Family statement following inquest conclusion into death of former Welsh Government Minster, Carl Sargeant

Thursday 11 July 2019

Leslie Thomas QC, Joint Head of Garden Court Chambers, was instructed by Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors for the Sargeant family. 

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The inquest into the death of former Welsh Assembly Member Carl Sargeant ended today. 

The Senior Coroner for North Wales, John Gittins recorded a conclusion of ‘Suicide.’ He also said that there is a real risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken by the Welsh government and issued them with a Prevention of Future Deaths Report. The Welsh government have 56 days to respond.

Bernie, Lucy and Jack Sargeant issued the following statement through their solicitors, 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 are also deeply offended by the lack of any remorse or regret from the former First Minister and 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 Minister. 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.”  

Neil Hudgell of Hudgell Solicitors represents the Sargeant family. He says:

“This is an inquest that should have been concluded last year but has been continually thwarted by costly and misconceived applications at the behest of the former First Minister to the coroner and the Higher Courts, which were hopeless, opportunistic and ultimately unsuccessful. 

“More than anything the instructions provided to those representing the former First Minister demonstrate a lack of compassion and empathy for a family who still haven’t been allowed to properly grieve the loss of their much-loved husband, father, son and brother.” 

Leslie Thomas QC is a member of the Garden Court Chambers Inquests and Inquiries team.

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