“Make progress on Circuit of Wales leak investigation”

Adam Price writes to Permanent Secretary for update on investigation

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Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price has written to the Welsh Government Permanent Secretary to urge her to progress the investigation into the leaked information on the Circuit of Wales project.

Adam Price said that the investigation into the leaking of information to a journalist at the Western Mail had taken five months when it would be reasonably be expected to take four to six weeks. In his correspondence the Plaid Cymru AM said that as leak investigations must be conducted and be seen to be conducted “without fear or favour when it comes to the possible culpability of politicians or their appointees” and that the “perceived lack of progress with this investigation is now a matter of serious concern.”

Mr Price copied his correspondence to Sir Jeremy Heywood – the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the UK Civil Service.

Writing to the Permanent Secretary Shan Morgan, Adam Price AM said:

“I’m writing to you to raise serious concerns that I have in relation to the leak investigation you are currently conducting into the release of certain confidential information pertaining to the Circuit of Wales.

[...] On Tuesday June 28th the Cabinet decided not to proceed with any further financial support for the Circuit of Wales project. On the following Monday, July 3rd, the Western Mail ran an article on its front page under the headline, 'The huge rewards Circuit of Wales backers stand to gain revealed - with boss and wife in line for £46m'.

The story was based on detailed information relating to projected personal and corporate financial gains associated with the project provided on a confidential basis in an email by Michael Carrick, the Chief Executive of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, to one of the lead officials dealing with the project in response to a request for additional information by Grant Thornton who were carrying out external due diligence for the Government. It is a reasonable conclusion to draw based on the context and the content of the article that the information was leaked with intent to discredit the individuals concerned and help justify the Government’s decision which had received something of a mixed response.

The number of people that would ordinarily have had access to the original email would be quite few in number due to the sensitive nature of the information. In addition to the sender and the eventual recipients, Grant Thornton, this could have included a small number of additional Civil Servants working on the project (probably no more than four in total), one or two Special Advisers and the Cabinet Secretary himself.

The leak, in summary, consists of the release of a single piece of information to which, by my reckoning, fewer than ten people would have access. In the light of this I find it extremely perplexing as to why the investigation is about to enter its fifth month with little ostensible sign of progress so far. Whitehall leak investigations appear, based on my own research, to take four to six weeks on average.

From my own inquiries I have been able to establish that:

No attempt has been made to interview the recipient of the information, Martin ShiptonThe Cabinet Secretary maintains that he does not know who leaked the information and, in written questions, has said he is satisfied that officials in his department and special advisers are not responsibleNo attempt has been made to interview the company.

The latter point is particularly worrying given that the Cabinet Secretary implied in his oral answer to me on the 11th October that it was the company that leaked the information, presumably in order to discredit itself. This is patently a ludicrous – and indeed, if untrue, malicious - suggestion but I would be grateful if you could confirm whether you have discussed the leak with the Cabinet Secretary himself; and whether or not you have not responded to a series of emails from the company asking for an update on the progress of the investigation.

You will appreciate that there is a considerable amount of public interest in the outcome of this inquiry. It is a reasonable assumption to make that information which the Government had in its possession was leaked to the media in order to deliberately malign the individuals concerned and protect the Government’s reputation. This is not just “unfortunate” to use the First Minister’s phrase in referring to the leak, it also undermines public trust in good governance and the rule of law. In this regard I should be grateful if you would confirm whether the leak in question, should it be proven to have been emanated from within Government, would constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act as well as, potentially, a case of misfeasance or malfeasance in public office, and if, on that basis, you have contacted the appropriate investigating authorities.

Leak investigations are, of course, conducted independently by the Civil Service in order to uphold public confidence in the impartiality of the machinery of Government. Leaks are often politically motivated –as was the case with the Scotland Office investigation referenced above – and, for that reason, leak investigations must be conducted and be seen to be conducted without fear or favour when it comes to the possible culpability of politicians or their appointees. With this in mind you will appreciate why the perceived lack of progress with this investigation is now a matter of serious concern.

I would be grateful if you would set our minds to rest by responding in detail to the questions I raise in this letter and addressing, in particular, the central question of the inordinate amount of time this investigation appears to be taking.”

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