Here our Editor Phil Parry, stresses the importance of picture evidence in uncovering the unsavoury details of controversial pasts.
Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and made clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Cymru Wales TV Current Affairs series he presented for 10 years, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
In investigative journalism the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is truer than in most professions.
The sort of inquiring journalism I do is, though, under threat everywhere.
Often picture evidence is crucial in telling a story of dark deeds.
People shown together apparently joking when ALL have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons is a case in point.
A photograph of three senior figures enjoying themselves together posted on the Facebook (FB) site of one of the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament (SC/WP) members for Monmouth Nick Ramsay (at the time the picture was taken Conservative now ‘Not affiliated to a Political Group’ as the SC/WP website puts it), offers an intriguing insight into the behaviour of our politicians.
All three have interesting pasts – the one time Assembly Member (AM) and MP Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru [PC]), the present SC/WP member, Alun Davies (Labour), as well as Mr Ramsay himself.
The picture is old (July 19 2017) but perhaps it is more important because of that – telling us a lot about their apparent closeness before controversial events erupted.
Let’s start with Mr Ramsay who has seemingly proclaimed what fun they had, by posting the photograph in the first place (and let us not forget they are all paid by the taxpayer).
Members of Monmouth Conservative Association (MCA) voted to deselect him, and they chose Monmouthshire County Council leader Peter Fox to replace him as their candidate at elections in May instead.
Mr Fox was successful (evidently Conservative voters did not flock to a ‘known’ candidate and former leading light in the party, who then stood as an Independent) and is now the Shadow Minister for Finance.
Two judges had ordered Mr Ramsay to pay a total of more than £40,000 to the association for legal costs incurred after he said he would challenge the deselection at the High Court, but he dropped the case after being told he had no prospect of winning it.
One of the men he was with in the picture, Mr Thomas, was an AM (the forerunner to being an MS) for Mid and West Wales, as well as being formerly MP for Ceredigion, but in 2018 pleaded guilty to making indecent images of children.
He had admitted making more than 500 indecent photographs as well 77 films – some involving children as young as six, and quit the SC/WP and his party after being arrested in July of that year.
Mr Thomas was given a 26-week jail sentence, suspended for two years, at Mold Magistrates Courts after previously admitting the charges.
The court heard that still images found on his tablet and mobile phone included almost 100 of the most serious category – ninety-four still images and 56 videos were classified as Category A – the gravest kind.
We’ll turn next to the MS for Blaenau Gwent Mr Davies, who has been beset by a series of controversies.
In January he was suspended from the SC/WP Labour group while the Senedd Commission investigated a “gathering” at the institution the previous month.
Mr Davies (the Labour representative for Blaenau Gwent), reportedly drank glasses of wine with a group of Conservatives – the party’s then leader Paul Davies, Chief Whip Darren Millar and the party’s chief of staff Paul Smith in a SC/WP tearoom.
But the reason it was controversial was that it happened on December 8, four days after pubs were forced to stop selling alcohol under the Welsh Government’s rules to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
So, whatever the technical rights or wrongs of the incident (off-licences were allowed to sell alcohol until 10pm for instance), it looked to the public as though their elected politicians didn’t practise what they preached!
This came after Mr Davies declared on Twitter about controversial ‘comedian’ Huw Marshall’s ‘national’ news service’: “Well. I wish you best of luck with this initiative. Anything to strengthen our news environment should receive a warm welcome”.
But it seems unlikely that there will be a ‘warm welcome’ for Mr Marshall’s past behaviour.
It was divulged that on social media he had made extremely offensive remarks to two major political figures in 2013, and complaints after further comments led to a reprimand from Twitter.
One of the insults seven years ago, was directed at Mr Davies’ fellow Labour MS and minister Ken Skates, with another hurled at the former Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black. After Mr Skates tweeted in celebration of a one-vote council by-election victory over Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru (PC) in Ruabon, Mr Marshall referred to him in his own tweet as a “gloating t**t”. Mr Marshall also described Mr Black as a “humourless t..t”and a “dull, tedious t..t”.
But Mr Marshall’s behaviour has long been contentious, and the abuse of senior politicians other than Mr Davies, form part of a pattern.
Two people had died and a police officer lost the sight in both eyes when gunman Raoul Moat shot them, yet despite this on July 8, 2010 – with him trying to escape from armed police – Mr Marshall published a message on his Facebook (FB) site, reading: “Hi I’m a sexy 19 year old blond (sic) from the North East of England looking for some fun.
“My Mr Right should be a big strong ginger man with a fiery temper and a jealous nature, who also enjoys camping and writing long letters.”
Another post read: “Moat reward… if he isn’t caught by next Wednesday, the rewards (sic) being doubled. It’s going to be a Raul (sic) over”.
Mr Marshall’s use of social media has always been intense, and it appears Mr Davies is an admiring follower of his on Twitter, because apart from wishing him luck he has also ‘liked’ one of his tweeis. The tweet he ‘liked’ had attacked The Eye.
The disturbing revelations recently about Mr Davies drinking with three senior Conservative politicians, when lockdown rules were being tightened, threw the spotlight on his tweets, after he condemned people voting against the regulations, saying they “don’t give a damn about the health and well-being of our people”.
In one he slammed The Brexit Party for opposing coronavirus regulations, and in another following the scandal over Conservative Dominic Cummings visiting Barnard Castle, he said: “One law for them (the Tories). Another law for us.”
Perhaps these tweets may seem ironic in the circumstances…
But it is the language used by Mr Davies as well as the people he has supported, which have attracted attention.
In 2005, while Labour’s candidate for Ceredigion, he clashed with Welsh actor Rhys Ifans at a Cardiff hotel over backing the Iraq War.
The police were called, but no charges were brought, and Mr Davies subsequently apologised, yet even after this incident he has hit the headlines.
After becoming a member of (what was then) the National Assembly for Wales in 2007, Mr Davies was criticised for claiming back mortgage interest payments for a home he bought in Cardiff five years before he became an Assembly Member.
In 2013 he was criticised by the cross-party Environment and Sustainability Committee for being evasive during a question session and giving contradictory answers.
In the Spring of 2014 he confessed to entering into a relationship with his own special adviser, Anna McMorrin (now MP for Cardiff North), and confirmed that as a result both had left their long term partners. Ms McMorrin was moved from her role.
In June 2014, the First Minister of Wales (FMW) at the time, Carwyn Jones, announced an investigation into a letter Mr Davies had written to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) regarding environmental worries over the proposed development of the Circuit of Wales race track in his own constituency. NRW had expressed concerns about the race track.
On July 8 2014 he was summarily sacked by Mr Jones following repeated written requests to his civil servants for the private details of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments made to opposition politicians. Mr Davies toured television studios with a prepared statement, but refused to take questions.
Even so he was clearly not chastened by any of these experiences, and in October 2018 Mr Davies was criticised for comparing councils who asked for extra funding to Oliver Twist.
Yet it is not simply Conservative politicians he appears pally with, the Welsh nationalist party PC has also played a central role in his life (as the picture shows).
Mr Davies started his political career in PC, and the man he endorsed in his tweet, Mr Marshall, also has a widely publicised link to this party.
In 1992 Mr Marshall stood as PC’s Parliamentary candidate in Cardiff Central, coming fourth with just 748 votes, however his plans to stand for election as a councillor were scuppered when it emerged that he had posted the so-called ‘jokes’ about Moat, and published the offensive remarks to politicians other than Mr Davies on social media.
But ‘jokes’ like these do not play a part in exposing major controversies. Photographs do…
Tomorrow – how the biggest broadcaster in Wales has trumpeted news from a controversial executive describing him in a top job, even though it closed the post months ago.
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades-long award-winning career in journalism (when the behaviour of politicians was always scrutinised) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.