By Yasmin Begum
In November 2017, Labour Party official and Equalities Minister, Carl Sargeant, ended his own life following a string of sexual assault allegations made against him. Sargeant was the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, a position that has since been reorganised. He was an elected official in Alyn and Deeside in North Wales and had worked in the Senedd as a politician since 2013; a position later succeeded by his 24-year-old son, Jack. It is now a year since his death, and an inquest has been opened to investigate into the circumstances surrounding his suicide.
In light of the #MeToo movement, we have seen the emergence of an environment which encourages those who have been sexually assaulted to come forward. This has been met with the movement holding institutions to account, ensuring they are implementing appropriate procedures under the circumstances of sexual assault allegations. Sargeant was met with an immediate dismissal from Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, following the claims made against him.
Shortly after hearing of the accusations made against him, Sargeant announced on Twitter that he was unaware of the exact nature of the allegations but stated the situation was “shocking and distressing” and that “[he] agreed with the First Minister that it was right [he] stand aside from Cabinet”.
He also added he was “requesting an urgent independent investigation into these allegations” and that he was looking forward to returning to Government as soon as possible.
The inquest is now underway, and it has come to light that Sargeant left a message to his family saying “I have failed you” and that they do not deserve to deal with the bad publicity following the sexual assault claims.
In court, Welsh Government minister Leighton Andrews has recently criticised the approach taken by Carwyn Jones to the sensitive situation, with some commenting that Sargeant should have been suspended following an investigation rather than pending.
Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, stated at the inquest that Sargeant’s work environment was “toxic” and implied it was unacceptable that he was sacked without being informed on the nature of the allegations made against him. Howe had also acted as special advisor to the minister since 2013, and commented she was worried about his mental state following his suspension. Sargeant’s GP, Dr David Morris, added that Sargeant had been exhibiting symptoms of depression since 2012.
Wales’ First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has spoken recently at the inquest stating that he warned Sargeant in 2014 about both his alcohol consumption and conduct. This was following receiving an anonymous letter saying the minister was “not fit to be around women”. Jones stresses that he was unaware that Sargeant was suffering from depression and was on medication.
The unfortunate and untimely death of Carl Seargant came as a shock to the Welsh Government and the Senedd, and there is no way of knowing what the inquest will conclude. Will it be decided Carwyn Jones’ actions deserve criticism, or will it be decided that due to Sargeant’s struggle with mental health issues this sad situation was unavoidable? The inquest continues.