The criminal prosecution of three senior council bosses at the centre of a pay scandal has been dismissed.
Caerphilly County Borough Council’s chief executive Anthony O’Sullivan, his deputy Nigel Barnett and Daniel Perkins, the authority’s head of legal services, had their charges of misconduct in a public office dismissed by a judge at Bristol Crown Court today, Tuesday, October 20.
The trio have been suspended on full pay since their initial arrests in 2013. The wage bill for them, an interim chief executive, and legal bills has so far cost taxpayers around £2.6 million.
Caerphilly MP Wayne David, Caerphilly AM Jeff Cuthbert and Council Leader Keith Reynolds have all said they intend to pursue the Ministry of Justice for public reimbursement, given the cases against the three have now been dismissed.
Mr David said: “I am appalled that it has taken so long for this decision to be arrived at. It is disgraceful that the Judiciary and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has allowed this case to drag on for so long. It has been nearly two-and-a-half years since the arrest of the officers and during this time Caerphilly County Borough Council and its residents have been obliged to spend millions of pounds.
“I have previously raised this matter with the CPS and now I intend to raise it in Parliament and seek reimbursement from the Ministry of Justice of the millions which have been spent. It is outrageous that the failings of the CPS and the criminal justice system have cost a local authority so much money, especially at a time of public expenditure cutbacks.”
Mr Cuthbert said he would be working with Mr David and said the CPS had “failed”.
He said: “I completely fail to understand why the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has not been able to convince the judge of the merits of going to trial. The CPS has had more than two years to put their case together and it’s clear that they have failed.
“The cost to CCBC has been considerable and all at a time when money for public services has been in very short supply.”
Cllr Keith Reynolds, Leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council, said: “Many people will be extremely concerned and frustrated about the length of time this process has taken and the costs that have been incurred to date. There are serious questions to be asked of the CPS about the length of time taken and we will be seeking to recover the salary costs of the suspended officers which are now in excess of £1 million.”
Lindsay Whittle, Plaid Cymru AM and former Caerphilly Council leader, said: “The time it has taken to resolve this matter is outrageous. The public have paid a high price for the dithering of the legal system. It is now crucial that the local authority acts to bring this whole matter to a conclusion quickly because the unlawful pay debacle has cost the council millions of pounds.”
Councillor Colin Mann, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Caerphilly council, said: “What a way to run a justice system. For this to be dropped suddenly after more than two-and-a-half years beggars belief.
“The unlawful pay scandal has cost tax-payers millions of pounds that could have been spent on services to the public.
“The council using its specially set up internal committee needs to meet quickly with the aim of bringing this matter to a conclusion as quickly as possible.”
Mr O’Sullivan, Mr Perkins and Mr Barnett had each faced a single charge of misconduct in a public office between June 25 2012 and October 10 2012.
The decision to charge the men followed a police investigation into a Wales Audit Office report into pay rises awarded to senior council officers.
The report by the WAO found the decision to award secret pay rises to 20 council bosses was unlawful because Mr O’Sullivan had himself written a report recommending the pay rises and that he was present at a secret meeting that agreed them.
The meeting of itself, attended by five councillors, was also unlawfully held because it was not publicised beforehand.
The misconduct charge had alleged the defendants “wilfully misconducted themselves in relation to securing Caerphilly County Borough Council’s approval of a remuneration package for the said council’s chief officers from which they stood to gain for themselves”.
The three, who were due to stand trial next month, will now face an internal disciplinary process to find out if they are to return to their jobs.
A spokeswoman for Caerphilly County Borough Council said: “We have received confirmation this afternoon that the charges against the three senior offices have been dropped. The three officers will remain suspended while the council now deals with matter in accordance with its own procedures.”
The Ministry of Justice said it would not comment.
A CPS spokesman said: “The court today acceded to a defence application to dismiss the case against all three defendants and we respect that decision.
“This was a complicated, wide-reaching and lengthy investigation into serious allegations against council employees. The investigation was conducted by Avon and Somerset Constabulary at the request of Gwent Constabulary.
“CPS South West’s Complex Casework Unit took the decision to charge the three defendants following extensive consultation with the police. Since that time the prosecution team has pursued the case within the proper judicial process.”