The Coroner’s inquest in the death of Carl Sargeant – on November 7th 2017 – concluded this afternoon, with a formal verdict of suicide and a medical cause of death by hanging. Mr Sargeant was also prescribed medication for depression at the time of his death following an undisclosed “major life event”.
The Coroner, John Gittins, concluded that the former First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend), provided contradictory evidence over a pastoral role supposedly given to Ann Jones AM (Lab, Vale of Clwyd). Mr Jones’ evidence was only corrected after Ann Jones was called to give evidence.
Earlier this week, Carwyn Jones was directly accused of lying under oath by the Sargeant family’s barrister; he accepted there had been “misunderstandings”.
Nobody from the then First Minister’s office contacted Carl Sargeant immediately following his sacking, the Coroner also concluded, while he heard evidence that there was more that could’ve been done to support Mr Sargeant through the process.
The Coroner rejected submissions about the behaviour of Carl Sargeant at social events as “rumour” and “opportunistic”, as well as rejecting an application from the press for text messages between two senior Flintshire Labour figures (Aaron Shotton and Bernie Attridge) to be published.
In what’s likely to be a humiliation for the Welsh Government and civil service, a “prevention of future deaths” report will be issued following evidence over the support (or lack of) offered to ministers when dismissed from office.
Bernie, Lucy and Jack Sargeant issued the following statement through their lawyers, Hudgell Solicitors:
“It’s been 611 days since Dad died.
We are relieved the inquest process is over.
However, this inquest should have been concluded last November had the then First Minister given a reliable account of events.
Eight months later we have had to sit through a very different and continually changing version of events delivered in a defensive, evasive and argumentative manner.
The discrepancies in the former First Minister’s evidence are deeply troubling and there remain significant question marks over the integrity of his evidence.
After eight months’ pause for thought, we would have expected him to have a clear and unambiguous explanation.
We also deeply offended by the lack of any remorse or regret from the former First Minister are astounded to hear him say in evidence that one text sent by a special adviser was sufficient for someone he claimed to be a friend, adding that he didn’t even have to do that.
As Dad’s brother Andy Sargeant said, the former First Minister has been engaged in a damage limitation exercise ever since Ann Jones courageously came forward to give her evidence.
As a family during these proceedings we have been subjected to underhand tactics, delays and opportunism engineered by the former First Minster.
We recognise the ‘murkiness’ the coroner referred to his summing up. It’s been a thoroughly distressing and dehumanising process that has added to our heart break.
For an inquest that has focused on mental health, very little thought has been given to our own mental health.
At times it seems to have been forgotten that this was an inquest into the death of a dearly beloved husband, father, son and brother.
Instead it has felt more like a criminal trial. All too often politics have been at play with the sole aim of blackening a dead man’s name to protect another. Where has been the humanity in that?
There is no stigma to suicide and if Dad’s case highlights anything, it is that you can never truly know what is going on in someone’s mind.
Having access to the right support is essential. We would encourage anyone worried about someone to reach out.
We thought we had done everything we could as a family. It’s heart breaking to know that we couldn’t save him.
We sincerely hope that no political family will go through what we have been through these past 19 months.
As we have heard on the witness stand, ministers are not employees and therefore, were not afforded any employment rights and had limited access to support. While they might not be employees, they are human beings, with their own fears and frailties.
It was reassuring to hear from the Labour Party about some of the changes made around safeguarding and for the steps taken at the Assembly since Dad’s death.
It is also notable that upon taking post, the new First Minister Mark Drakeford immediately set to learn lessons by putting in place his own guidelines around the impact of reshuffles on ministers’ mental health for which we are grateful.
However, as the coroner has recognised this does not go far enough and we fully endorse the coroner’s report to prevent future deaths. It’s too late for Dad but may save someone else.
We hope that political parties and governments across the Union take note and make it policy for safeguarding measures to be in place for all public servants.
We are very grateful to the coroner and his team for the careful consideration they have again showed us.
We also want to thank our legal team, Neil Hudgell, Vicky Richardson and Leslie Thomas QC and all those people across the country for the love and kindness they have continued to show us at what has been, and continues to be, the worst of times.
“We will now take a period of reflection to take stock and review our options. In the meantime, we very much hope that the former First Minister will now come forward with a genuine apology.”
Former First Minister Carwyn Jones issued a statement following the Coroner’s verdict, he said:
“This has 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 nature of these proceedings has meant that there appeared to be two sides in this matter, and whilst it is right that arguments are tested, the process has driven an unnatural wedge between people who remain united at the very least in their ongoing shock, trauma and grief.
Nobody wanted this, and nobody could have foreseen it.
Suicide is a shattering experience, and I hope some healing can now begin.”
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