1. ITV Report

Carl Sargeant's family consider legal challenge to inquiry into his sacking

The family of Carl Sargeant found dead following groping allegations are considering a High Court challenge to the independent inquiry into his sacking.

The 49-year-old former minister was found hanged at his home in Connah's Quay, North Wales, on November 7 last year.

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His death came four days after he was removed from his role as cabinet secretary for communities and children by First Minister Carwyn Jones.

The father-of-two was suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of "unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping".

He was not told the details of what he was accused of and was unable to properly defend himself, his family said.

An independent inquiry into the handling of Mr Sargeant's sacking is still to be held by the Welsh Government.

But Mr Sargeant's family said they have been denied the right to legal representation at the inquiry and will challenge the process in court if they have to.

They say the procedures and rules, or operational protocol, set by civil servants in the Welsh Government with inquiry chairman Paul Bowen QC, are "deeply unsatisfactory".

The grieving Sargeant family are losing patience and faith in the inquiry and are hurt and upset that everything they have asked for has been ignored.

While the family take at face value Mr Bowen's assurances that he will carry out a fair and independent investigation, they do not believe the protocol allows for it.

The Permanent Secretary, acting on behalf of the First Minister, has refused to allow the family to have their own legal representation at the inquiry, meaning they will be unable to have a barrister cross-examine any of the witnesses.

I have written to both Paul Bowen and the Permanent Secretary to advise them that we believe the decision-making in relation to the protocol to be unreasonable and we will challenge it by way of a judicial review in the High Court if we have to.

– Neil Hudgell, Hudgell Solicitors, representing the Sargeant family
The First Minister will be called to give evidence at Mr Sargeant's full inquest Credit: PA Images

The Welsh Conservatives say any 'obstruction' to the Sargeant family getting answers is 'unacceptable'.

In response, the Welsh Government said they will consider the legal arguments "carefully" but argued the proceedings to be "misconceived."

The principle that interviews be conducted by the investigation team is a common feature of inquiries and investigations undertaken at the request of Government, and this has been agreed with Mr Bowen throughout the recent discussions leading to the final version of the operational protocol.

The protocol sets out the basis on which the investigation will be conducted and enables the family and any other participant to put forward questions they wish to be asked by the investigator.

No concerns about timing have been raised previously, indeed earlier representations about timing indicated a wish for the investigation to proceed as quickly as possible, which is now happening. We will consider the detailed legal arguments carefully but consider the proposed proceedings to be misconceived.

– Welsh Government spokesperson

An inquest into Mr Sargeant's death is also yet to be held.

A second pre-inquest hearing last Friday was told that Mr Sargeant had been suffering from depression for two years before his death.

John Gittins, Senior Coroner for North Wales, said the First Minister will be called to give evidence at the full inquest and will be questioned about what he knew about Mr Sargeant's mental health.

In a statement, Mr Jones said he had not been aware of any mental health illness or vulnerabilities at the time, but said Mr Sargeant may have had a "problem with alcohol".

In April, Mr Jones announced that he is to stand down as Wales' first minister this autumn.

Cathryn McGahey QC, representing the department of the First Minister, told the hearing an "increasing number of women" had come forward or "been identified" as saying they were subjected to inappropriate behaviour by Mr Sargeant.

The inquest has been adjourned to a date to be fixed.