Labour official ‘stood down' from visiting Carl Sargeant on day of death: inquest
A Labour Party official was “stood down” from giving support to a politician sacked over sexual misconduct allegations on the day he was found dead, an inquest hearing has been told.
Ian McNicol, now Lord McNicol, was the then general secretary of Labour who told party official Andy Smith to visit Welsh Assembly member Carl Sargeant.
But at a pre-inquest hearing, Leslie Thomas QC told Ruthin Coroner’s Court the move was aborted.
Mr Sargeant, 49, was found hanged by his wife Bernadette four days after being removed from his role as cabinet secretary for communities and children in the Welsh Assembly last November.
The father-of-two, from Connah’s Quay, North Wales, was suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping”.
His family, who are critical of the way the matter was handled, say he was not told the details of what he was accused of and was unable to properly defend himself.
Mr Thomas asked Jon Gittins, Senior Coroner for North Wales (East and Central), to get statements from Lord McNicol and Mr Smith for the forthcoming full inquest into the death of Mr Sargeant.
He said: “Ian McNicol, on the day of Carl Sargeant’s death, he instructed an Andy Smith to go and see Carl to give him support.
“I understand these were Labour Party people.
“We invite you to take witness statements.
“Secondly, but more importantly, Andy Smith, he was to go and give support but was then stood down, and this is on the day of the death.
“What we would say is that at the very least you should investigate and take statements from these.”
An independent investigation by the Welsh government ordered by First Minister Carwyn Jones has stalled due to Mr Sargeant’s family seeking a judicial review over how it will operate.
Mrs Sargeant claims the government inquiry “has the makings of a cover-up”.
Mr Thomas asked for the inquest to be delayed for six months until the judicial review is heard and the government investigation has been completed.
But Mr Gittins declined the application and said the inquest will go ahead on November 26.
During the two-hour hearing, the court also heard records from Mr Sargeant’s personal phone on the day of his death and the note he left will be heard as evidence at the inquest.
Mr Gittins said part of his job as coroner is to make recommendations on the prevention of future deaths so lessons are learned.
He said the handling of the sacking of Mr Sargeant, a man who had suffered depression, was “one aspect” and the way it was done will be of interest to the hearing.
Thirty live witnesses, including Mr Sargeant’s wife and other family, friends and Labour Party officials, and 12 statements from other witnesses will be heard.
Mr Thomas also asked the coroner for Mr Sargeant’s “HR” file, which could contain details of disciplinary matters or “vulnerability”, to be produced as evidence.
But Cathryn McGahey QC, representing the department of the First Minister, told the hearing Mr Sargeant was a cabinet minister, not an employee, so no such file existed.
The hearing was adjourned until the full inquest scheduled to begin on November 26. It is listed to last up to five days.