn’t stack up.

By that time, the legal aid bill had reached £18 million.

A substantial chunk of that money went into Wakefield’s pocket — he amassed £435,000 in fees.

When his infamous paper was published in The Lancet, in February 1998, Wakefield did not inform the editors that he was working with Barr. This was unethical practice.

Deer also discovered that Wakefield had patented single vaccines for measles — and formed companies apparently created to market them.

Deer’s campaign eventually led to the General Medical Council charging Wakefield with unethical practice.

He was struck off in January 2010 for performing unnecessary invasive procedures on some of the twelve children who formed the basis of his 1998 article in The Lancet.

The GMC branded Wakefield “dishonest”, “unethical” and “callous”.

The Lancet article was partially retracted in 2004 and fully retracted in 2010 after Brian Deer showed that the data had been manipulated to fit Wakefield’s thesis.

The full story can be found on Brian Deer’s website — see the notes below for the link.

None of this was known to the Evening Post in 1997.

♦♦♦

WHEN THE current epidemic began in November last year, the Evening Post was silent about its conduct in 1997.

Four months after the measles epidemic began, the BBC Radio 4 programme Today carried a report about the role of the paper’s “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts” campaign in the outbreak.

The current Evening Post editor Jonathan Roberts declined to appear on the programme.

He said the campaign “pre-dated their entire newsroom”.

One of the paper’s current reporters is called Paul Turner.

As we have already seen, there was a Paul Turner among the team of Evening Post reporters who worked on the story in 1997.

We asked the Paul Turner who works for the paper today if he’s the same Paul Turner who wrote MMR stories back in 1997.

He emailed to say “you will have to deal with the editor on this I’m afraid”.

We asked Jonathan Roberts. There was no answer by the time this article went online.

Five days after his refusal to appear on Today,  Roberts finally wrote about the issue in his own paper.

The piece appeared on April 12 under the headline “South Wales Evening Post campaign was hard-hitting but reflected parents’ concerns at the time”.

The core of Roberts’ defence of the 1997 campaign is that “It is dangerous to judge this campaign outside of its time.”

“The evidence of a link between the MMR and autism has since been discredited, but in 1997 that was not the case.”

This is a travesty of the facts.

In August and September 1997 the medical evidence was overwhelming — MMR was safe and effective and no medical evidence had ever been published demonstrating a link between MMR and autism and Crohn’s disease.

Study after study had shown no connection between MMR and autism and Crohn’s disease.

For example, a Swedish study of autism rates in the five years before and the five years after MMR was introduced showed no increase in autism.

At the time the Post mounted its campaign all that existed was Wakefield’s press interview in Pulse which was given additional credibility in the Daily Mail.

Right at the beginning — and more than a week before the Post campaign began — local public health chief Dr Peter Donnelly warned that even debating the issue was dangerous because it risked driving down vaccination rates.

No journalist would accept Donnelly’s point that the issue shouldn’t be debated — but he clearly put the paper on notice that it had to do so responsibly.

A week later the health board’s public health consultant Dr Brendan Mason told the paper there was no evidence of a link between MMR and autism and Crohn’s disease.

The paper’s first piece of rash journalism was Jo Bailey’s shoddy front page story of August 18 about an alleged “rogue” batch of vaccine.

Her claim was that the Post had “discovered dozens of children” believed to be suffering problems “were all given the jab in the period between the end of 1994 and early 1995.”

As we have seen, the local health board’s study of 36 of these children found only 7 had been immunised in the entire year covering the year from July 1994.

Only two had received the same vaccine.

But the damage had been done.

Parents were getting the message that there were question marks over MMR generally — and the disturbing idea had been floated of a “rogue” batch of vaccine circulating in the Swansea region.

The day after this disastrous article, the Post mounted its “MMR Parents’ Fight For The Facts” campaign.

This implied that, somehow, important “facts” were being deliberately with-held.

And yet — even though Jo Bailey was commended for her investigative work at the 1998 BT Press Awards — she and the Post  seemed uninterested in uncovering the “facts”.

Instead they rushed into print with the flimsiest of evidence.

Throughout August and September 1997, the Evening Post coverage concentrated on simplistic reports of parents’ claims that their children had been damaged.

No attempt was made to investigate the circumstances behind each case.

For example, when the parents of 36 children with alleged problems came forward so that their children’s vaccination records could be checked in August and September, health officials found many of them had not been diagnosed with autism at all.

For this article, a spokesman for Public Health Wales said that most of these children “did not have autism. The usual diagnosis was learning difficulties.”

“In many (perhaps the majority) the diagnosis was clearly documented in the records before the MMR was given.”

Public Health Wales also told Rebecca Television there was no significant change in the rates of autism or Crohn’s disease in the Swansea area at the time.

Nor did the Post seem to grasp that the average age of a mother’s perceived sense that her child might have learning difficulties was around 14 months (for experienced mothers who already had at least one child) and 18 months (for first time mothers).

With the first MMR jab coming after a child’s first birthday and with more than 90 per cent of all such children at that time receiving MMR, the chances of parents reading the Evening Post at the time, putting two and two together and coming up with five were extremely high.

When Jonathan Roberts says there was “genuine concern, even fear, among parents that they could be putting their children at risk”, he’s talking about “concern, even fear” that was being generated by the Evening Post campaign…

♦♦♦

THE MOST likely explanation for the editorial position of the Evening Post in 1997 is that the paper was taking a gamble.

It was banking on Dr Andrew Wakefield producing hard evidence of problems with MMR — and, with its clutch of local victims, it would be shown to be in the vanguard of journalists exposing the scandal.

image

Awards and kudos would come to the team who led British journalism with their hard-hitting “MMR Parents’ Fight For The Facts” campaign.

So, what should have happened?

In the days after Jackie Eckton brought cases of alleged damage following  the article about her son’s problems, the paper should not have published anything.

Instead, it should have organised a systematic piece of investigative journalism.

Reporters should have started to compile detailed medical profiles of each alleged victim.

They should have obtained parents’ permission to talk to their children’s GPs and obtained their medical histories.

Reporters should have started to research the general medical background to see if the rates of autism, Crohn’s disease and other related problems had been rising in the Swansea area.

It should have sought the co-operation of health officials in this investigation, especially in the suggestion that a rogue batch of vaccine was responsible for the alleged Swansea victims.

It should have waited until it knew what the score was.

In the end, it would still have had a story — perhaps not as sensational as the “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts” — but the one that had the merit of being accurate.

It would have responsibly investigated the concerns of parents with damaged children — and shown there was no evidence that the vaccine was responsible for their children’s problems.

At the same time it would have reassured parents that MMR was safe.

And, last but not least, it would almost certainly have prevented Wales’ worst measles epidemic this century.

The paper’s journalists can’t argue that they weren’t warned about the consequences of backing the wrong horse.

Tens of thousands of children were not vaccinated — and the rate in the Swansea area was so much greater than elsewhere in Wales that the only possible culprit is the Evening Post.

The paper made the wrong call.

It was rash journalism.

 ♦♦♦

WE WROTE  to current Evening Post editor Jonathan Roberts and the four named reporters who contributed to the campaign and spelt out these criticisms.

There was no reply from Roberts — who edits the largest circulation newspaper in Wales — by the time we went online.

Susan Buchanan, the chief reporter at the time, is now ironically, the communications chief at the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board, under her married name of Susan Bailey.

She had not commented by the time this piece was published.

As we have already seen, the current Post reporter Paul Turner won’t say if he is the same journalist who worked on the story in 1997.

Jo Bailey, now Jo Doek, is a press officer for Swansea City Council. She did not reply to emails.

Nick Dermody now works for the BBC in Cardiff. He too, did not answer  emails.

The Evening Post editor in 1997 was George Edwards.

He has not responded to our criticisms.

However, he told the BBC programme The Wales Report in April that the newspaper was not responsible for the fall in vaccination rates in Swansea.

He said the paper never told people not to get their children vaccinated — and was providing a service for its readers.

“As I saw it, their concerns were totally genuine.”

“Newspapers listen to their readers, report what they say, and then go to the relevant people and say ‘what have got to say about this?’ And then publish that response.”

He’s unrepentant.

“It’s impossible to have regrets. I’m certain that if we wound the clock back and started again, I can’t imagine any reason why we wouldn’t do it the same way.”

♦♦♦

NOTES

1  This article is based on a detailed survey of Evening Post articles in July, August and most of September 1997. It is not exhaustive and there remains scope for a major piece of academic research on what remains an important story about the interplay between the media and public health.

2  The only parent mentioned in this article is Jackie Eckton and she only features because she played  a central role in the 1997 campaign. She continues to insist that MMR damaged her son. We do not believe the parents featured in the “MMR Parents fight for the facts” campaign can be criticised for their part in the saga.

3  The articles by Brian Deer can be found on his website, click here.

4  The full defence of the Evening Post by current editor Jonathan Robers can be found here.

5  The BBC online report of then Evening Post editor George Edwards’ justification of the 1997 campaign can be found here.

6  The National Autism Society can be found here

7  The campaign group JABS, headed by Jackie Fletcher, can be found here.

8  More information on the current measles outbreak can be found on the Public Health Wales website, here.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

DONATIONS  If you would like to support the work of Rebecca Television, you can do so by clicking on the DONATE button.

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COMING UP
The Son Of The Man From Uncle
tells the story of the rise to power of the current Director of BBC Wales, Rhodri Talfan Davies. He’s a member of one of the most powerful media dynasties Wales has ever seen — his father Geraint Talfan Davies was head of BBC Wales for ten years. Geraint Talfan Davies’ father was a senior executive at the corporation in Wales and his uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was one of the dominant figures in Wales for more than a quarter of a century.


ITV BID TO GAG REBECCA TELEVISION

September 1, 2013

rebecca_logo_04

A  MAJOR battle is taking place between the broadcasting giant ITV and Rebecca Television.

Lawyers acting for ITV have given Rebecca Television until today to remove from the website a controversial interview which the company suppressed ten years ago.

The interview was given by Ron Jones, chairman of the independent television production company Tinopolis.

Jones revealed the extraordinary background to the abrupt sacking of the company’s co-founder Rhodri Williams back in 2001.

Jones accused his former partner — now Wales Director of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom — of acting dishonestly.

The interview was first made public in our programme Hidden Agenda and the article A Man Of Conviction? published last year.

Lawyers are also insisting that even the information contained in the interview belongs to ITV and that none of it can be used.

This is censorship — and Rebecca Television will not accept it.

HIDDEN ONCE, HIDDEN TWICE, HIDDEN THREE TIMES The dramatic story behind Rhodri Williams' sudden departure from  the company he helped to found was suppressed in 2001, again in 2003 and now ITV want to hide it again.  Photo: Ofcom

HIDDEN ONCE, HIDDEN TWICE, HIDDEN THREE TIMES
The dramatic story behind Rhodri Williams’ sudden departure from the company he helped to found was kept secret in 2001, suppressed in 2003 and now ITV wants to bury it all over again…   Photo: Ofcom


ON JUNE 17 this year ITV wrote to Rebecca Television (RTV) giving the website seven days to remove all trace of a celebrated interview.

The company want the interview — with the independent producer Ron Jones — removed from the programme Hidden Agenda.

The interview took place in 2003.

It dramatically revealed how Rhodri Wiliams, the current Wales Director of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, came to be sacked from the production company Tinopolis in 2001.

Williams was dismissed for dishonesty after allegedly diverting business from Tinopolis — then called Agenda — to a competitor.

Williams denied acting dishonestly — he said at the time the allegation was “defamatory and libellous”.

The interview with Ron Jones was carried out by the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week in 2003.

At the time Rebecca Television editor Paddy French worked for ITV Wales and was the producer in charge of the proposed programme.

It was never broadcast.

Later in 2003 Rhodri Williams was appointed Wales Director of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

(The story of the suppression of the interview in 2003 is told in the article A Licence To Censor.)

In April 2012 Rebecca Television finally used the Ron Jones interview in the preparation of the programme Hidden Agenda and the article A Man Of Conviction?

More than a year later ITV lawyer John Berry said that ITV’s “attention had been drawn” to the use of the material.

“The video Hidden Agenda in particular includes and relies heavily upon previously unbroadcast footage filmed for Wales This Week and owned by ITV.”

“As you are no doubt aware, the making of a copy of a copyright work and the communication of such a work to the public without the permission of the copyright owner is contrary to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988.”

Berry demanded that ITV’s material be removed within seven days and noted “we reserve all rights, in particular our right to bring legal proceedings against you including but not limited to those relating to breach of confidence and infringement of copyright.”

The deadline was eventually extended to September 1.

On June 24 RTV editor Paddy French emailed a reply.

He pointed out that ITV Wales had never shown any interest in the Ron Jones interview.

(The tapes sat on his desk until he left the company in 2008 and took them with him.)

RON JONES ITV are goig to extraordinary efforts to remove Gave  an extraordinary interview to ITV Wales  in 2003

RON JONES
One of the founders of Tinopolis, the Llanelli-based television production company. He gave the interview in 2003 but it was nearly a decade before it entered the public domain.  Photo: Tinopolis

He stated: “there is as powerful a public interest in this material seeing the light of day today as there was when it was filmed.”

“There is an argument that this material was censored back in 2003 and that … this present attempt to remove this material leaves the company vulnerable to the accusation that it is acting as censor.”

♦♦♦ 

ITV did not respond to this email. 

On July 2 French emailed ITV again.

This time he pointed out that, although ITV was concentrating on removing the material relating to Rhodri Williams, there was other ITV copyright material on the Rebecca Television website.

This included part of another interview which had never seen the light of day until RTV included it in the programme A Touch of Frost.

This video, which was first published  in April 2011, includes part of an ITV interview with a man called Des Frost.

“A key part of his testimony was not included in a 1997 Wales This Week programme because the Waterhouse child abuse Tribunal threatened contempt proceedings if it was broadcast.”

But the Tribunal did not call Frost as a witness and never heard his claims that he reported child abuse to the police ten years before they began investigating.

Paddy French had worked on this 1997 programme as a freelance investigator.

“There was no objection to the use of this footage by ITV Wales … in 2011.”

A Touch of Frost took on a dramatic significance last November when the BBC programme Newsnight allowed Stephen Messham to falsely imply that Lord McAlpine was a paedophile.

This led to the government ordering a new police investigation and a review, headed by Mrs Justice Macur, into the way the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse had carried out its task.

French added: “I immediately alerted ITV Wales to the fact that the company held what was now highly significant archive material. This resulted in a new Wales This Week programme which went out last November.”

“As part of this process I was able to reveal that I had met Sir Ronald Waterhouse back in 2000 to discuss the Frost material. This gave ITV Wales several exclusive stories.”

“I say all this,” French went on, “to emphasise the mutuality of the relationship between ITV and RTV.”

“Without my knowledge, ITV Wales would have missed the fact that they held valuable archive while my long-term interest in the issue proved invaluable to the station.”

“In conclusion, I would say that this is a highly unusual position.”

“For ten years I was a conscientious employee of ITV Wales and since I have left my expertise has come in useful on several occasions …”

“I believe that an agreement whereby I am allowed to use the ITV Wales material for a nominal £1 payment would satisfy the company’s interests.”

♦♦♦ 

Again, ITV did not reply.

Instead, the company instructed the London solicitors Olswang to take up the issue.

On July 30 the firm wrote to RTV, dismissing the suggestion that ITV allow the use of the material for a nominal £1.

“ITV has not and will not in the future provide you with permission to use the ITV property …”

Olswang also dismissed the public interest argument: “there is clearly no public interest in broadcasting material which you have obtained without consent from our client and which raises no current issue of public importance.”

“In fact, it is apparent from an article featuring on the website entitled A Licence To Censor, which states that you and Rhodri Williams fell out in the 1980s, that rather than you being motivated by public interest concerns, you in fact have personal motivations for wanting the ITV property relating to Rhodri Williams to be published.”

(French denies this — see the discussion of the issue in the article A Licence To Censor.)

MYSTERY Rhodri Williams started his public career in 1996 when he was appointed a member of the Welsh Language Board. In the period 1996-2004 he would take home a total of more than £180,000 in fees and pension contributions. Photo: Rebecca

Mr REGULATOR
Rhodri Williams leads the Welsh arm of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom. He’s a well-connected man: his wife Siân’s best friend is former Labour AM Delyth Evans who is the partner of Ofcom boss Ed Richards. Both Evans and Richards once worked for Gordon Brown.  Photo: Rebecca Television

Olwang added: “Your claims that ITV is acting as a censor are also without foundation, as ITV is simply trying to protect its rights in the unbroadcast ITV property.”

The firm has now demanded that all other ITV material be removed from the RTV site.

♦♦♦ 

THE UPSHOT of this legal wrangling is that Rebecca Television has no choice but to remove the physical ITV material from the website.

“There is, and never was, any doubt that ITV owned the copyright to the material,” says Paddy French.

“I had hoped the company would turn a blind eye because it was embarrassed that it had never broadcast some of the material.”

“For several years, this is what seems to have happened.”

“Now, for reasons that are unclear, it has decided to act.”

“It is interesting that ITV’s main interest is in the Ron Jones interview that damages the reputation of the Ofcom Wales Director Rhodri Williams.”

This means that the programmes Hidden Agenda and A Touch Of Frost have been temporarily withdrawn for re-editing.

Other material has also been removed, including the well-known doorstep where former Anglesey County Councillor John Arthur Jones called Paddy French a paedophile.

Originally, this appeared in the article The Gospel According to “Jesus” Arthur Jones.

♦♦♦ 

But that’s not the end of the matter.

Olswang also insist that “ITV is also the owner of the confidential information in the unbroadcast ITV property…”

The use of this information “is clearly a breach of confidence.”

“The article entitled A Man Of Conviction? which is based on and quotes from the Ron Jones interview should therefore also be removed from the website.”

“This is unacceptable to Rebecca Television,” said French.

“It’s a clear attempt to censor information already in the public domain — and which belongs in the public domain.”

Rebecca Television will not be complying with this condition.”

“The fact that the company is making such a determined effort to remove all trace of the Ron Jones interview suggests that other, deeper forces may be at work here,” added French.

This is not the first time RTV has faced legal demands for the withdrawal of articles.

In July three senior Welsh Rugby Union figures — chairman David Pickering, chief executive Roger Lewis and communications chief John Williams — instructed solicitors to threaten legal action if the article A Licence To Censor was not taken down.

The article told the story of the censorship of a damaging business profile of Pickering back in 2006 by ITV Wales director of programmes Elis Owen.

In the article WRU Big Guns v Rebecca Television, RTV refused to axe the article.

So far, we have heard nothing from Pickering, Lewis, Williams or their solicitors.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

DONATIONS  If you would like to support the work of Rebecca Television, you can do so by clicking on the DONATE button.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

COMING UP

With two television programmes temporarily withdrawn for re-editing, Rebecca Television will shortly publish the next video — Brothers in the Shadows. It’s a dark tale of a vicious murderer in North Wales who groomed a vulnerable young girl and formed a paedophile ring to sexually exploit her. One ring member was a retired police detective who claims he was persuaded to join the gang by a fellow freemason…  


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