Red letter was not contempt

30th July 2004 at 01:00
The former education spokesman for local government in Wales has been cleared of contempt over a letter he sent to the Clywch inquiry into child abuse at a secondary school.

But Jeff Jones, recently retired leader of Bridgend county council, was rapped by Mr Justice Jack over his "ill-considered and intemperate" letter to children's commissioner Peter Clarke.

Mr Jones's letter arrived last November at the end of Mr Clarke's inquiry into allegations of sex abuse against John Owen, a former drama teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen in Pontypridd.

The inquiry decided that paedophile teacher Owen had escaped justice largely because of the failings of former Mid Glamorgan education chiefs Eddie Roberts and David Matthews.

Owen, 47, killed himself with a drug overdose after being charged with serious offences in 2001.

In his letter, Mr Jones, 53, said he was "frankly appalled" at the way the Clywch inquiry had been conducted.

He said he had stayed silent for too long and was not prepared to see former education director Mr Roberts being made a scapegoat. He also said Owen's abuse would not have happened in an English-medium school but occurred because people put the Welsh language before the children's interests.

Mr Clarke took court action alleging that Mr Jones's letter was an attempt to influence his report.

Giving his ruling, Mr Justice Jack said that the action of LEA officials had been accurately described as a cover-up by the commissioner. However, Mr Jones's letter did not amount to a criminal contempt.

It was "angry and unpleasant" and could be interpreted as an attack on the commissioner's integrity, but it did not contain a threat.

Parents of children abused by Owen crowded into the Cardiff Civil Justice courtroom to hear the judge's verdict. They hurled abuse at Mr Jones afterwards, one of them shouting, "We still have not had an apology from you."

The parent, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: "Jones claims we did not complain about Owen because it would have damaged the Welsh language. I want a personal apology from him because the truth is we did not know our children were being abused - my son has told me since he did not want to upset me."

After the case, Mr Jones said: "I raised issues which needed to be raised and am absolutely delighted at the judge's verdict. It is a triumph for British justice."

Mr Clarke said afterwards: "I am pleased that the judge said he understood why we brought the proceedings. The judge vindicated my report when he said it had demonstrated it was a cover-up."

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