It was always heartening for our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry to see the impact of his journalism, during 23 years with the BBC, and an award-winning career lasting 39 years (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon) – and now there is news that a top-level investigation has been launched following a story first broken by him.
Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo (SWE) office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making 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 Wales TV Current Affairs series, 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.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
Breaking stories is part-and-parcel of being a journalist, but, unfortunately, it rarely has an impact.
However this is NOT the case following disclosure on The Eye (which I edit), of how a Plaid Cymru (PC) councillor had posted a picture of himself on social media brandishing a gun, saying he was keeping out English people, and that a former member of what is now the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC) (Lindsay Whittle), ‘loved’ it.
Following the furore, and publication of a letter from the council leader accusing PC of endorsing xenophobia, the Welsh nationalist party were shamed into launching an investigation.
Within TWO hours of the letter going public last month, the PC leader Adam Price said the complaint against Caerphilly councillor Whittle would go through the party’s membership, ‘discipline and standards process’.
So, here, I give you the story behind it all, which was first published by The Eye on August 26:
A senior figure in Plaid Cymru (PC), and former member of what is now the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC), showed his ‘love’ of a controversial social media post which made headlines across the UK, picturing a fellow nationalist councillor brandishing a gun saying he was keeping out English people, we can exclusively reveal.
The ‘heart’ emoji (one up from a ‘thumbs-up’ ‘like’) was posted on Facebook (FB) by ex-leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council (CCBC), PC’s Lindsay Whittle, and the picture with accompanying message is now under police investigation.
The photograph he ‘loved’, was by Councillor Jon Scriven who has formally apologised, and been suspended by PC, after publishing it on the same site. It portrayed him on a beach holding the rifle, saying: “Ogmore-by-Sea tonight for a quick swim and make sure there wasn’t any English people trying to cross the channel”.
His colleague on CCBC, Cllr Whittle, was a member of the National Assembly for Wales (forerunner of the WP/SC), representing the South Wales East region for PC, from 2011 to 2016. But the post was highly contentious, and came hard on the heels of another huge scandal involving the party – letting back in disgraced MP, Jonathan Edwards, who was cautioned by the police for assaulting his wife, although he decided not to take the group whip in Westminster.
The post by Cllr Scriven of him holding a gun, which was uncovered by The Eye, caused an enormous storm, in the media, legally, and in the political world.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats (WLD) said: “There is a clear implication of violence and xenophobia”, and the leader of the Welsh Conservatives (WC) in the WP/SC (Andrew RT Davies) stated that he was “Speechless”.
As well as noting implied violence, the WLD also announced on FB: “Whether or not it was intended as a joke or not, it is entirely inappropriate for an elected official to make such comments, when they should know better.
“Plaid Cymru must now do the right thing and suspend the councillor in question”.
Labour member of the WP/SC for Caerphilly, Hefin David, described the post as “…incredibly concerning. We should be seeking to unite people and address real concerns like the cost of living, not post disturbing images that are calculated to divide us”.
PC pronounced grandly that the post was inappropriate, and Cllr Scriven was indeed suspended pending an ‘investigation’. South Wales Police (SWP), meanwhile, confirmed that an allegation of “malicious communications” had been lodged. Officers said they were “aware of a post on social media featuring a man brandishing what looks like a rifle at Ogmore-by-Sea”.
Cllr Scriven said sorry for what he had done, and stated online: “I would like to apologise for my now deleted Facebook post”.
Yet despite this apology, the story about his post broken first by The Eye, was already being followed up in the mainstream media.
In the hours which came afterwards, the website WalesOnline (WO), published: “A social media post surfaced online which showed Jon Scriven posing with a gun”. Other ‘stories’, though, were deemed more important and given greater prominence on the site, such as one headlined: “Three-year-old egged in face by yobs leaving her bruised and sobbing”.
The BBC said: “Police are investigating a social media post which appeared to show a Plaid Cymru councillor posing with a gun to make sure there weren’t “any English people trying to cross the channel””.
The Guardian reported that: “Police are investigating a social media post from a Plaid Cymru councillor apparently posing with a rifle near a Welsh beach and commenting that he was checking “there wasn’t any English people trying to cross””.
The Daily Telegraph wrote: “A Welsh nationalist councillor is being investigated by police after posing with what looked like a gun and saying he was stopping “any English people trying to cross” the Bristol Channel”.
LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation), The Independent, Sky, Mail and the Express carried the story, with the latter’s opening paragraph being: “Officers at South Wales Police are investigating a report of malicious communications after a post appeared on Plaid Cymru councillor Jon Scriven’s Facebook page”. Even The Bolton News covered details of the extraordinary saga.
Andrew RT Davies leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the WP/SC since last year, was incensed. He re-posted the photograph, proclaiming that he had become: “Speechless. This is a @Plaid_Cymru councillor. @Adamprice (the leader of PC) cannot let another scandal rage on without decisive action. This sort of xenophobic attitude is beneath us.”.
The scandal Mr Davies refers to, is about Mr Edwards being let back in to the party following what had happened. Soon after this story hit the news, it emerged that before the 2015 General Election (GE), Adam Price’s predecessor as head of PC (Leanne Wood), had written (on Twitter): “… Re-elect the fantastic Jonathan Edwards in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.”.
But after the re-admission of Mr Edwards to the party, she decided Mr Edwards was not actually ‘fantastic’, and she tweeted: “This sends the message that women don’t matter and that survivors of domestic abuse don’t matter. I always believed Plaid Cymru to be better than this.”
Her successor (Mr Price) joined in, saying: “His (Mr Edwards’) actions do not represent our values and his position as an MP sends the wrong message out to domestic abuse survivors in Wales and beyond”.
The party was split over re-admitting Mr Edwards, but he has portrayed himself as a victim, although this does not compare to the suffering of the woman he assaulted.
Mr Edwards has declared self-pityingly, that he was the subject of “vindictive and vengeful coordinated political attacks”, and he was left feeling suicidal.
As with the contentious gun post, ruptures within PC have been laid bare, and they were encapsulated by the member of the WP/SC, Sian Gwenllian, Communications Director on PC’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), who said: “If an elected politician has severely damaged the integrity, the credibility and the reputation of our party by contravening one of its core values, then that person should no longer represent the collective, democratic voice of our members.
A previous party chairman, Alun Ffred Jones, resigned after disagreeing with the NEC’s actions.
The Chief Executive of the gender equality organisation Chwarae Teg, Cerys Furlong, said PC should think again about its decision and the message it sent to all women, declaring: “Our politics must be an environment in which women are safe and where violence, harassment and abuse are stamped out”.
Clearly it is not an environment for PC safe from media approbation, when a senior figure in the party, showed his ‘love’ of a social media post, which pictured a fellow Welsh nationalist councillor holding a gun to ward off the English…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing career (including important political stories), as he was gripped by the rare neurological 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.