One of Wales’ many pockets of totalitarianism went through what its defenders would have us believe approximates to democracy last Thursday when the beleaguered clique running the show emerged briefly from behind the PR defences to hold the Cardigan Castle AGM 2015. A gathering from which television cameras were banned, perhaps because the Castle had gained some rather unflattering coverage from the BBC on the very day of the AGM. (Translated, the headline reads, ‘Has Cardigan Castle lost its way?’)
Seeing as Lady Tucker, the grande dame of the whole shooting-match, had herself gone through the charade of a ceremonial abdication (in order to be almost immediately restored to power) Hedydd “Over my dead body!” Jones began the scripted and rigidly controlled meeting by announcing that no awkward questions about staffing or other sensitive issues would be allowed! Which set the tone for what followed. Though, to the surprise of many there gathered, she said this in Welsh. In fact, I’m informed that the meeting was conducted largely in Welsh with translation facilities available. Clearly, recent criticism of the direction the project is taking have had some effect.
One question that did slip through PR company Equinox’ net was why the Castle doesn’t get better reviews on TripAdvisor. To which Dr Jones haughtily replied that she didn’t bother herself with such things. An odd response. Here we have a project that has been steered away from its original cultural and historical focus to become just another dreary tourist attraction, yet those responsible for this subversion are unconcerned that a website likely to be consulted by potential visitors gives such mixed reviews! And as if that wasn’t bad enough, some unkind souls even suggest that most of the positive reviews on TripAdvisor have been written by Sue “English!” Lewis. (Reviews aren’t much better on Google. Though I do like “Community-run”!)
Among other issues raised by those prepared to risk being ostracised were: Why there was so little interaction with the volunteers, and why was the membership list not made public before the AGM and the election of new trustees (as it should have been).
Tony Tucker, consort to Lady Tucker, was applauded when he made the bland and vacuous appeal for ‘Everyone to pull together . . . make the project a financial success . . . Father Christmas . . . kittens . . . blah, blah, blah . . . zzzzzzzzzzz . . . ‘. The applause came in the main from Aberporth residents who had been bused in for the meeting, and most of whom had walked through the town of Cardigan unrecognised by locals. Tucker’s contribution is another reminder of the tactics being employed under the tutelage of Equinox. Anyone who criticises the Gang of Five (I have promoted Timms) is trying to ‘wreck’ the project; when in reality the critics are the ones trying to save the project and keep it to its original course.
Another questioner asked why the trustees did not engage with their critics, rather than dismiss them (as Sandra “Bigots!” Davies did) as “bigots”. For some reason, answering this question was left to Councillor Gareth ‘Clettwr’ Lloyd, the representative of the county council. He argued that the term had been used by the media, not by the trustees. Another example of misinformation. Or, to be generous to Cllr. Lloyd, perhaps he had not read the Pembrokeshire Herald article, nor seen the original e-mail. If so, then that’s rather worrying, seeing as Cllr. Lloyd is a trustee.
Other information has reached me in the form of comments to my previous post, by that prolific writer Anon. One comment adds to the mystery surrounding the ‘resignation’ of Glen Johnson.
This tells me two things. First, due to those running the project getting so much adverse publicity someone thought it best to get the AGM done with sooner rather than later, then batten down the hatches and ride out the storm before the 2016 AGM. Second, the timing makes Glen Johnson’s ‘resignation’ look ever more suspicious. Either ‘Joff’ Timms is psychic, or someone said to the ever-obliging Johnson, ‘Look, Glen, you’re standing down anyway, so why not render the project a great service by letting us stage-manage your resignation?’
Other matters raised by ‘Anon’ are jobs claimed to have been created by the Castle, most of which are almost certainly being done by agency staff and are unlikely to add up to the number of FTE (full-time or equivalent) jobs claimed. Then there are the bookings to stay in the Castle’s accommodation, again being handled by an agency, which will take its cut and thereby limit the Castle’s profits. Though as ‘Dai Dom Da’ points out, there are precious few bookings of any description. For example, despite being open since April, and spending £100,000 on a permanent marquee, the Castle will not see a single wedding this year! ‘Brychan’s comments are also worth reading as he picks out some interesting points from the Annual Report.
Finally, Ian Perryman throws fresh light on the role of Sue ‘English!’ Lewis in the creation of the post of Facilities Officer, the job that she came to fill after beating off dozens of other applicants who’d seen the job advertised in all the local ‘papers. (Yes, that’s sarcasm; and as my old mate Meic Phillips would say, “laid on with a trowel, boy”.)
Anyway, what Ian says is this: If the job was created when Sue Lewis knew she was getting the elbow from the Tivy-Side Advertiser then clearly she would have had a hand in the dirty work. But the trustees counter this suggestion by arguing that the ‘re-organisation’ – of which the new post was a part – had been planned a long time before. But Sue ‘English!’ Lewis was a trustee for many years, which means that whenever the job was created she put herself in breach of Charity Commission regulations by taking a post she had been instrumental in creating when a trustee.
Unless of course clearance was sought from the Charity Commission for her to take up the post. Though if not, why not? And if, as I suspect, the Charity Commission is ignorant of how the post was created and allocated, then someone should inform them. In fact, I might do it myself.
Symptomatic of a project in serious trouble, in so many ways. Public bodies have given over twelve million pounds of our money to a venture that was to have been a celebration of Welsh history and culture but has now degenerated into little more than the most expensive B&B in Wales. This change of course can be attributed to the Gang of Five, possibly others, but as ‘Dai Dom Da’ reminds us, there has not been a single wedding yet. So Cardigan Castle fails both as a heritage project and as a commercial ‘venue’.
While in the background we still hear the rumblings about the lack of contracts awarded to local companies, and the suspicion of favouritism, or pre-existing connections, that attach to some of the contracts awarded. Why, for example, did the Castle feel the need to go to a firm in Leicester for a £44,400 quote for a website, something that a Welsh firm could have provided for £5,000 or less? (That was obviously too greedy, but this outfit still got the contract to provide Fort Knox-level display cabinets for the Castle’s rusty tat and old photos.) And was there really no firm nearer than Hampshire to supply the Castle with glasshouses?
Small wonder that funders and other stakeholders such as the local councils are now taking greater interest in the project; and that dealings with the media are controlled by Equinox, which uses its contacts to put out a stream of positive stories. Like this one in today’s Cambrian News. But even here, Councillor Lloyd has to admit to a “breakdown in communication”, and the CN writer refers to “the lack of dialogue between trustees and members of the community who had concerns about the inclusion of heritage at the site”. I think that’s meant to be a reference to the lack of a heritage element (but then, with the Cambrian News you can never be sure what it’s trying to say).
And yet, I guarantee that anyone coming on this saga afresh would soon come to the conclusion that the reason for the ‘breakdown in communication’, the reason for ‘the lack of dialogue’, the reason it ceased to be a heritage project (yet fails as a commercial venture), the reason there is an alarming turnover of both trustees and staff, the reason that a clear majority within the local population feels alienated . . . these and all the other ills can be attributed to those running Cardigan Castle.
The only way for this project to regain the affection and support of the local population, and thereby become commercially viable, is to remove those who have got it into this mess. If Cardigan Castle was a purely commercial venture then heads would have rolled a long time ago; but not here, for we are now in the parallel universe of the Welsh Third Sector, where vast amounts of funding are wasted on social enterprises and other excuses for an economy, projects that it can never be admitted have failed. So lies are told, truths are withheld, and more and more money is poured into sink holes.
Outside of the ‘developing world’ there are few countries where a scandal such as Cardigan Castle could happen. Unfortunately, Wales, thanks in no small part to the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government, is one such country.
P.S. In addition to the reluctance to communicate with the public at large, something else I should have remarked on is the lax record keeping. For example, I have just (20:50 Sept 14) been to the Charity Commission page for Ymddiriedolaeth Cadwraeth Adeiladau Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust Charity (Number 1080667), which still shows Glen Jonsonh (sic) as a trustee with the new trustees elected last Thursday not shown. It is not difficult to keep up to date on the Charity Commission website, I know, I’ve done it myself many times. You simply log in, make the necessary changes to the trustees, or whatever, and those changes appear on the website immediately.
It’s difficult to know whether this reluctance to keep records up to date is attributable to laziness, or the more general tendency of the Gang of Five to behave like a secret society. Either way, the law says that the records should be kept up to date.
The ‘resignation’ of Glen Johnson due to “online harassment” and “virtual persecution” continues to reverberate, here’s an update. (Though what is virtual persecution? Is it something less than real persecution?)
To begin with, it’s worth remembering that the press release announcing the resignation was issued by Equinox, the Castle’s PR company. Given how these things are done, with the Castle paying the bills, it’s reasonable to assume that the press release was sent to Equinox ready-written, with instructions for the agency to merely issue it to its media contacts.
One of those contacts was of course the Cambrian News . . . or maybe the Cambrian News got the resignation story directly from the Castle . . . or maybe the Cambrian News didn’t need to be informed at all . . .
Seeing as both my blog and I were mentioned in the Cambrian News report I wrote to managing editor Beverly Davies making it clear that the only references to Glen Johnson on my blog were positive, and so I should not have been mentioned in a way that obviously tried to implicate me in the alleged ‘harassment’. I was refused an apology but given a few hours to make a comment to a follow-up story . . . without being given any details of that follow-up!
Even so, I did give her a statement, though I doubt if it will be published. Here it is. ‘I want nothing to do with the Cambrian News because it cannot be trusted to report honestly on any issue where its over-riding political, ethno-cultural and constitutional prejudices come into play’.
In my exchange of e-mails with Beverly Davies I made the point that, “The Facilities Officer at Cardigan Castle is Sue Lewis, who was, prior to that job being created for her, a trustee. She is one of those I have criticised in my blog. She is also a freelance reporter for your newspaper, and her husband Mike is your South Ceredigion reporter. What a cosy arrangement!”
Beverly Davies responded with, “While Sue Lewis does do some freelance work for our paper, she only covers Aberporth Town (sic) Council and Cardigan Town Council meetings. She has had no involvement in our Cardigan castle stories.” My incredulity becomes clear in my response, “Do you seriously expect me, or any other sentient being, to believe that Sue Lewis has no input to articles written by her husband (or even his colleagues) about the place she works!”
But what if it’s true! Picture the scene chez Lewis, gentle reader, He: ‘I’m working on a story about the place where you work, Sweetie Pie, but you mustn’t tell me anything, or try to influence the article in any way – is that clear?‘ She (eyelashes fluttering): ‘Of course not, Big Boy, you know I wouldn’t do that, I’m an obedient lickle wifey‘. Yes, that must be how things are done in the Lewis household, or maybe not . . .
For there must, regrettably, be the possibility that that image of connubial bliss exists nowhere but in my imagination, and that in the real world the press release and the Cambrian News article were both written by Sue Lewis. In which case, is Glen Johnson just a willing dupe in the machinations of others? If not, if he is the author of the resignation statement, how does he feel about the trustees and the Cambrian News using his resignation to attack me, a man who has done him no wrong, and said nothing about him that was hurtful or even critical?
Let’s have some straight answers, Glen. Are you accusing me of harassing you? If not, how about correcting the impression your resignation has allowed others to create – people you recently worked with – that I am some kind of ogre stalking the internet terrorising women and children. The time for vague allegations and innuendo is past. Things are coming to a head. Let’s have some straight answers, Glen.
Elsewhere, an old comrade, completely unprompted, complained to the BBC about its treatment of the Johnson resignation. His point about cut and paste journalism, and treating press releases as news items, are worrying reminders of the state of the Welsh media. Read it here.
Time now to turn to a recurring theme in the saga of Cardigan Castle, money being squandered.
WEBSITE? THAT’LL BE FORTY-FOUR GRAND, LOVE.
One of the complaints levelled again and again against the project is that there is little to see for the £12m expenditure. People go there and wonder what that vast sum was spent on. One specific complaint made more than once is that the display cabinets are of a similar standard – and cost – to those housing the English crown jewels in London, even though Cardigan Castle has little if anything of value to display. This complaint puzzled me, but recent information may throw some some light on this issue.
A former trustee has sent me a quote, from September 2012, to set up a website for the Castle. The quote comes from a firm called Haley Sharpe Design of Leicester, in England. The quotation – just for a website, remember! – is £44,000. Read it here for yourself; read it through, item by item, and you’ll realise what a rip-off it would have been. Of course, this was three years ago, no doubt HSD would now charge £50,000.
This is what happens when public money is involved and there is no adequate oversight from the funders’ representatives, as is the case with Cardigan Castle. The customer thinks, ‘What the hell, it’s not our money!’ and the supplier rubs his sweaty hands thinking, ‘They’re getting millions in grants, let’s get our snouts in the trough’. Incidentally, I’m told that all the other quotes for a website came in under £5,000.
One obvious question is, why did the trustees ever go to a firm like this, so far away, so expensive, to get a quote for something that could have been provided by Dai Jones down the road for one tenth of the price? Does someone connected with the Castle know someone involved with HSD?
Thankfully, HSD did not get the website contract. An outlay like that would have been difficult to explain, even with the cosy relationship between Lady Tucker and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Gareth ‘Yes, Ma’am’ Gregory. The website now running appears to the creation of Sugar Creative of Cardiff, though there are many firms much nearer to Cardigan that could – and should – have been given the work.
Let us conclude this section by returning to Haley Sharpe Design, for despite losing out on the website rip-off contract the company was asked to fit out the Castle with display cabinets and similar equipment, and also to hold exhibitions. (See left sidebar when page opens.) Knowing how much HSD wanted to charge for a website we can be fairly sure that Cardigan Castle has paid over the odds for its display cases and much else. But then, it’s only public money.
I ask again, who is the link between Cardigan Castle and HSD?
Alas, problems rarely come singly, do they, boys and girls? and poor old Jac has also been assailed by that master of the vituperative, that Woodward and Bernstein of the Welsh blogosphere, Phil Parry of Wales Eye.
IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE ME?
Every so often, when the bile rises, or I have criticised his belovéd Labour Party too effectively, Phil Parry girds his loins and sallies forth to engage with the evil dragon of nationalism – me! These attacks invariably take the form of Parry telling his vast readership that I am about to be banged up because someone has reported me to the police. This ‘someone’ is usually Jacques Protic, a Serbian gent living on Ynys Môn, a man who manages to be a Labour Party member while simultaneously believing that Rhodri Morgan and Carwyn Jones are closet nationalists! (No, I did not make that up, as the panel below testifies. It is a comment Protic made to a BBC blog.)
Parry’s latest assault on the dragon can be found here. I recommend that you be sitting down when you read it, and without a hot drink in your hand. (I should also warn you that in this latest piece Parry offers links to earlier works of fiction in which I star – apparently forgetting that these are behind a paywall!) Now, where to start?
Well, Parry begins with some bizarre story about an investigation by GogPlod into comments on my blog. He writes, “An investigation was launched by North Wales Police after a complaint from a member of the public about the website ‘Jac o’ the North’, and the Editor, Royston Jones, was officially warned to remove abusive comments or it may be closed down, according to sources.” I have received no such warning. North Wales Police has not contacted me.
Other than that, almost everything in the article is a re-hash of what he’s written before. Protic predictably appears, there is yet another mention of the Cayo Evans photograph, the social housing petition is regurgitated, and then he flaunts his powers of investigation with, “Mr Jones is currently embroiled in a controversy which centres on Cardigan castle”. Wow!
The thing about Parry is that he is consistent . . . consistent in attacking me for things I have not done. Let’s start with Protic. The basis for this story is that Protic alleges he was threatened over the telephone and had his car’s tyres slashed, and all because of something I’d written about him on my blog. As if Protic doesn’t draw enough attention to himself by expressing his odious views on every forum he can find.
The Cayo Evans photograph. I don’t know who took it, I don’t appear in it, but putting it up on my blog makes me guilty of . . . well, something. The social housing petition was launched by Dennis Morris of Plaid Glyndŵr. I put it on my sidebar because I’m unreasonable enough to believe that local people should enjoy priority in the allocation of social housing. And of course the ‘hook’ for the latest Parry article is that someone – but not me – wrote something some arsehole somewhere considers ‘racist’.
If online racism really concerns Phil Parry then let him visit MailOnline or Guido Fawkes or a host of other ‘mainstream’ sites, where he will find all the racist comments a man in search of them could desire, made against the Welsh and just about every nation other than the English. But of course Parry won’t do that, because he’s not really interested in racism per se; he is, just like the Cambrian News, and politicians in Wales and elsewhere, simply interested in using the slur of racism to silence people whose views he doesn’t like.
Though let us not be too harsh on Phil Parry for I fear he may be losing it, or maybe someone is playing jokes on him. In what I assume to have been a desperate attempt to say something new about me Parry wrote, “He retired as director of a Barmouth air conditioning firm . . . “ Who? Me! Accusing me of being a gun-toting, ethnic-cleansing, bodice-ripping, baby-eating nationalist I can live with, but you go too far when you accuse me of being a director of an air conditioning firm in – of all places – Barmouth!
I don’t know who, or what, you’re talking about, Parry . . . and neither, I suspect, do you.
IT WAS THE CAMBRIAN NEWS WOT WON IT!
Apart from learning that Beverly Davies has a sense of humour, something else I learnt yesterday was that Elin Jones AM has been asked for a comment on the Johnson resignation, and it will appear in this week’s issue of the rag. No doubt it will be in with the comments from the Pope and the mayor of Wagga Wagga, both outraged by my criticisms of certain Cardigan Castle trustees.
This, I’m told, is what she will say: “Glen Johnson has been a long-time champion of the castle and its history. He is one of the local experts and was influential in convincing me and others of the merits of the need to invest and restore the castle. I am sure he has spent years of voluntary effort in researching and supporting the castle. It is a travesty that he now feels pressured by social media to withdraw as a trustee. We need to thank him for all he has done and hopefully he can continue to contribute in other ways to the project.” So the local AM appears to have swallowed the Cambrian News story hook line and sinker . . . or maybe not, because here’s my interpretation.
Elin Jones will be standing for re-election next May which, let me remind you, is just over eight months away. She is very mindful of how the Cambrian News may have destroyed her colleague Mike Parker’s chances of becoming Ceredigion’s Plaid Cymru MP just three months ago, in the May General Election. For anyone who has perhaps forgotten, check out my post, Mike Parker and Huw ‘Tipp-Ex’ Thomas in Full Agreement.
What the Cambrian News did with that piece of gutter journalism was deliberately misrepresent something Parker had written many years earlier. For soon after moving to Wales he wrote a piece for Planet magazine telling of his shock at realising many English people move to rural Wales to escape the multiracial towns and cities of England. (But he never used the word ‘Nazi’.) He also told us that many of the English who move to Wales look down on their Welsh neighbours with contempt. Read the original 2001 article here. Compare it with what the Cambrian News wrote and you’ll realise what a squalid distortion the latter was.
Remarkably, it was left to the Western Mail to put this story into its correct perspective, with Martin Shipton writing, “The purpose of this attack on Mr Parker, of course, is to dissuade people from voting for him.” In other words, it was an attempt by the Cambrian News to influence the outcome of the General Election in Ceredigion by telling lies about the candidate the ‘paper did not want to win. And it may have worked.
THREAT TO DEMOCRACY?
Its victory over Mike Parker, and the muted response from Plaid Cymru, has emboldened the Cambrian News, making it believe that it can control the political debate, certainly in Ceredigion, and perhaps beyond. Given who owns the ‘paper there is nothing surprising here.
The Cambrian News is part of the Tindle Group, still run by the eponymous, and 88-year-old Sir Ray Tindle. Sir Ray is a patriot of the old school, the man who told his editors, once Bush and Blair began their illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, “to ensure that nothing appears in your newspapers which attacks the decision to conduct the war”. (Read full article here.)
When it comes to Wales, we can be sure that Sir Ray’s views are unequivocally Unionist, which means doing everything possible to portray nationalists as a dangerous and evil enemy . . . especially when they look like winning. The only way dissenting voices can hope to avoid the Tindle treatment is to dissent as little as possible . . . the course Elin Jones has so clearly adopted. With the result that debate is stifled, truth takes a kicking, and democracy in Wales is further weakened.
This assault on truth and democracy in the service of English interests becomes increasingly more obvious as Tindle and other owners ship in journalists recruited in England, journalists who don’t know their patch, and thus make a mockery of ‘local journalism’. The pretence can only be maintained with the assistance of a ‘Welsh’ veneer provided by the likes of Beverly Davies.
The Cambrian News and many other ‘local’ newspapers are now a threat to the democratic process. They promote a viewpoint that is hostile to Welsh interests, they try to intimidate those who dare challenge them and their viewpoint, and they have lost that fundamental connection with local communities that should justify their existence.
The Elin Jones approach is nothing less than surrendering to the diktats of a warped old man who cares nothing for Wales. How does a Plaid Cymru politician justify such a stance, even to herself? The way forward must be to challenge the Cambrian News and all the other BritNat propaganda rags. If Plaid Cymru isn’t prepared to stand up to this bullying, then it does not deserve to survive.
UPDATE 27.08.2015: Yesterday, some 30 people, including ex-volunteers, gathered outside the Castle to make a presentation to sacked Director Cris Tomos. There were young and old there, Welsh and English, to present him with gifts, including a blooming apple tree, showing the gratitude of the townspeople for all the work he has done for Cardigan. Inside, the remaining trustees plotted at their monthly meeting.
UPDATE II 27.08.2015: In this week’s online South Ceredigion edition of the Cambrian News Glen Johnson seems to saying something different regarding his family. Last week it was, “The main reason for my resignation is to protect my family from the virtual persecution being dealt out . . . “. This week, the writer of the article says, ” . . . with his family bearing the brunt of ‘overheard conversations'”.
The implication is inescapable – nothing was said directly to his family. That his family overheard unflattering conversations around the town only proves what a hot topic the running of the Castle has become. Even then, I guarantee that if ‘them trustees’ were getting a slagging, it wasn’t Glen Johnson the critics had in mind. I’m beginning to worry that the saintly Glen Johnson may be developing a martyr complex.
Curiously, although the article is headed ‘AM steps into Cardigan Castle row’ there is no quote from Elin Jones. Perhaps you have to pay for the full edition to read what Elin Jones said. Which I’m sure you’re prepared to do, especially after seeing the subscription page.
The reason I’m returning to the subject now is that it’s all getting a bit naughty. Those I’ve written about, and others behind them, are pulling out the stops in order, not to answer the many questions being asked, but to silence those doing the asking. I suppose things came to a head yesterday with the resignation of Glen Johnson, one of the trustees. Mr Johnson cited as his reason for stepping down the need to protect his family from “online persecution”.
This is the report from the BBC Wales website. Here’s the Tivy-Side Advertiser. Finally, the Cambrian News report talks of “online harassment” and mentions my blog, even gives my name, thereby inviting readers to make the erroneous connection. But then, this is the Cambrian News, and this is the nature of the beast. No one should be surprised to learn that Mike Lewis, husband of trustee Sue Lewis, is a staff reporter, possibly deputy editor, on this rag. Perhaps more pertinent may be the fact that Sue Lewis herself freelances for the CN, as these minutes from Aberporth Community Council make clear. Could it be that Sue Lewis herself wrote the Cambrian News report on Johnson’s resignation?
The first thing to understand about Glen Johnson is that for months he’s been telling anyone who’d listen that he’d had enough, and was stepping down at the September AGM of trustees . . . and these declarations of intent pre-date anything I’ve written about Cardigan Castle. His Facebook page carries a few of these statements. Here’s a couple from July. (Click to enlarge.)
After reading the media accounts I went to my blog to check what I had written about him . . . as opposed to what people what you to believe I’ve written. I could only find two references to Glen Johnson in my blog posts and both were positive. The first in my post of July 7th and the second in the guest post of July 30th. Read both extracts below.
JULY 7:“So this place (Cardigan Castle) has immense significance in Welsh history, yet I don’t think there’s a trustee other than Glen Johnson with any relevant expertise (in history).”
JULY 30:“A glimpse of what might have been is provided by A History of Cardigan Castle written by local historian Glen Johnson. Johnson is currently a trustee who has signalled his intention of stepping down from the role next year, but for years he was a persona non grata to the Aberporth clique running the show because of his awkward insistence on uncovering the archaeology and history of the site.
Bringing his story up to date, Johnson notes that, “in September 2007 Cadwgan B. P. T. revealed their plans to convert the front range of Castle Green House into a Welsh Language Learning Centre and the remainder of the building and all of the outbuildings into holiday accommodation”.
This is harassment! This is “online persecution”!
So if I haven’t been attacking him, what exactly is going on with this ‘resignation’? I am convinced that this whole episode can be explained by the press release issued to the media. Enquiries are referred to a Cardiff telephone number belonging to Equinox, Cardigan Castle’s PR agency. This resignation is nothing but a publicity stunt, one staged to depict critics of the Castle’s trustees as the sort of bastards who threaten the trustees’ wives and children. Remember! this man was resigning anyway, before I put out a word on Cardigan Castle, but someone, somewhere, saw the chance to capitalise on a long-planned resignation by twisting it into the sudden decision of a persecuted man forced out by internet bullies – i.e. me! And all designed to deflect criticism from the ruling trustees, and even allow them to shelter under the umbrella of victimhood.
Here’s my message to Glen Johnson. If your family really is being intimidated then you should have reported it to the police, not a PR agency. And if, as I suspect, you haven’t yet reported it to the police, get in touch with me and I’ll accompany you to the police station. Yes, I’ll hold your hand. But my best advice for you is, don’t allow yourself to be used by people much cleverer and more ruthless than you.
Glen Johnson’s stage-managed resignation is only the latest in a list of incidents which have been attempts to either frighten me off or have my blog closed down. Here’s an example worth recounting.
On August 12th a comment was made to my post, Cardigan Castle – Ready to Fall? of July 7th. The first comment to that post in a fortnight, and it came from ‘Charity Solicitor’. I responded and he / she came back the following day with a longer comment that contained, “It is, therefore, entirely ludicrous to claim, as you and your friends often do, that the trustees have their hands in the till.” I had never accused the trustees of that, and I made that fact clear; I also asked ‘Charity Solicitor’ to direct me to where, as he alleged, I had accused the trustees of theft.
Of course ‘Charity Solicitor’ could not find anything like this on my blog, for the simple reason that I had never written it. Others joined in the debate and eventually ‘Charity Solicitor’, realising he’d been sussed, admitted he was Dr (Charles) Robert Anthony. On August 14th he made what, for a lawyer, was an extraordinary statement, done in a pathetic attempt to laugh off the very serious allegation he had made against me only a few days earlier. He wrote, “‘Hands in the till’ is a figure of speech or metaphor. It’s not meant to be taken literally.” Sorry, pal , ‘hands in the till’ most definitely means stealing, there is no other interpretation. And for what, exactly, could ‘hands in the till’ be a metaphor?
Throughout this exchange with me and others Dr Anthony wasn’t clear whether he was speaking officially for the trustees or merely on their behalf, unofficially. Make your own guesses.
But yet again we have someone riding to the rescue but refusing to address the questions raised, and instead trying to steer the debate onto more promising ground by making me defend myself against things I never said. Very similar to what is happening with this ludicrously contrived resignation. I’m confronted with evasion, innuendo, non-sequiturs, smears, misrepresentation, and downright lies. So let me make my position clear.
I retract nothing I have written about Jann Tucker, Hedydd Jones, Sue Lewis and Sandra Davies. To see them hoping to hide behind poor, manipulated Glen Johnson is despicable, and it will not succeed. The questions are still awaiting answers.
Who is Jonathan Timms of Kent, and how did he get involved? Is he perhaps related to a trustee, or does he own a holiday home in Aberporth? Possibly both?
Why have so many trustees and staff walked away from this project (before I ever got involved)?
How often does Jann Tucker crack open a bottle or twa with the Heritage Lottery Fund’s supposedly impartial representative, Gareth Gregory?
Was Hedydd Jones reprimanded for saying ‘Over my dead body” at the prospect of the Gorsedd visiting the Castle?
Why did the project – as Glen Johnson himself bemoaned – change from a historical and cultural icon into a tacky tourist venture that is financially unworkable?
What did Sandra Davies mean by saying, “We’ll never get world class staff if we have to rely on the Welsh”? Was she asked to explain that insulting remark?
What did Jonathan Timms, the trustees’ contact point and secretary, mean when he described Rhys ap Gruffydd and his sons as “savages”?
Can you provide satisfactory evidence of contracts being properly advertised and put out to tender? Evidence that would satisfy someone other than Jann Tucker’s drinking buddy.
The same applies to appointments, or were they all advertised – online only – from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, as was the case with the post created for trustee Sue Lewis almost immediately after she lost her job at the Tivy-Side Advertiser?
And yet, despite the slanders, I am greatly heartened that the Gang of Four’s defenders feel they need to resort to these tactics. I say ‘defenders’ because I am convinced that what we see now, with Johnson’s resignation especially, is intervention by persons who have come to realise that the Gang of Four are a liability, but to remove them would be an admission of defeat, so they have to be defended at all costs. It’s a difficult situation for them; and so desperate are they that someone must have thought this resignation stunt was worth a try.
Just stand back and consider the absurdity of the news coverage given. Here we have a nobody, in a small town, who resigns from a trust few will have heard of – but it makes the BBC News! This of course is the BBC we have come to know, this is the BBC of the Scottish independence referendum, the BBC of ‘British’ this and ‘Great British’ that, the defender of the British establishment. So in conclusion, let me reiterate . . .
Despite what has been alleged by the Cambrian News and others, nothing mildly derogatory, let alone threatening, has appeared on this blog in relation to Glen Johnson. Anyone persisting with these groundless accusations – or making fresh accusations – should be very careful what they say or write.
It was quite a week for the trustees of Cardigan Castle. What was supposed to have been a gradual build-up of excitement culminating in the Grand Opening Concert featuring Bellowhead, the English folk-rock group, turned instead into an epic PR disaster for the board, headed by Aberporth’s answer to Sepp Blatter, the 80 year-old Jann Tucker MBE.
Two rival petitions were launched calling for the reinstatement of sacked Director, Cris Tomos, and an extraordinary general meeting of the Trust to decide whether the current trustees are fit to go on running the £12 million project.
Meanwhile, the trustees themselves concluded their kangaroo court “investigation” into Mr Tomos, and paid him off in return for a gagging clause.
Cris Tomos was the third Director to leave the project, and all three are known to have departed in acrimonious circumstances because of micro-managing interference by a small group of board members.
Two former trustees and a third prominent volunteer wrote to the Tivy-Side Advertiser to express their concerns about governance of the trust. They have been in contact with the Charity Commission to see what can be done about what they say are serious abuses by the clique which dominates the board of trustees. Under the trust’s constitution, ten members can call an extraordinary general meeting of the membership, and they are now gathering names. One of their objectives is to arrange an independent audit of the trust’s books.
All of this would be bad enough, but the trust has also found itself at the centre of a media storm, with the most startling revelations coming from Jac o’ the North himself, as readers of this blog will know.
This is a multi-million pound undertaking led and controlled by a handful of chums with homes and holiday homes in and around Aberporth, some seven miles to the north of Cardigan, with an official contact address in Kent.
A project which was meant to have the history of the Eisteddfod movement, and the Welsh language and culture at its heart, has been turned into a high-end hospitality venture for upmarket weddings, corporate bashes and a handful of well-heeled, braying visitors wishing to spend a few days roughing it in West Englandshire.
A shot in the arm for local economy?
Vanishingly little of the £12 million poured into the project has benefited local businesses, with even most of the tat in the gift shop having being purchased in Birmingham.
A huge chunk of the money went to Andrew Scott Ltd with insiders reporting massive waste and botched work; £40,000 went on high security glass cases used to display artefacts with little or no monetary value; and local businesses did not get a look in when it came to supplying the furnishings and fittings.
Serious questions are being asked about the tender processes, as well as the trustees’ appointment of one of their own to the post of Facilities Manager while scrapping the role of Education Officer.
All through the construction and restoration phase of the project contracts and jobs have gone to businesses well outside the local area, although large numbers of locals have worked as unpaid volunteers. The hope was that when the gates finally opened, paid employment would be created to benefit locals, but this has not happened either. There remains a heavy reliance on unpaid volunteers, while most of the real jobs have gone to non-Welsh speaking incomers.
It is now clear that the start-up phase of the project has brought almost no economic benefit to the town, and while this new attraction will undoubtedly bring more visitors into Cardigan during the short summer season, there has been further criticism of the trust for pricing the castle’s holiday accommodation at levels which will undermine existing local businesses. At the same time, the wedding venue business is being pitched at well-heeled clientèle from outside the area and priced at levels which will exclude most locals.
Gilbert and Sullivan
If the castle’s contribution to the local economy has so far been minimal, what of the castle’s cultural offering which is supposed to have the Welsh language and culture and the history of the Eisteddfod movement at its heart?
If you missed the Grand Opening Concert and Bellowhead, there are plenty more cultural events coming up, including a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon. Originally set in the Oxfordshire Downs, the story tells the tale of a dragon’s fraught relationship with the locals. The townsfolk bring in Saint George to rid them of the beast, but its life is eventually spared when they realise that the dragon is now a reformed character and not dangerous.
There seems to be a message in there somewhere.
Anyone hoping to see any sign of our rich cultural heritage, or the lively contemporary Welsh cultural scene, will search the castle’s forthcoming events schedule in vain.
A glimpse of what might have been is provided by A History of Cardigan Castle written by local historian Glen Johnson. Johnson is currently a trustee who has signalled his intention of stepping down from the role next year, but for years he was a persona non grata to the Aberporth clique running the show because of his awkward insistence on uncovering the archaeology and history of the site.
Bringing his story up to date, Johnson notes that, “in September 2007 Cadwgan B. P. T. revealed their plans to convert the front range of Castle Green House into a Welsh Language Learning Centre and the remainder of the building and all of the outbuildings into holiday accommodation”.
The Welsh Language Learning Centre never came about, and the Welsh classes that are held in the castle are confined to outbuildings on the periphery behind heavy metal gates, padlocks and “no entry” signs.
Moreover, there are persistent claims that archaeological investigation of the site was kept to a minimum by the trustees who were much more interested in developing the castle as a high-end wedding, holiday and conference venue.
“Not much to see here”
Meanwhile, the trust’s efforts to market the castle have fared no better if Tripadvisor is anything to go by, with a very mixed bag of reviews. A common theme here is that visitors unfamiliar with the town were expecting a castle rather than a heavily restored Georgian house and a vast expanse of lawn, and there is not much to excite the interest of children.
This won’t help in an age where mums and dads tap their smartphones before deciding what to do with the kids on a wet Welsh summer’s day.
Which brings us to the trustees’ PR strategy. A leaked e-mail showed that Sandra Davies, a member of the inner circle, told Cris Tomos that the board had decided he should not contact critics of the project. They were bigots, and the best thing would be to let them run out of steam, she said.
By refusing to talk to local critics and disillusioned volunteers, the trustees instead created a pressure cooker.
Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd, a local group dedicated to celebrating the castle as the home of the Eisteddfod and a cradle of Welsh culture, wrote to the board three months ago to ask for a meeting and an opportunity to present constructive new ideas. The letter did not even receive an acknowledgement.
Negotiations with the Gorsedd to hold a special ceremony of blessing collapsed in acrimony, with Father Seamus Cunane, the trust’s unofficial spin-doctor-in-chief telling readers of the Tivy-Side Advertiser that the Gorsedd had behaved like a bunch of divas.
This week several of these chickens came home to roost, with damning articles in the Carmarthenshire Herald, the Tivy-Side and Golwg.
The piece in Golwg was notable for the appearance of an unnamed spokesperson for the trust who told the somewhat surprised journalist that the trustees would in fact welcome an opportunity to meet the Cyfeillion, and would welcome a grand ceremony of the Gorsedd.
This sudden U-turn clearly had nothing to do with the catastrophic response in the mainstream and social media, and the trust’s Cardiff-based PR agency is now desperately engaged in a fire fighting exercise.
Pressure is growing on the trust to open up its books, and for the octogenarian chair of the trustees and her inner circle to step down and make way for a new team to turn the project round and ensure that it works for the people of Cardigan, rather than friends and family.
My two recent posts on Cardigan Castle have generated an incredible response. On Thursday the 9th – when I was away in Pembrokeshire – my blog received a record 2,223 visits, and the ‘Cardigan Castle – Ready to Fall?’ post has been shared on Facebook an incredible 534 times, another record. Since then, more information has been received, in comments to the blogs, and also in e-mails and DM tweets. To the point where I feel the time has come to lay out the allegations against those who are – allegedly – running this fiasco.
Those familiar with the saga will know that the four principals are Mrs Elizabeth Jann Tucker MBE, Mrs Susan Joy Lewis, Mrs Sandra Margaret Davies and Dr Hedydd Parry Jones. The ‘One’, and the only man, is Jonathan Timms. Between them, these five play various roles in the running of the project. Those roles will be explained below.
To recap: Cardigan Castle is an old pile that changed hands many times over the centuries, and as castles go, in a land that has so many, Cardigan is not one of our great castles. But for the people of the town it’s their castle, and for the rest of the nation it’s important because in 1176, when it was home to Rhys ap Gruffydd (1132 – 1197), it hosted the first ever national eisteddfod.
It seems only fitting that we start with the grande dame of this enterprise, Mrs Elizabeth Jann Tucker OBE. She was born in 1935 in Cross Hands, Carmarthenshire, the “only child of a well-to-do family” and was, I’m further informed, educated at an English boarding school. She now lives 7 miles north of Cardigan with her husband Tony in Aberporth, where they run a holiday homes business. She was awarded the OBE last year, as this report from the Tivy-Side Advertiser tells us.
By an example of happenstance such as litter this saga, the newspaper report was almost certainly written by Mrs Susan Joy Lewis who was then the editor of the Tivy-Side Advertiser. I say happenstance because Mrs Lewis also lives in Aberporth. And as if that wasn’t enough happenstance for one paragraph, both are trustees at Cardigan Castle!
Jann Tucker and her husband strike me as the kind of people who like to ‘involve’ themselves. Perhaps because they know best. The Charity Commission website tells us that Mrs Tucker is also a trustee of Aberporth and District youth club, and also Aberporth village hall and recreation ground. Hubby is also a trustee of the latter body, and managed to upset locals with a plan hatched in 2008 to sell off part of the car park. And as might be expected, Jann Tucker also belongs to Aberporth community council, whose meetings Sue Lewis used to attend representing the Tivy-Side Advertiser.
It seems that Jann Tucker and Sue Lewis have been friends and neighbours for some years, and if one comment to my blog is to be believed, mutual back-scratching has been the norm. For according to ‘Wenda of the West’, “apparently back in 2006 ish Jan Tucker stole/claimed a parcel of land from Aberporth Primary School, who was chair of the school governors – Sue Lewis, she did nothing to stop her and Mrs Tucker added a nice piece of land to her estate”.
Jann Tucker joined Joined Ymddiriedolaeth Cadwraeth Adeiladau Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust (hereinafter referred to as ‘Cadwgan’) on 21.03.2000, and Ymddiriedolaeth Cadwraeth Adeiladau Castell Aberteifi Cardigan Castle Building Preservation Trust (hereinafter referred to as ‘Castell’) 28.03.2000. She still serves as trustee on both charities and also served as a trustee / director on Cardigan Castle Enterprises Ltd from 15.06.2010 to 28.01.2015.
The next up in our Gang of Four profiles is Mrs Susan Joy Lewis herself. So what do we know? For a start, she was born in Devonshire, England, in 1962. Until late last year she was the editor of the Tivy-Side Advertiser. As we’ve already learnt, she lives in Aberporth, with husband Mike, who is also a journalist.
Sue Lewis served as a trustee on ‘Cadwgan’ from 18.03.2002 until 12.01.2015. (Though she is still shown as a trustee on the woefully out-of-date details to be found on the Charity Commission website.) She probably resigned from this charity to take up the paid post of the Castle’s Facilities Officer, something I shall return to in a minute. Though she still serves as a trustee on ‘Castell’, which she joined 19.12.2007. And she is also a trustee / director of Cardigan Castle Enterprises Ltd, which she joined 16.06.2010. Away from the Castle she is also a trustee / director of Small World Theatre.
I suppose it’s worth asking why there is no Welsh version of ‘Castle Enterprises Ltd’. Perhaps because it wasn’t formed until 2010, and Lewis was on board from the start, as was her neighbour, Tucker. Though that said, and despite its name, it’s a company that doesn’t seem to be that enterprising, with a net worth of £0 and doing hardly any trading. Which only serves to make more corporeal the spectre of yet another project that will forever be suckling on the teat of public funding.
A few lines back I mentioned Sue Lewis becoming Facilities Officer at the Castle early this year . . . very soon in fact after losing her job as editor at the Tivy-Side Advertiser. In the taverns and coffee-houses of Cardigan dispute rages as to how this came about. Essentially, there are two interpretations.
The first – and more charitable version – posits a scenario along these lines. With the Castle opening to the public in 2015 it was felt – in the latter part of 2014 – that a restructuring was needed to meet the fresh challenge. And so existing staff were laid off (but encouraged to re-apply for their jobs). It was simply unfortunate – but unavoidable – that the new post of Facilities Office (salary £25,000 p.a.) was advertised over the Christmas period, and only on the Castle’s Facebook page, which must have been visited by as many as . . . oh, I don’t know, a dozen people.
(UPDATE 25.07.2015: I am indebted to ‘M O’ for providing this link which seems to show that the post of Facilities Officer was first advertised on December 23rd 2014 with a closing date for applications of January 2nd 2015. In other words, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. This is how things are done when the post has already been allocated but the clique involved has to pretend otherwise.
That this was allowed strengthens my belief that what we see at Cardigan Castle is what the funders want – an English tourist attraction and events venue stripped of all Welsh content and significance. Though I’m not sure the funders fully understand that the project they’re supporting may be camouflaging the real estate ambitions of some of those involved, and others close to them.
What is now clear is that Sue Lewis became Cardigan Castle Facilities Manager by deception and nepotism. I would hope that the way this post was advertised and allocated broke both charity law and the rules applied by the funders. But even if it didn’t, Sue Lewis’ position is now untenable. She must go, from her post as Facilities Manager and from all involvement with Castell Aberteifi.)
The second – and less charitable version – portrays a different sequence of events entirely. Having been told in early December that she was about to get the chop Sue Lewis and her friends decided to capitalise on the already announced restructuring and use it to create a new post for her, and then go through the motions of advertising that post over Christmas. She may even have been tipped off about her redundancy before the restructuring was announced.
Proponents of both versions seem to agree on three important points:
1/ The post of Facilities Officer was inadequately advertised, if it was advertised at all.
2/ Sue Lewis was appointed to the post by her friends and neighbours.
3/ She has no experience of the duties she is now expected to fulfil.
The Small World Theatre is a company based in the town that, with its falling income, may see regularly performing at the Castle as its financial salvation. If so, then it was obviously a wise move to get Sue Lewis on board in May, 2012, and it’s already reaping rewards. For as this letter written to a local politician puts it, “It is also worrying to be told that over £15,000 has been given to Small World Theatr for putting on very English based summer activities for children without any opportunity for other Welsh theatre groups to bid for the money and offer more suitable performances. There is a very serious and corrupt edge to this development as Sue Lewis is a trustee of Small World . . . “.
Elin Jones, the Plaid Cymru AM, is a ‘Friend’ on Lewis’ Facebook page.
In fact Plaid Cymru, the party, has behaved in its usual manner when confronted with ‘awkward’ situations – it has slunk away to the shadows for fear of upsetting people. And in the process abandoned a Welsh cause. God! I hope Plaid Cymru is destroyed next May.
Next in line is Mrs Sandra Margaret Davies, born 12.06.1949. She is married to Meirion Davies, a teaching assistant some 17 years her junior. Having been born and raised locally she of course speaks Welsh, but like Jann Tucker, chooses not to. Now prepare to overdose on happenstance.
Mr and Mrs Davies live in Aberporth. (Where else!) Sandra Davies is the vice-chair of the governors of Ysgol Gynradd Aberporth. The chair, you will remember, is Sue Lewis! Meirion helps out at the local youth club, where other trustees are Jann and Tony Tucker. I stopped digging at this point because, quite frankly, there’s a limit to how many connections I can take. But I think I’ve established that we have here three people, Jann Tucker, Sue Lewis and Sandra Davies, who are all trustees at Cardigan Castle, who all live in the same small village some 7 miles up the coast, and who all know each other very well, having worked together on other bodies.
We all say, ‘It’s a small world’, but humbling phenomena like this bring home to us how true that is. Oh, yes.
Sandra Davies is now retired but formerly worked at the English military’s weapons establishment in Aberporth which used to provide many jobs for local people, alongside the service personnel and the ex-servicemen (who always had priority for civilian jobs). Nowadays the base employs far fewer locals and is engaged in developing drones, for both military, surveillance and commercial use.
She joined ‘Castell’ 27.11.2013, but seems never to have been a member of ‘Cadwgan’, maybe because, as she claims to be the trustee-accountant or some such, she too is getting paid. She joined the spectacularly unenterprising Cardigan Castle Enterprises Ltd on 24.04.2013.
Though one perplexing chapter in her recent history is Keykeeper Wales Ltd, Company No 08517357. It was in existence from 07.05.2013 to 20.01.2015 but never made any returns or filed any accounts. It seems to have been one of those companies that are set up, do nothing, and then fold; leaving one to think, ‘What the hell was that about?’ Apart from the Davieses the only other directors were William Neil Chambers and Nicola Lesley Chambers.
To help you understand Sandra Davies, and other self-hating Welsh, I’ll recount her answer when it was suggested to have bilingual front-of-house staff at the Castle. “We’ll never get world class staff if we have to rely on the Welsh”. World class staff! How much do they intend paying these ‘world class staff’?
If we pass the Davies residence and keep going up the road we soon come to the village of Tresaith, near to where we find Dr. Hedydd Parry Jones. On the one hand, it’s nice to get away from the stifling incestuousness of Aberporth, but on the other hand, we are of course moving further away from Aberteifi.
There’s not a lot to report about Dr Jones, she’s another who keeps a low profile. I’m told that before her retirement she was a GP in Castell Newydd Emlyn and is, I’m also told, married to a farmer in the Tresaith area.
She came relatively late to the Gang of Four, joining ‘Cadwgan’ on 18.11.2009, and ‘Castell’ on 25.04.2012. She served her time with Cardigan Castle Enterprises Ltd from 15.06.2010 to 28.01.2015.
One spectacularly offensive remark has been attributed to her. During a discussion on whether the Gorsedd should be invited to the spiritual home of the National Eisteddfod, she is reported to have contributed, “Over my dead body”.
Hedydd Jones is also on Facebook, and despite her being another shrinking violet, I have managed to secure a photograph.
It’s almost a merciful relief to be leaving the Ceredigion coast, but I don’t believe we should have to move as far as Kent, in England, for that relief, which is where we find Jonathan Richard Timms. ‘Who’, you cry, ‘is Mr Timms?’
Another figure of mystery is Jonathan ‘Joff’ Timms. We know he was born in 1945, so he’s of a ripe age, and he joined ‘Cadwgan’ 15.11.2006. On the Charity Commission website he is even listed as the contact for the trust. (Click to enlarge panel on right.) He joined ‘Castell’ 18.04.2007.
As if that wasn’t enough, he and Sue Lewis seem to be the only directors left standing at Cardigan Castle Enterprises Ltd. So he appears to be the one person who is a trustee for both trusts and is also a trustee / director of the trading arm. So how does that work, with him living so far away? Does he make the 620 mile round trip to attend every meeting, or are meetings arranged for when he might be in the area? Though come to that, why would he be in the area at all? Well, boys and girls, you will not be surprised to learn that a dickie-bird tells me Mr Timms has a holiday home in Aberporth, and that he was almost certainly invited aboard the good ship Cardigan Castle by Jann Tucker.
A regular contributor to my blog, ‘Brychan’, had this to say of Mr Timms:
“The mysterious Mr Timms has moved.
When originally registered at the charity commission he declared he was resident at a period mansion, Glebe House, Mersham in the Weald of Kent. This property is Grade II listed. It was renovated by Talus, who are specialists in restoring period structures and sub dividing the property for sale. Half of this property is now up for sale for £950,000. I find no record of title change for the other parts of the structure. 12 other properties were built on associated land.
Mr Timms subsequently changed his address declared at the charity commission to another of his properties at 44 Oxenturn Road, Wye, a village some miles away, nestled in the North Downs.
It is quite evident, as his original Glebe House period mansion changed from detached to two semi-detached properties, that he specialises in buying and renovating period structures and then sub-dividing them for sale as separate units at vast profit. The ‘wedding venue’ and ‘events’ businesses that habit the property for a short period are merely ghost enterprises, the real cash is generated by the sub-division and subsequent piecemeal sale of a renovated freehold.
Do the good people of Aberteifi really know who they’re dealing with? I have assumed the ‘Welsh’ Government, CADW and Cyngor Ceredigion have done the precautionary background checks on this geezer. I wonder what he did with his bats? Did they move to Wye or Aberteifi?”
So Jonathan Timms appears to be a property specialist whose forte might be converting and flogging period and listed buildings, such as – dare I say it? – Castle Green House inside the Castle grounds. (Click to enlarge image.)
Also note that both trusts, in their declarations to the Charity Commission, state their objectives thus: “To preserve for the benefit of the people of Cardigan town and of the nation the historical, architectural and constructional heritage that may exist in and around Cardigan town in buildings (including any building as defined in Section 336 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) of particular beauty or historical, architectural or constructional interest’. Which suggests that certain persons’ ambitions may not be limited to the Castle.
I’m told Mrs Timms was acting as a ‘volunteer’ when Our Glorious Leader visited the Castle last month.
This is the situation now, but the problems with Cardigan Castle go back years, to when the renovation was being done. There are too many problems to list them all, but one worth mentioning is the complaint from local businesses that they were not invited to tender for the work being done on the Castle.
Now there could be a simple explanation for this in that the main contractor, Andrew Scott Ltd of Port Talbot, was allowed to choose its sub-contractors and suppliers, perhaps arranging its own tendering processes. But if so, why did those representing the Castle not insist that the process be opened up to local contractors and suppliers?
Alternatively, if handing out the contracts to suppliers was within the gift of the trustees then local anger is understandable, and helps explain why a complaint I’ve heard more than once concerns the work given to Leekes of Cross Hands to supply furniture, fittings, sanitary ware and much else that could have been sourced cheaper locally. Inevitably, seeing as Jann Tucker was born in Cross Hands, people suggest she is related to the Leekes family. Possibly, though another option is that a member of the Leekes clan has a holiday home on the Ceredigion coast – Llangrannog has been mentioned – and is known to the Gang of Four, or some of them, or perhaps just one of them.
One of the most serious complaints I’ve heard is contained in the letter to a local politician I linked to above. (Here’s the link again.) The writer says, “We have at least 60 people in Cardigan who have asked to join (the trust, presumably) but have just been ignored”. This suggests that the Gang of Four doesn’t want anyone involved who isn’t going to toe their line. No elections, no applications; entry is by recommendation and invitation only, a methodology they might have picked up from their Freemason husbands.
Another regular complaint is that there seems to be no constitution for members of the public to consult, which charity law says there should be. Then there’s the issue of minutes being doctored, with the final versions bearing little resemblance to what took place in the meetings the minutes supposedly refer to. And as mentioned in the earlier posts, there is the absurdly high turnover in staff and trustees for the very simple reason that no one can work with the Gang of Four.
One of the more bizarre complaints is that the trustees spent £100,000 on a wedding marquee, a permanent structure but, of course, without foundations. This was done despite being told that weddings can only be in held in a building with three sides and a roof. As I say, this is one of the more bizarre complaints, but if true, then it displays a stupidity, and exposes a waste of public money, that should not go unpunished. Regarding this marquee, Jann Tucker averred that she didn’t want any “local riff-raff” getting married in it.
Sticking with the bizarre, another story I was told by, I suspect, someone who worked on the project, was that the main contractor, Andrew Scott Ltd, was told by a local contractor that the sewage / drainage system was 300mm ‘out’. The advice was ignored and now the Castle is said to have problems with this system. Oh yes, the same source tells me that the Castle has bought two banana trees. I just hope these are traditional Welsh banana trees.
Cardigan Castle is clearly in deep, deep trouble. A £12m project is being run by people who are out of their depth. Incompetence would be bad enough, but they compound that failing by being unpleasant creatures given to venomous, insulting outbursts. Small wonder the townspeople of Aberteifi feel alienated. They see no one from their town involved in running the Castle, and local businesses excluded from the £12m bonanza! Welcome to Aberporth Castle . . . with the contact address in Kent.
That the major funders involved, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the ‘Welsh’ Government, have not stepped in to replace these women, and Mr Timms, with a board of trustees operating more transparently, a board more representative of Cardigan and the surrounding area, makes those funders complicit in and responsible for the malpractice now taking place.
Beyond malpractice we also have the clearly expressed sentiments of hostility towards the Welsh language, Welsh culture, and Welsh people. Outbursts that should disqualify these women from involvement in any project in Wales using public funding.
They themselves are the intolerant bigots they accuse their critics of being. Get rid of them!
I have just returned from a short break in Pembrokeshire. On the way down my wife and I stopped in Cardigan, and once there we were inevitably drawn to the castle. Now I may not have walked around with a calculator in my hand but I certainly came away wondering where twelve million pounds has been spent. While that may have been a mystery, what became very clear from my tour was that the history of the castle, and indeed the area’s history and culture, is relegated to a few posters, maps, models and videos that could not have cost much, and which will not be allowed to get in the way of the building’s prime focus from now on – as an upmarket conference / functions / weddings venue.
While in the castle I took the opportunity to enjoy the views, and among the sights to be seen from Rhys ap Gruffudd’s old pile were a couple of James Lynch’s establishments. He, you will recall, is a son-in-law to a long-standing trustee of the castle project, a local entrepreneur who appeared in the previous post. Here’s the view across the river to his holiday accommodation in a converted warehouse, and here’s the view of his pizza joint on the quay. Lynch also busies himself with glamping, weddings and associated businesses. As invariably happens when big city businessmen descend on ‘sleepy’ corners of Wales to re-invent tourism Jimbo has brought to Aberteifi high-skill, twenty-first century jobs, and the top-whack salaries that go with those jobs. (Sarcasm? Moi!)
But enough of James Lynch, as he awaits his opportunity in the wings. Let us focus instead on the leading players, those currently strutting the boards and hogging the limelight. Into this category come two women who are receiving much attention in the local media, Sue Lewis and Sandra Davies. All explained, on facing pages, in the most recent issue the PembrokeshireHerald. (Click to enlarge on all images.)
First, page four gave us further details on the ‘suspension’ of director Cris Tomos. Reminding us how bizarre this whole saga is becoming by relating that he was ‘suspended’ from his post on the day that marked the climax of Gŵyl Fawr Aberteifi. The Herald continued:
“Although the introduction to the official (GFA) programme contained a couple of references welcoming the opening of the castle (home of the Eisteddfod), the event was staged in the town’s 1960s redbrick leisure centre, while the castle hosted a sports awards bash.”
The Eisteddfod programme contained scores of adverts and messages of support from all sorts of companies, businesses and local organisations, down to the local milkman – but nothing at all from the castle. So, instead of the first chairing of a bard in the castle since 1176, the ceremony took place in a council sports hall.”
If any proof was needed of how those running Cardigan castle had turned their backs on the building’s history and its significance in Welsh cultural history, then this episode provides the proof. For here we see the home of the eisteddfod tradition shunning completely the local eisteddfod!
The bulk of the facing page was taken up with Sue Lewis defending herself against recent criticism of the way she runs things . . . or I think that’s what she was doing. It all got a bit confusing, so judge for yourself. She seems to be suggesting that someone is trying to “discredit” her – by using her own words against her. She went on to threaten legal action, but the Herald had heard nothing from any legal representative before going to press. But if they had, who would have been paying, Mrs Lewis or the Cardigan Castle Trust, in other words, the public purse?
Mrs Lewis is looking more and more discredited, her position increasingly untenable for a number of reasons (dealt with below). But one worth adding here is the remarkable workings of serendipity attaching to her appointment as Facilities Manager.
Sue Lewis was made redundant from her post as editor of the Tivy-Side Advertiser just before Christmas. At that time she was a trustee, and one of a small group of trustees that removed three Welsh-speaking members of staff, including Rhian Medi, daughter of the late Archdruid, Dic Jones. Rhian Medi was the Education Officer. As a trustee, Sue Lewis sat on the panel that, we were led to believe, would appoint replacements. Not quite. It was decided that the Castle could manage without an Education Officer but definitely needed a Facilities Officer, and who better to fill that post than the recently redundant Sue Lewis herself! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all sit in on the selection process and give ourselves jobs!
Another woman whose position has become untenable through her own prejudice-betraying utterances is Sandra Davies, the trustee treasurer. She refers to local group Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd as “bigots” and orders (an at the time unsuspended) Cris Tomos to have nothing to do with them.
How many times have we heard anyone who speaks up in defence of Wales and Welsh identity condemned as a ‘bigot’, a ‘racist’, or a ‘narrow-minded nationalist’, done so that their views can be disregarded and debate stifled? By comparison, the true racists, those who want to destroy Welsh identity and replace it with an intolerant Englishness, are allowed to portray themselves as generous and liberal! What an indictment of modern Wales, of our media, our political class, that this colonialist distortion has achieved such dominance, and that a woman holding a position of authority with an iconic Welsh building can so freely and proudly exhibit this vile attitude.
Sandra Davies must go, and she must go immediately. If she is not removed then the suspicions attaching to the motives and intentions of the funders and others involved will be finally confirmed.
From whichever perspective one chooses to look at Cardigan Castle it can only be perceived as a disaster.
To begin with, the public was told that among the project’s objectives was that it should attract ‘ . . . visitors who are seeking leisure learning activities related to the Welsh language, culture, crafts, environment and horticulture and “using the Welsh language, and the cultural traditions of the Eisteddfodau, as a tool for tourism development and regeneration”’. This has not happened except in the most cursory and superficial manner.
Then there’s the commercial angle. In her ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails quoted in the Herald Sue Lewis justifies removing the Welsh dimension from the Castle project by arguing that herein lies the route to commercial success. (For ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails see panel above, ‘Cardigan Castle is “under siege”‘.) One well-placed source tells me that the Castle has seen just two conferences, one organised by the county council, the other by Tai Cantref, a local housing association with a lucrative sideline in the importation of riff-raff. The permanent wedding marquee has yet to hear a best man’s embarrassing jokes, or witness the tears of a bride’s mother, while the complex has seen not one paying guest.
Even the cafe, overlooking the High Street, the river, and the interior of the complex, was a loser as people had to pay to go into the castle before they could buy a drink or a meal! This has now been remedied by a new door allowing people to enter directly from the street . . . with bouncers dressed as medieval knights in Cross of St. George outfits ensuring nobody sneaks into the castle after their cappuccino. (OK, I made up the bit about the bouncers, but who was responsible for the original design!)
Then, from so many quarters, I hear horror stories about the main contractor, Andrew Scott of Port Talbot. These involve shoddy workmanship, jobs not finished on time, cost over-runs and sheer incompetence. Into the last category falls the story of the lift ordered for Castle Green House that was the wrong size because someone had not taken the correct measurement! Did this really happen? While a comment to my previous post alleges that very expensive kitchen equipment and furnishings came from a certain supplier due to that firm enjoying a family connection to a trustee, even though the very same equipment could have been sourced far cheaper in Cardigan. Though another suggestion is that a member of the Leekes clan owns an expensive holiday home at Llangrannog, and is a neighbour and friend to a person or persons connected with the Castle.
Another criticism is the lack of joined-up thinking (if that’s what it is). Last month the ‘Welsh’ Government announced a £300,000 grant for Coleg Ceredigion to develop a Welsh language centre at its Cardigan campus. We’re entitled to know why the ‘Welsh’ Government is funding another project on a separate site when it should be in the castle and covered by that project’s £12m budget. Some suggest a devious game being played by the Heritage Lottery fund, who had no intention of allowing Cardigan Castle to be ‘too Welsh’. If so, then perhaps the other big funder, the ‘Welsh’ Government, is simply falling into line.
This post, and the previous one, are not arguments against commercialisation based on some simplistic notion that sites like Cardigan Castle do not need to generate income. I know from experience that funders demand business plans, and all manner of credible projections to convince them that a project will remain viable after the initial funding has run out. But I can’t believe that any funder, or bank, or investor, would be happy with the shambles in Aberteifi.
First, we have the clear departure from the original and expressed intention that the project would promote and nurture the Welsh language and the culture associated with that language. This has not happened. Sue Lewis’ amazing ‘ENGLISH’ e-mails, and Sandra Davies’ rant against Welsh “bigots” make this abundantly clear. All we have now is lip service being paid to the Castle’s history, its role in Welsh culture, and the sensibilities of the people who have always lived in the vicinity.
This rejection of all things Welsh was justified – by Sue Lewis – as being commercially sensible. Mrs Lewis’ judgement is not being vindicated. And I can’t help but wonder what experience a journalist like Sue Lewis has that qualifies her to be the Facilities Officer for a twelve million pounds project. But then, she does appear to have been self-appointed.
And what of the trustees . . . or rather, who are the current trustees? And why is there such a high turnover among them? Does anyone have a complete and up-to-date list of the trustees? Certainly the Charity Commission doesn’t, but the law says it should.
As things stand, this project is approaching meltdown. It has alienated most locals and failed to justify that behaviour with commercial success. Staff have been sacked for no good reason (unless being Welsh qualifies). And the whole shooting-match now appears to be under the control of two women who are always right, and for whom measured responses are anathema. With friends like these Cardigan Castle needs no enemies.
The regeneration of Cardigan Castle started off with a fund of local goodwill upon which to draw; that fund has been all but exhausted by a combination of incompetence and lack of oversight, with the second of those allowing – if not encouraging – the takeover of the project by a prejudiced, self-serving group. The Castle and what it stands for is now resented and regarded with suspicion by the local Welsh, as it was when the Castle was in English hands, imposing English ways on the Welsh population.
Given my ideological outlook I don’t often quote Karl Marx, but I can’t resist this: ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’. Cardigan Castle is most definitely a farce. A very expensive farce.