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Conservatives’ lockdown lock-in investigated

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THE CONSERVATIVE Party is investigating senior Senedd members and staff’s attendance at a lockdown lock-in held on December 8.

The allegations concern a meeting in the Members’ tearoom between Labour backbencher Alun Davies and Conservative group members and their support staff.

Conservative Chief of Staff Paul Smith, Darren Millar MS the Conservatives’ Chief Whip, and Preseli Pembrokeshire MS, the Conservative Group Leader Paul Davies attended the meeting.

The incident took place on December 8, barely a week after hospitality businesses in Wales were forced to close.

Those present claim they met in the members’ tea room to discuss legislation for possible inclusion in the Welsh Conservative manifesto with the former Labour Cabinet Minister.

On December 8, the Senedd finished early because of technical issues with webcasting equipment. The record of the adjourned shows the Plenary Session attended by members ended around 5:45 in the evening.

The Sun newspaper alleges that drinking continued until the early hours of the following (Wednesday) morning.

‘WE DIDN’T BREAK THE RULES’

Those attending deny any breach of the lockdown rules.

A joint statement from Paul Davies, Darren Millar, and Paul Smith said: “We are profoundly sorry for our actions.

“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through.”

Monmouth Conservative MS Nick Ramsay was named among those present in the tearoom at the time. His name was not, however, attached to the joint statement referred to above.

On Wednesday (January 20), Mr Ramsay denied he attended any ‘gathering’ on the day in question

However, his statement is profoundly unhelpful to the others named.

Through his solicitor, Mr Ramsay confirmed he was at the tea room on his own at the Senedd, without an invitation from anyone else, after work.

“He was hungry, and he wanted to get something to eat. He was working on an article for the Argus (his local newspaper). He sat on his own and was socially distanced,” said his solicitor.

“He attended the tea room at approximately 6 pm. He had chicken curry. He left at about 8 pm. Others came in whilst he was there, but it was not a ‘gathering’ Mr Ramsay was part of.”

Taking Mr Ramsay’s words at face value, he spent two hours in the tea room, and there was ’a gathering’, with people coming in and out.

Two hours is a long time to discuss an uncontroversial potential manifesto pledge with a Government backbencher.

Again, taking Mr Ramsay’s words at face value, an inference exists that the ‘gathering’ continued after he left.

If The Sun’s claims that the ‘manifesto discussions’ extended to 2:00 am are accurate – and an internal probe by the Senedd Commission is bound to find out – those involved are doomed.

MILLAR’S WORDS HAUNT TORIES

Darren Millar’s presence intensifies the Conservatives’ embarrassment at talking the talk but not walking the walk.

In May, Mr Millar led calls for Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething to be sacked for eating a bag of chips in a park with one of his own children.

When it comes to words a speaker might regret in the future, Darren Millar’s video demand for Vaughan Gething’s dismissal is one hell of a hill to choose to die upon.

It doesn’t help when your party leader doubles down on the same issue, by alluding to it in a television interview months later.

“I don’t think anybody should break the rules,” Paul Davies said, seizing the moral high ground in an ITV Wales interview from September.

“The rules were there whether you were travelling to Barnard Castle or you were travelling to buy some chips. No one should have been breaking the rules.”

Suppose the Conservative Party follows the logic of their previously stated positions. In that case, Mr Millar’s and Mr Davies’ futures look bleak indeed.

Number 10’s response was less than a ringing endorsement.

Speaking at a lobby briefing, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, said she had not spoken to the prime minister about whether Paul Davies should stay.

She added: “The prime minister needs everybody – no matter their status, no matter their position in life – to be going above and beyond in following the rules on Covid.”

To his credit, Vaughan Gething rejected the opportunity to knife Mr Millar when asked about the lockdown lock-in.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

With a Senedd election only months away, the revelations have thrown the Conservatives into disarray.

Bitter recriminations have whistled around the media, involving briefing and counter-briefing from within the Conservative Party’s own ranks.

Candidates who are justifiably angry and at the sharp end of voters’ reactions have been told to shut up. Meanwhile, the hunt is on for who leaked the story.

This writer can confirm he was told about an unspecified issue involving chief whip Darren Millar before Christmas. Supposing it referred to Mr Millar’s personal life, he shelved it.

Just after the New Year, he was told Central Office was examining an issue concerning the Chief Whip and Chief of Staff.

More details emerged about an alleged party in the Senedd during lockdown which involved Senedd Members and their staff. At this stage, ten days ago at the time of writing, the story’s bones were in place. Shortly afterwards, we discovered national media already had much of the same information.

We probed further and, this Tuesday afternoon decided we had enough to publish. We invited the Conservative group press office to respond.

With the Welsh Government under increasing criticism after Mark Drakeford’s disastrous appearance on Radio Four on Monday, an opportunity to spike the Conservative guns was desperately needed.

One theory runs that Alun Davies, the Labour Member concerned, was turned in by another member of the Labour group – a Regional Member of the Senedd – who dislikes him.

It is not going too far to suppose that throwing Alun Davies under the bus to get at the Conservatives’ big guns was a price Labour thought worth paying.

The Labour press office’s statement and Alun Davies’ carefully-phrased appeared in Cardiff-based media minutes after we broke the story online.

We hadn’t even requested a comment from Labour before publishing our original article.

Having a statement ready, showed remarkable foresight by Labour’s spin machine.

None of the above distracts from the embarrassment the Conservatives have suffered.

That has not prevented a certain amount of gallows humour.

Among the tarter observations made to The Herald by one insider was that after going so aggressively at Vaughan Gething over ‘Chipgate’, things couldn’t have rebounded on a more deserving Welsh Conservative than Darren Millar.

LEADERSHIP QUESTIONS

Paul Davies is widely respected as a decent man whose own moderate and constructive instincts were pushed aside in favour of more combative and aggressive messaging.

The Conservatives’ tone in their media statements and appearances has notably calmed down in the last couple of months.

Some insiders claim Paul Davies’ failure to clamp down on his candidates’ anti-devolution rhetoric is a sign of weak leadership. They say failing to be upbeat about devolution could reap the whirlwind at elections to the Senedd.

However, the blame doesn’t all lie with Paul Davies; the nonsensically fractured leadership model the Conservatives have in Wales is also to blame.

Conservative MS David Melding wrote that an alien landing at the Conservatives’ annual conference in Llandudno who asked to be taken to the leader, would have three possible candidates: Simon Hart MP, Lord Davies of Gower (the Party Chair), or Paul Davies MS.

Where there are three centres of power, there are competing interests and egos. That causes friction. And friction produces a lot of heat and not much light.

If Paul Davies stood down, there are not many options to replace him.

David Melding and Angela Burns (the most moderate and most politically able respectively) are standing down.

Darren Millar would be out of the running.

Nick Ramsay’s problems with his Monmouthshire constituency rule him out.

Laura Anne Jones succeeded the late Oscar Ashgar last year, although she has previously been an Assembly Member.

In the last leadership election, Suzy Davies, runner up to Paul Davies, finished eighth in her party’s list primary in South Wales West. She faces a ferocious constituency contest in Bridgend.

That does not leave a vast pool from which to draw a leader: Russell George, Janet Finch-Saunders, Mark Isherwood and the elephant in every room, former leader Andrew RT Davies.

Andrew RT Davies failed to command the backing of the Senedd group and left in a huff. The composition of the Senedd group has not much changed since then. However, Andrew RT Davies’ former Chief of Staff and devoted Senedd abolitionist Chris Thorne is head of campaigns for the Conservatives in Wales. It’s a combination that may play well with the faithful but repel the voters and the Senedd group.

The lack of an obvious alternative could play to Paul Davies’ advantage. Besides, any new leader’s appointment would, necessarily, be interim. If the Senedd election goes badly, they become a footnote. If it goes well, they might still be picked off in a subsequent poll of party members favouring another candidate more appealing to them.

Such an approach went well with Jeremy Corbyn.

And, of course, the Senedd election could be delayed, leaving any interim leader in limbo as party members whinge at not having had a say in electing them.

Whatever – or whoever – happens next, the Conservatives will need good luck and a following wind to cling onto their current relative strength in Wales’ opinion polls.

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Wales looking for third win in a row against England

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WALES have won their first two games in the Six Nations Championship and on Saturday, February 27, they put that record on the line against great rivals England.

Having already beaten Ireland and Scotland, the Triple Crown will be on the line for Wales, a feat they last achieved in 2019 when they won the Grand Slam.

That will be incentive enough for Wayne Pivac’s men but to do it against England will make it that little bit sweeter.

With France’s game against Scotland on Sunday in doubt, it will also give the home side a great chance to extend their lead at the top of the table.

Wales do not have any fresh injury concerns going into the England game and it will likely provide a selection headache for Pivac.

George North could be set to make his 100th appearance for Wales if he plays against England, and is currently second in the list of all-time try scorers for his home country.

England lost their opening game of the tournament against Scotland but got back to winning ways with a resounding 41-18 win over Italy.

The 2020 Six Nations and Autumn Cup Champions will be eager to rediscover their winning form which brought them that success but they will not find it easy against Wales.

What happened the last time England visited the Principality Stadium?
Wales last welcomed England to the Principality on February 23, 2019, and it was a game which saw Wales earn a 21-13 victory.

Cory Hill and Josh Adams scored Wales’ tries in that match while Dan Biggar and Gareth Anscombe added the rest of the points from the boot.

Tom Curry scored England’s only try in that match while Farrell had a 100% success rate with his kicks.

What happened when the sides met in 2020?

It was an absolute classic last year with England triumphing by 33 points to 30 at Twickenham.

Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Manu Tuilagi got the tries for England on that day while Owen Farrell had again had a 100% record with the boot.

Justin Tipuric bagged two tries for Wales while Dan Biggar scored their other as the men in red came up short on this occasion.

Of course, the last two meetings between the two sides were played in front of capacity crowds but that will not be a factor this time around, owing to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Could that be a factor in the game or will both sides treat us to an excellent display of rugby?

After the England game, Wales travel to Italy on Saturday, March 13, while England will host France on the same day.

A win for either side this weekend will be crucial; a win for Wales and it sets them up for the Grand Slam while a win for England will reignite their hopes of retaining the Six Nations Championship.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 16:45 and can be seen on S4C as well as the BBC.

ENGLAND
Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, George Martin, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Rhodri Jones, Leon Brown, Cory Hill, James Botham, Gareth Davies, Callum Sheedy, Uilisi Halaholo.

WALES
Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Kieran Hardy; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

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COVID-19 tests being encouraged for wider range of symptoms

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PEOPLE living in Ceredigion are being encouraged to have a free COVID-19 test if they have a wider range of symptoms.

Previously, only those with either a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss/change of taste and smell, were advised to seek a test. The health board is now also encouraging people to have a test if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Flu-like symptoms, including myalgia (muscle ache or pain); excessive tiredness; persistent headache; runny nose or blocked nose; persistent sneezing; sore throat and/or hoarseness, shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Generally feeling unwell and a history of being in contact with a known COVID-19 case
  • Any new or change in symptoms following a previous negative test

The change aims to find hidden COVID-19 cases in our communities and drive down the numbers of onward transmissions.

Identifying infections, which could otherwise go undetected, is particularly important as new variants of the virus emerge. The more tests carried out, the easier it will be to spot early clusters of cases and possible virus mutations. This will help with easing restrictions in the future.

The new testing regime will initially run for at least 28 days and will then be reviewed. Swansea Bay University Health Board is also expanding its offer of testing in this way.

Alison Shakeshaft, Director of Therapies and Health Science at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “Overall, we are seeing a positive picture across the three counties and there has been a steady fall in the number of COVID-19 cases.

“Also, the demand for tests has come down considerably since the end of 2020, so we have capacity to expand the offer of testing to those with a wider range of symptoms.

“We know the wider group of symptoms do occur in COVID-19 but are not reported as often as the ‘classic three’ symptoms. With the very low rates of flu circulating at the moment, it is more likely that wider flu-like symptoms are due to COVID-19.

“Our aim is to find as many COVID-19 cases as possible so we can prevent the virus being passed on to others. We want to do everything we can to help bring the pandemic to a close as fast as possible and help restrictions to be lifted.”

If you have any of the symptoms outlined above, please stay at home and get a test by booking online via the UK portal https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test or ringing 119.

As these are national contacts, you may automatically be asked about the ‘classic three’ symptoms. However, to book your test simply choose either one of these options: “You have been asked to take a test by your local council” or “You are part of a government pilot project”.

Once you have had your test, you must continue to self-isolate until you receive your result, which will usually be within 24 hours of the test. If your result is positive, you must self-isolate for 10 days from the date your symptoms started. You will also be contacted by the local Tracing Team.

If your result is negative, you can end your self-isolation, when you feel well enough to do so.

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Dyfed-Powys Police lead chaplain, Reverend Tom Evans, to retire after “greatest nine years of working life”

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REVEREND Tom Evans (just Tom to officers and staff) is a bit of a legend in Dyfed-Powys Police, he has given his time freely and passionately to serve as the lead force chaplain for the past nine years – supporting officers and staff at the worst times of their lives and in the most challenging circumstances, but also cheering them on and celebrating with them at the best of times.

He’s been there for it all, and everyone knew that he was available 24/7, 365 days a year – astonishing dedication considering it was a volunteer role. In 2019, he clocked up a 1,000 hours volunteering, and this was pretty typical for him annually. He’s had a few desperate late night calls in this time, and stayed up talking until the early hours when the person on the other end of the phone needed it, and also taken calls whilst he and his wife Marilyn were holidaying abroad. But that’s the essence of Tom, nothing is ever too much trouble for him, and he genuinely and deeply cares about each and every person in the organisation.

He can be credited with ensuring that the multi faith Chaplaincy is now a part of the fabric of the organisation. He leads a team of 19 remarkable chaplains, which includes an Imam, volunteering throughout the force area – and he is quick to point out that it is the collective effort of them all that has guaranteed their ongoing success.

Commenting on his decision to retire, he said: “All things considered, I think it’s the appropriate time to leave, however sad I am to do so. At my age I think it is common sense. I retired from full time employment in 2008 – after an interesting and rewarding career. I was in the ministry first, moved onto world development matters with Christian Aid, then moved to media where I became a radio producer and presenter of programmes focusing on religion, and finally worked as a University lecturer. But volunteering as a Police chaplain has been a tremendous experience – one I wouldn’t have missed for the world, it’s been an absolute privilege. And I can honestly say it’s been the greatest nine years of my working life. The camaraderie and friendships I found when I joined the family community that is Dyfed-Powys Police will stay with me forever – I’ve met extraordinary people who have changed my life.”

The role has changed a lot over the nine years, and the chaplains are very much an important part of the operational response of the force. But he had to work hard at the beginning to gain the trust of officers and staff, who may have been a little cynical and wary of taking him into their confidence. He always resisted having an office, as he felt it was important for him to be in the company of and around officers and staff so that they could get to know him, and have plenty of opportunities to start informal conversations on the ground. Part of his (and the team’s) success is the fact that he’s always provided a non- judgemental, listening ear to all, whether they have faith or no faith, and speaks to everyone in a language they can understand.

Tom has enjoyed the varied nature of the role, and it has been far broader than just supporting staff in their day to day working life. He has been asked to conduct funeral services for staff and their loved ones, he’s married a few couples, blessed wedding rings, visited staff in hospital, done home visits, sat and provided comfort to some who were gravely ill and anything in between. He’s been in the thick of people’s highs and lows – be they work related or in their personal lives. Retired staff have also been known to reach out to him.

He has also supported officers and staff through some of the most tragic cases the force has had to deal with – notably the abduction and murder of April Jones (where he stayed up in the Machynlleth area for two weeks) and the fire at a farmhouse in Llangammarch Wells where a father and his five children lost their lives. His work on both earned him a Chief Constable Commendation and a Certificate of Appreciation respectively. He also won the accolade of Volunteer of the Year in the force awards in 2017. And although he was moved and humbled by these awards, he’s clear that it’s the people he’s helped through their sorrow and challenges that mean the most to him, and knowing he’s made a difference to them is recognition enough.

Tom is seen as a hero to many teams and individuals – and this was particularly true of the Disaster Victim Identification Team deployed to the tragic Llangammarch Wells fire.

PC 154 Thomas Draycott was part of the team, and said: “Tom is just one of those special people who puts people instantly at ease.  You can feel his genuine interest in people and you as a person whenever or wherever you speak to him.  He made numerous visits to our DVI team working on the protracted Llangammarch Wells fire recovery and it was clear that his visits were solely for the purpose of supporting us personally. With the weeks of long hours away from home, very difficult working conditions, and the extreme weather conditions, Tom’s positivity and warmth meant the world and he quickly became a bit of a hero within the team.  Each of his visits gave the team a much needed lift.  Even simple things like his amazing ability to remember everyone’s name adds to his personal touch. He will be sorely missed.”

At the conclusion of the recovery at the scene, Tom was humbled to be asked by the weary officers to conduct a service of closure and memorial inside the ruins – a very moving service that he will never forget, and he recalls there wasn’t a dry eye there.

Chaplaincy has not only been nurtured by Tom within Dyfed-Powys Police, but he was also central in introducing it to the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust. As an emergency service, they’d seen the benefits the Chaplaincy brought to staff in the police, and wanted the same service to be available for the wellbeing of their staff. Following discussions, Tom offered to coordinate and facilitate this for the Trust to get them started, and by January 2020 a volunteer chaplain was in post. The timing was opportune, considering the incredible pressure that was to be placed on the emergency service and its staff a short time later because of the pandemic.

The development of the Chaplaincy and ensuring its longevity has been a priority for Tom, demonstrated by his determination to secure a Continuous Professional Development Programme in Chaplaincy Studies with the University of Wales Trinity St David. The programme gives all blue light chaplains UK wide an opportunity to study for a Post- Graduate Certificate, Diploma and ultimately a Masters Degree in Chaplaincy Studies.

Chief Constable Mark Collins said: “We value all volunteers at Dyfed-Powys Police and can’t thank them enough for the support they provide us with. But I think I’m among many of my colleagues when I say Tom really stands out. He is part of a team that do outstanding work – and he has nurtured the Chaplaincy to the success it is today. He will be a hard act to follow, and his commitment to developing it and ensuring its future success is clearly demonstrated in his work on introducing the diploma in Chaplaincy studies.

“Our officers and staff see some truly harrowing and tragic events, and when people really need somebody to listen to them at times when they are really struggling, Tom has always been there, day or night. He has become a bit of a father figure for Dyfed-Powys Police and truly enriches the wellbeing of the force. He has put his heart and soul into the role. The workforce are always telling me he’s one of the nicest, most genuine and caring people they’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and the real difference he has made to their lives – inside and outside of work. We are all very sad to see him go.”

Tom Evans being presented with his award

Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn added: “Tom Evans has been an exceptional volunteer for the Force over the last ten years or so.  As chaplain, he has always been there for us through some challenging and difficult times; day and night. He has provided exceptional support and pastoral care to officers and staff and the wider policing community at times of difficulty and distress.

“I have been struck, but not at all surprised, at the huge amount of good wishes that have been sent to Tom since he announced his decision to retire. I want to add my own tribute to the way he has undertaken his duties and to note that he has gone well above and beyond what would have been expected.

“He will be very much missed by me and staff from my office and the extended policing family. I wish him a long, healthy and happy retirement.”

The Police Federation and Unison representatives also work closely with the Chaplains and recognise the significant role they can play in the welfare of officers and staff. Chair of the Dyfed-Powys Police Federation, Chief Inspector Gareth Jones said: “I have known Tom for several years, both during my time in Ceredigion and also since taking over as the Federation Chair. I have had the pleasure of knowing him professionally as well as personally and have always found him to be extremely approachable, caring and always willing to listen.

“I have witnessed first-hand the support he has provided to officers and staff who have experienced ill-health, bereavement or work and personal related issues. He leaves a massive void in the force chaplaincy and will be greatly missed across the force. I wish him and Marilyn all the very best for the future.”

Unison Branch Secretary Karen Phillips and Brach Chair Phil Williams have expressed their sincere gratitude to Tom for his unwavering support to their members in their times of need, and indeed the support he has given them personally in their roles to help their members.

Reflecting, Tom concluded: “Police officers and staff are a remarkable group of people. They experience traumatic and life changing events regularly. Some people get the impression that they are hard like anthracite. But I always tell people to look beyond the uniform, inside the uniform is a human being, full of emotions, like you or I. There have been times when officers have said to me that were it not for the support they received from the Chaplaincy, they would have left the police. And it is those extraordinary people, who’ve found the strength and commitment to carry on serving their communities, that have made my role as chaplain so rewarding.”

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