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Minister sacked without leak inquiry

By David DeansPolitical reporter, BBC Wales News

Senedd Cymru Hannah BlythynSenedd Cymru

Hannah Blythyn has denied leaking messages to the media

The Welsh government did not hold a formal inquiry on how controversial text messages got to the media before Hannah Blythyn was sacked for allegedly leaking, a senior official said.

Ms Blythyn has denied leaking controversial messages showing Vaughan Gething telling other ministers he was deleting texts from a group chat.

Plaid Cymru said it was “increasingly clear” the first minister’s actions in firing her “lacked transparency”.

The Welsh government said Mr Gething had sought advice from a senior civil servant prior to the decision.

Mr Gething said in May he had “no alternative but to ask Hannah Blythyn to leave the government” after a review of “the evidence available to me”.

Opposition parties have demanded that the evidence be published – Mr Gething has refused.

Conservatives said the failure to provide evidence for the sacking was “one of the reasons the Labour Welsh government is paralysed”.

Governments and other public bodies often hold leak inquiries to try to discover how confidential information has been released to the press.

Ms Blythyn had been social partnership minister.

In a letter to the Senedd’s public accounts and administration committee, ethics director David Richards confirmed that “no leak inquiry was commissioned or undertaken by the Welsh government”.

He said advice had been sought by Mr Gething “and provided in relation to process on handling a breach of the ministerial code”.

The code is the set of rules ministers are expected to adhere to.

Mr Gething said in May he had “acted in accordance with the ministerial code” and had sought advice from the permanent secretary, the most senior civil servant in the government.

The leaking of the messages caused a row at the time, and opposition politicians raised questions about whether Mr Gething had misled the Covid Inquiry.

It showed Mr Gething telling ministers: “I’m deleting the messages in this group.

“They can be captured in an FOI [Freedom of Information request] and I think we are all in the right place on the choice being made.”

He later denied that he had deleted messages “that relate to decision making”, and suggested that the message was about comments ministers were making about colleagues, and ensuring “we don’t provide things that are potentially embarassing”.

Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price said: “Sacking a minister is a serious matter. In the case of Hannah Blythyn it is increasingly clear that the First Minister’s actions lack transparency and that the normal safeguards of natural justice were not afforded to the former Minister.

“With no formal leak inquiry undertaken and in the absence of an independent investigation under the Ministerial code, we have to ask on what evidence and on whose advice was the First Minister acting?”

Mr Price said former first minister Mark Drakeford had made public an investigation into Dawn Bowden under the ministerial code.

He called for an “independent investigation”, overseen by the permanent secretary, to determine whether first minister “acted with the required due diligence”.

The Welsh Conservatives’ Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies: “The failure to provide the evidence upon which Hannah Blythyn was sacked is one of the reasons the Labour Welsh government is paralysed and unable to focus on the people’s priorities.”

The Welsh government said: “Advice was sought from the permanent secretary in relation to handling a breach of the ministerial code, and all actions taken by the first minister were in accordance with the code and the government’s cabinet handbook.”

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