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Carl Sargeant felt 'over-policed' by First Minister's office, inquest hears

Carl Sargeant was found dead at his home in Connah's Quay last November Credit: Family photo

The inquest into the death of former Welsh Government minister Carl Sargeant has begun in Ruthin.

The start of proceedings was delayed by two and a half hours, but once it began the inquest heard evidence from police and ambulance crews who first attended Carl Sargeant's home in November last year.

The former Children's and Communities Secretary was found dead at his Connah's Quay home last November, four days after after being sacked from his role in the Welsh Government. He was facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

The inquest began with coroner John Gittins telling the court that this "will not be a trial by press, politics or personality."

A letter written by Mr Sargeant to family and friends was also read aloud. In it, he said he had "let you all down badly".

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The court also heard evidence from Mr Sargeant's GP Dr David Morris who said Mr Sargeant had experienced three episodes of depression since 2012. He'd first visited the practice in March 2012 saying he was feeling low, and was having trouble sleeping triggered by the illness of a family member.

Mr Sargeant told doctors he felt less pressure when he was working in Cardiff, but would feel low at weekends when he returned home. He was diagnosed with 'moderately severe' depression and prescribed medication for a couple of months.

He returned to the doctors in 2014 and 2016 with further symptoms including trouble sleeping and anxiety and was diagnosed with moderate depression.

Dr Morris told the hearing the last time Mr Sargeant had a consultation was in November 2016, but repeat prescriptions were issued for his medication up to October 2017.

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The inquest has also heard evidence from former Welsh Government minister Leighton Andrews.

The former Education Minister said he and Mr Sargeant joined the National Assembly together in 2003, they had both worked together on Carwyn Jones's leadership campaign and had subsequently both been appointed to his cabinet.

Mr Andrews lost his seat in 2016 and said he kept in contact with Mr Sargeant, but it was not regular.

He last saw him in September 2017 at a friend's 40th birthday. He said the two exchanged 'political gossip,' and Mr Sargeant felt he was being 'over-policed' and 'micromanaged' by the First Minister's office, but he didn't give any signs of a cause for concern.

On the morning of the cabinet reshuffle, Mr Andrews text Mr Sargeant after seeing rumours of a reshuffle on Twitter and shared what he had read with Mr Sargeant.

He text messages of support to Mr Sargeant that evening and again on the evening before Mr Sargeant's death.

Mr Andrews told the court he also sent messages to First Minister on the evening of the reshuffle and Mr Jones's senior advisor following media interviews on the day before Mr Sargeant's death.

Mr Andrews said he felt those interviews had a significant impact on Mr Sargeant and 'fuelled his despair.'

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The third witness to be called to give evidence was Sophie Howe, Mr Sargeant's former special advisor. Mrs Howe told the court she worked for Mr Sargeant between 2009 and 2013 and they were good friends.

She said he'd told her of his struggles with mental health and also told her he shared his struggles with First Minister Carywn Jones.

Mrs Howe explained that during the four years she worked for Mr Sargeant, he was up and down and he would tell her if he was having a bad day describing how he would say he was having 'a black dog day.' She said he was increasingly open with others about his mental health.

The week before Mr Sargeant's death, Mrs Howe and her husband had been in New York with Mr Sargeant and his wife and Mr Sargeant had talked about hearing rumours of a reshuffle and said he was worried about his position.

When they returned, she spoke to him on the morning of the reshuffle and she wished him good luck. Mrs Howe said Mr Sargeant rang her in the afternoon saying "I'm out and it's bad". She said he'd told her about the allegations and that he didn't know what they were.

Mrs Howe drove him up his flat in Cardiff Bay and stayed with him for a few hours as she was worried about him.

Over the weekend, Mrs Howe said she thought Mr Sargeant had ‘perked up’ and had started to think of what to do next but by Monday November 6 he was down again.

She told the inquest she spoke to him on the morning he died after receiving a text from another friend. She said they’d had about three conversations. The coroner said she was one of the last people to speak to Mr Sargeant.

Later that morning, she received a message from Mr Sargeant as part of a group text saying ‘I love you all.’ Mrs Howe told the inquest she thought he’d meant it in a ‘thank you’ way. She went into a meeting but left shortly after as she was worried about what he had actually meant. She rang his landline and was told what had happened.

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Mr Sargeant's widow Bernie was due to give evidence today but that has now been postponed until later this week.

More than 30 witnesses will give evidence over the next 5 days including the First Minister Carwyn Jones.

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