Sacked ministers need more support, coroner says

Carl Sargeant
Image caption Carl Sargeant was found hanged at his home in Flintshire in November 2017

More support should be available to sacked ministers, a coroner has said, after ruling a Welsh Assembly Member killed himself after being dismissed.

Carl Sargeant, 49, was found hanged at home in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, by his wife Bernadette on 7 November 2017.

He was sacked as minister for communities and children over claims of inappropriate behaviour towards women.

Coroner John Gittins recorded a conclusion of suicide and said he was known to have mental health issues.

Mr Gittins said he had promised a “full and fair examination” and “would not allow this inquest to be a trial by press, politics or personality”.

The “twists and turns” of the inquest at times followed the “murkiest” of paths into the world of politics, he added.

He said anyone expecting a “glowing vindication” of Mr Sargeant, or a “damning vilification” of former first minster Carwyn Jones – or vice versa – would be disappointed.

Much of the evidence to the inquest in Ruthin, Denbighshire, focused on whether Mr Jones could have done more to support the Alyn and Deeside AM following his sacking.

Following the hearing, Mr Sargeant’s son Jack – who succeeded his father as Alyn and Deeside AM – accused the former first minister of being “defensive, evasive and argumentative”, with “deeply troubling” discrepancies in his evidence.

Image caption Former first minister Carwyn Jones had been accused of lying under oath about the support offered to Mr Sargeant

The coroner said due to a “life event” coupled with the “pressure” of his role as a Welsh Government minister, Mr Sargeant had been diagnosed with depression in 2012.

He said Mr Jones had been aware of the life event in 2014, but did not recognise there were any other issues, despite working closely with Mr Sargeant.

Following the allegations in 2017, Mr Gittins said the former first minister had deemed it necessary to refer the matter to the Labour Party and remove Mr Sargeant from the cabinet.

The coroner said there were no official arrangements in place to support Mr Sargeant following the re-shuffle “despite the probability that the first minister knew of Mr Sargeant’s vulnerability in relation to his mental health”.

Mr Gittins said the sacking, and the reason for it, had been likely to put Mr Sargeant “firmly in the media spotlight” and it was “a position which undoubtedly added to Mr Sargeant’s pressures”.

He said the support from Vale of Clwyd AM Ann Jones, who was asked to contact Mr Sargeant after the sacking, was not in the nature of pastoral care, despite contradictory information given by Mr Jones.

The coroner said Mr Jones – who was accused by the Sargeant family’s barrister of lying under oath on this point – had “properly and appropriately” corrected information he had previously given.

Mr Gittins said that after leaving a note, Mr Sargeant “ended his life by hanging himself” and this was done deliberately and he was sure Mr Sargeant intended to do it.

He added he would submit a prevention of future deaths report to the Welsh Government calling for more support to be put in place for sacked ministers.

“Am I still concerned? My answer comes from both my head and my heart, and it’s yes,” he said.

Image copyright Eleanor Barlow/PA Wire
Image caption Jack Sargeant (middle) and Bernadette Sargeant at the inquest in November

Speaking outside the inquest, Jack Sargeant was highly critical of Mr Jones, saying: “We’ve had to sit through a continually changing version of events, delivered in a defensive, evasive and argumentative manner.

“After eight months pause for thought [after the inquest was first adjourned] we would have expected him to have a clear and unambiguous explanation.

“We are also deeply offended by the lack of any remorse or regret from the former first minister.”

He said the family welcomed the coroner’s report to prevent future deaths, saying: “It’s too late for dad but may save someone else.”

In a statement, Mr Jones said it had been “a difficult time for everyone, the family most of all, and I offer them my deepest condolences for a loss that is inevitably still incredibly painful”.

“The process has driven an unnatural wedge between people who remain united at the very least in their ongoing shock, trauma and grief.” he added.

“Nobody wanted this, and nobody could have foreseen it. Suicide is a shattering experience, and I hope some healing can now begin.”

A spokesman for the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said he extended his “deepest condolences” to the Sargeant family, adding that the Welsh Government would consider carefully and “respond in full” to the report on the prevention of future deaths.

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