Carl Sargeant’s death leads to claims of ‘bullying and toxicity’ in Welsh Government

Photo credit: Wojtek Gak via Flicr/National Assembly for Wales

By Silvia Martelli

Carl Sargeant, Assembly Member for Alyn and Deeside, was found dead at his home in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire. His death occurred four days after he had lost his job as cabinet secretary for communities and children in the Welsh Parliament. Mr Sargeant had also been suspended by the Labour party following complaints of personal misconduct towards women, which consisted of “inappropriate attention, touching or groping.”

A post-mortem examination was carried out by Dr Andrew Dalton, and the provisional cause of death was identified as hanging.

The dreadful news left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in “deep shock”, while Prime Minister Theresa May said her “heart goes out to Carl Sargeant’s friends and family”.

John Gittins, coroner for North Wales East and Central, clarified the inquest would not consider the veracity of the allegations made against Mr Sargeant, nor would he be “looking to the Welsh Assembly or the Labour Party and making adjudications as to who is right and wrong.” He added that the trial would be one by “press, politics or personality”.

As part of the investigation, however, Mr. Gittins will be required to gather evidence to reach a conclusion on whether it was Mr Sargeant’s intention to end his life at that time, considering the steps taken by the Assembly to “have regard to Mr Sargeant’s mental welfare”.

Following the death of Mr Sargeant, Steve Jones, former media adviser for the first minister, made claims of bullying, “fear and loathing” within the Welsh Labour party. “Ministers were undermined by senior advisers playing power games and seeking to exert unreasonable control over government. It went way beyond any ‘office politics’ or personality clashes,” he said. Some ministers, including Mr Sargeant, “would have their diaries unreasonably monitored and questioned, their policy proposals shelved and direct access to the first minister blocked”.

“Things improved for a few months, then the poison returned and it began to engulf others – advisers and ministers alike. It was clear that all this was getting Carl down,” he continued. “It also became increasingly obvious that Carwyn [Jones, Welsh first minister] was either unwilling or unable to address the culture that existed within his office.”

Former cabinet minister Leighton Andrews agreed there was a ‘toxic’ atmosphere at the top of the administration, and that some behaviors were ‘pure poison’. The Welsh Government did not recognise such claims.

Mr Jones, who had sacked Mr Sargeant from his frontbench after learning of a number of alleged incidents, said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” and paid tribute to “a friend as well as a colleague”. On Thursday, he faced harsh criticism following his claim that an inquiry should only be held if it was not possible for the AM’s family to get answers through an inquest. Pressured by Wales Labour MPs Mark Tami and Ian Lucas, former local government minister Leighton Andrews, opposition parties, and Mr Sargeant’s family request for a probe to start “immediately”, he eventually ordered an independent inquiry into his handling of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal.

Wales’ health secretary Vaughan Gething said he did not believe Mr Jones would resign, while Bernie Attridge, deputy leader of Flintshire council and lifelong friend of Mr Sargeant, has called on the first minister to step aside.

Mr. Sargeant leaves behind a wife and two children.

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