Vaughan Gething sacked minister without formal inquiry

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) and First Minister of Wales Vaughan Gething (far right) in a café on Barry seafront during the ongoing general election campaign
-Credit: (Image: PA)

There was no formal inquiry into an alleged leak by a former Welsh Government minister before she was sacked. The leak in question showed that Vaughan Gething, who was health minister at the time, told ministerial colleagues he was deleting messages because otherwise they could later be released via a freedom of information request.

He wrote to a group of other cabinet ministers on August 17, 2020: "I’m deleting the messages in this group. They can be captured in an FOI [Freedom of Information request] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made."

After the messages were leaked Mr Gething, now First Minister, sacked social partnership secretary Hannah Blythyn. At the time the First Minister said he had "reviewed the evidence" and "regrettably reached the conclusion I have no alternative but to ask Hannah Blythyn to leave the government". Ms Blythyn strenuously denied being the source of the link.

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Mr Gething has repeatedly refused to publish the evidence underpinning the decision to sack Ms Blythyn. However it is has now been confirmed that no leak inquiry was embarked upon prior to her dismissal.

In a letter to the Senedd's public accounts and administration committee ethics director David Richards confirmed that "no leak inquiry was commissioned or undertaken by the Welsh Government". He added: "Advice was sought by the First Minister and provided in relation to process on handling a breach of the Ministerial Code."

He was asked by the committee: "Can officials provide factual information to the committee on whether government resources (putting aside the question of whether a formal leak inquiry has been commissioned) have been used to conduct a forensic analysis of ministerial phones, personal phones, Senedd-supplied phones, server traffic, and any other form of telecommunications equipment?" To this Mr Richards said: "No such analysis has been conducted by the Welsh Government."

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Plaid Cymru MS Adam Price, who questioned Mr Richards on this issue, said: "Sacking a minister is a serious matter. In the case of Hannah Blythyn it is increasingly clear that the First Minister’s actions lack transparency and that the normal safeguards of natural justice were not afforded to the former minister. With no formal leak inquiry undertaken and in the absence of an independent investigation under the ministerial code we have to ask on what evidence and on whose advice was the First Minister acting?

"In the case of the recent investigation into Dawn Bowden under the ministerial code Mark Drakeford made public the evidence which underpinned the conclusion of no wrongdoing. In respect of Hannah Blythyn no evidence to support a guilty verdict has so far been provided other than the word of the First Minister. With so many questions unanswered and in light of basic procedural flaws an independent investigation overseen by the permanent secretary should determine whether the First Minister acted with the required due diligence and in a manner consistent with the principles of natural justice.”