Senedd Bites #44: “Ridiculously lenient” sentence for former AM

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Former AM avoids prison for indecent images offences

On October 31st, former Plaid Cymru AM for Mid & West Wales, Simon Thomas, was handed a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, after admitting to three counts of making indecent images of children. He’ll also have to sign the sex offender’s register for 7 years.

Mold Crown Court heard his work left him “lonely” and he ended up in “a trap from which it was very difficult to escape”. He was said to be receiving counselling and there was no evidence he was directly involved in any child abuse or had distributed the images. Nonetheless, 94 of the still images and 56 videos in his possession were Category A – the most serious category of child pornography.

The NSPCC said, “Within these images are young victims of abuse and by possessing them, Thomas has fuelled the demand in this awful trade. It is not a victimless crime. His actions betrayed the trust placed in him by the communities he represented at Cardiff Bay and Westminster.”

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) said the sentence was “ridiculously lenient”, but his complaint to the UK Attorney General was dismissed as the offences didn’t fall under a sentencing review scheme.

Labour leadership candidate received campaign donation from company fined for illegal dumping

Penarth Daily News revealed that one of the candidates in the race to lead Labour in Wales, Health Secretary, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), received a donation from Neal Soil Suppliers, a company that was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £51,000 in costs for illegal dumping in the Gwent Levels in 2013, and was again fined more than £230,000 for failing to remove the waste in 2017.

A spokesperson for the candidate told the Western Mail’s Martin Shipton that “Vaughan has made his vision for change and hope for our country clear. That’s why we have the support of so many”.

Cleddau bridge tolls to be scrapped

Following an agreement between the Welsh Government and Pembrokeshire Council, tolls to use the Cleddau Bridge between Neyland and Pembroke Dock will be abolished in April 2019. The tolls currently range from 35p to £1.50.

Cllr. Paul Miller – part of the ruling grand coalition on the council – told BBC Wales: “Abolishing the tolls has been a priority both for me and this administration since taking office and I’m pleased we are continuing to deliver on our commitments to the people of Pembrokeshire.”

Tata ThyssenKrupp Deal Probe

The EU Commission has ordered an investigation into the deal to merge Tata Steel with ThyssenKrupp over concerns that it would reduce competition. The deal includes all of Tata’s sites in Wales – currently employing an estimated 7,000 people – including the Port Talbot steelworks, which was subject to uncertainty over its future during 2016-17.

The merger deal, which was agreed in June 2018, was said at the time to have the potential to secure steel-making jobs “for a generation”.

An EU Commission decision on the merger is expected in March 2019.

FSB calls for “small towns fund”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called on the Welsh Government to reintroduce a fund to assist small towns. Their report concluded that towns relying on major retailers and department stores to raise footfall in town centres was “doomed to failure” due to a number of high-profile store closures.

The FSB said: “We’ve seen some of the big brands, like Debenhams, House of Fraser, Maplin really struggling in exactly the same way as many of smaller retailers so what we really want is businesses, both large and small, to collaborate, to own their space.”

High street vacancy rates in Wales were said to be 13%, compared to 11.1% in England and 11.9% in Scotland. The FSB also accused the Welsh and UK governments of ignoring smaller towns in favour of larger city regions.

AMs demand fresh Tawel Fan inquiry

Eight AMs representing Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP have written to the Public Accounts Committee demanding an Assembly-led inquiry into the Tawel Fan scandal, after concerns that two separate investigations reached different conclusions.

In the letter, they are reported by BBC Wales as saying, “The people of north Wales, not least the Tawel Fan families, need to understand the rationale behind these conclusions and must be able to have confidence that the historic failings and current shortcomings in mental health care which have been identified are being urgently addressed.”

In a fresh update on special measures at Betsi Cadwaladr health board, the Health Secretary said he was seeing signs of improvement and he was satisfied with the plans in place to improve mental health.