IS THE BBC ANTI-LABOUR?

December 21, 2019

Pride of Britain Awards - London

THE PRESS GANG report on the Panorama programme Is Labour Anti-Semitic? was published on December 7.

Press Gang found the BBC was biased in its journalism, leaving the Corporation open to the charge that the broadcast was a deliberate attempt to interfere in the General Election. 

The interim report lists serious breaches of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines in the 59 minute programme first aired on July 10.

You can read the report here.

The Panorama programme is still available on iPlayer — the link is here.

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines can be accessed here. 

The Press Gang 16 page report — rush-released to be available before the election — cites nine separate occasions when programme-makers were in breach of the Editorial Guidelines. 

Copies were delivered  to various media organisations in London.

A hundred went to senior managers and journalists at the BBC. 

Other copies went to the Channel 4 News, Sky News, LBC, the Guardian and the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday

Here’s the report’s dramatic cover. 

BBC_cover_08_b

Our investigation into this rogue journalism continues.

This is important work and you can underwrite this project by supporting our crowdfunded site — here. 

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THE REPORT was published on Saturday, 7 December 2019. 

The next morning, the BBC Press Office got in touch and asked for the following statement to be included:

The BBC stands by its journalism and we completely reject any accusations of bias or dishonesty. Panorama explored a topic of undoubted public interest, broadcasting powerful and disturbing testimonies from party members who’d suffered anti-Semitic abuse. We also heard from former Labour officials, some of whom defied non-disclosure agreements to speak out about their experiences inside the Party and its anti-Semitism crisis. This shows the serious questions facing the party and its leadership on this issue. The programme adhered to the BBC’s editorial guidelines, including a full right of reply for the Labour Party. John Ware is a highly experienced and respected investigative journalist, whose track record includes critically-acclaimed and award-winning reports. We reject any claims Panorama took any of the evidence out of context. 

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NOTE
1 Paddy French declares an interest in this issue. A life-long Labour voter, he joined the party after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader.
2 Much of this article is based on the work of others including The Canary, Electronic Intifada, Vox Political and Jewish Voice for Labour.
3 On December 13 the article was amended to include the statement from the BBC.

4 There is a typo in the Press Gang pamphlet Is The BBC Anti-Labour? In the note on page 15, the figure 763 should read 673. The error does not affect the other figures in the note which remain correct. 

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Published: 7 December 2019
© Press Gang
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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.

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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 …

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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.

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Published: 13 August 2016
© Press Gang
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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.

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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 …

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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 …

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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THIS INVESTIGATION continues.

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

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Published: 8 August 2016
© Press Gang
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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.

♦♦♦

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 …

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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?

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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.

♦♦♦

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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 of 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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