Coroner rejects application to hear Sargeant misconduct allegations evidence
Coroner John Gittins dismissed the bid as ‘opportunistic’.
A coroner has rejected an application by lawyers for the former Welsh first minister to hear evidence about allegations of sexual misconduct by politician Carl Sargeant at his inquest.
Alyn and Deeside AM Mr Sargeant, 49, was found hanged at his home in Connah’s Quay on November 7 2017, four days after he was sacked from his job as cabinet secretary for communities and children after “bombshell” sex claims that he groped and touched women.
At the inquest into his death on Wednesday, Cathryn McGahey QC, representing former first minister Carwyn Jones, made an application to call evidence from former Flintshire County Council leader Aaron Shotton which may have contradicted evidence given by Mr Sargeant’s wife Bernie on Tuesday.
The lawyer said: “The reason for his application arises from evidence given by Mrs Sargeant yesterday. Our submission is that evidence may not have been complete or fully accurate.”
Senior coroner for North Wales (East and Central) John Gittins rejected the application and said it was “tactical” and designed to get round a previously rejected application to call Mr Shotton’s statement.
An appeal against the coroner’s earlier ruling not to allow that evidence, which included text messages relating to the behaviour of Mr Sargeant, was rejected by the High Court earlier this year.
Mr Gittins said: “Calling the witness is a further bite of that same cherry.”
The deceased person is not here to defend themselves. This is not a trial, remember there has been no investigation into these rumours and suspicion Leslie Thomas QC, representing Bernie Sargeant
The court heard Mrs Sargeant was only aware of one anonymous letter sent to her about her husband in 2014, alleging he was not fit to be around women.
But Ms McGahey said evidence from Mr Shotton suggested another letter had been received.
In a statement, Mr Shotton said in early 2017 he had been told by fellow Labour councillor Bernie Attridge that Mr Sargeant had received an anonymous letter making allegations about him being seen in a pub beer garden with a woman.
Mr Shotton also said an alleged incident involving Mr Sargeant had occurred at the evening reception of his wedding, although he said he did not witness it.
Ms McGahey said the evidence could be key to the “credibility and reliability” of Mrs Sargeant’s evidence and could provide information about what “incidents or allegations may have been preying or were preying on Mr Sargeant’s mind when he took his own life”.
Leslie Thomas QC, representing Mrs Sargeant and her son Jack, said Mr Shotton’s evidence was made up of rumour.
He said: “The deceased person is not here to defend themselves. This is not a trial, remember there has been no investigation into these rumours and suspicion.”
On Tuesday, Mrs Sargeant told the hearing at Ruthin County Hall that her husband had been “shell-shocked” by the allegations and she believed him “100%” when he denied them.
Mr Gittins said: “This is not a trial, having reviewed the statement of Aaron Shotton and evidence he might be able to give, there is nothing in it that mentions that Mrs Sargeant had knowledge, which she denied yesterday.”
He said the application was “outside the scope of the inquest” and “opportunistic”.
Gordon Nardell QC, a lawyer for the Labour Party, gave a statement to the inquest setting out reviews of policies and procedures.
He said: “The Labour Party has learned lessons around Carl Sargeant’s tragic death.”
Mr Gittins told the court he no longer needed to hear evidence from Mr Sargeant’s son Jack, who had been due to be called on Thursday.
He rejected an application by the media to disclose the text messages between Mr Attridge and Mr Shotton which had been referred to in legal arguments.
The court was adjourned until midday on Thursday when the coroner was expected to return his judgment.