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Grief and anger as First Minister faces AMs

The First Minister will explain to AMs his handling of allegations against Carl Sargeant

There's a strange and deceptive sense of calm in the Assembly today. Outside, the flags are still flying at half mast while inside the book of condolences for Carl Sargeant is filling up with thoughts and memories of the late Communities Secretary.

It's been the strangest and most unreal time in politics that I've ever experienced. As the news sank in on Tuesday I saw politicians and staff from different parties hugging each other and in tears. I saw people breaking down without any thought of who might see them or where they were. On every face there was shock and disbelief.

Since then things have moved incredibly fast and grief has become mixed with anger about the handling of the allegations against Carl Sargeant, anger that in some instances has been turned with ferocity against the First Minister and Welsh Labour leader, Carwyn Jones.

He's said to be deeply upset by the loss of a friend and colleague. He's called a meeting of Labour AMs today and will make a statement immediately afterwards. Last night I understood that he wasn't intending to resign although that's exactly what some from inside the party are calling for, including the Labour deputy leader of Flintshire council, Bernie Attridge who was a close friend of Carl Sargeant's.

Other Labour figures I've spoken to have also talked about a sense of anger amid the shock. I'm told that Labour AMs aren't necessarily going into today's meeting with the First Minister demanding his resignation. Depending on what Carwyn Jones tells them the situation could seem very different by the end of the day.

The Senedd, Cardiff Bay. Credit: David Davies/PA Wire/PA Images

They want clarification and reassurance from the First Minister, clarification that procedures in dealing with the allegations against Carl Sargeant were followed and reassurance that everything possible was done to treat both Mr Sargeant and the complainants fairly.

Because that's where the questions are. Some Labour sources believe there is a concern about the timeline. In his interview with me on Monday, Carwyn Jones said that he first heard about the allegations at the beginning of last week. I've now heard from several sources the suggestion that two of the allegations were known about before that time and one at least was discussed with Mr Sargeant and his explanation accepted.

Labour sources insist that, despite the distressing chain of events, the correct procedures were followed, that Mr Sargeant was told about the nature of the allegations, that there would be an investigation and that he would receive the detailed allegations when the investigation proper began.

There are questions then about how fairly or sensitively Mr Sargeant was treated by the process but voices are now being raised again which have been lost in the cacophony of claims and counter claims, speaking up for the need to treat fairly and sensitively those who make complaints about improper behaviour and sexual harassment.

Not disclosing details of times and places in such cases is crucial to ensuring that people have the confidence to come forward without necessarily being identified.

Today, a Welsh Labour figure who was a senior member of Jeremy Corbyn's communications team during the election, backed that explanation. Steve Howells wrote the following on twitter:

It's sometimes difficult to distinguish between the competing voices, the howls of grief and the shouts of anger, the genuine dismay and distress and, perhaps distastefully, the politically-motivated because there are some who are making use of this tragedy for that purpose.

A man has died and his family needs answers. Serious allegations about behaviour have been made which need answering. The biggest and the worst crisis Carwyn Jones has ever faced is mixed up with unimaginable emotions. This is both a political and a human crisis.

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