Many reading this will have seen last night’s screening of BBC Wales’ Week In Week Out (WIWO). For those who didn’t, here’s a link to the programme allowing you to watch it on BBC iPlayer. For those without BBC iPlayer, here’s the BBC website story. Certain things were inescapably obvious from the programme, but the more I think about what I saw, the more I begin to worry that a) we didn’t hear all the facts and b) the programme may have lacked objectivity.
Let’s state the facts as we know them. The complainants, Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts, moved from England to Carmarthenshire in 2003, since when they have been in dispute with their neighbour, Andrew Thomas. Their complaints to Carmarthenshire County Council and Dyfed Powys Police were consistently ignored. The Ombudsman found for the complainants against Carmarthenshire County Council and ordered the authority to apologise.
The problems centred on Andrew Thomas (and his now deceased wife) running an unauthorised haulage business from their farm. The pair were also engaged in small-scale quarrying and what appeared to be a scrapyard. The evidence is plain, and the case proven. So one question is why, over such a long period, with film evidence supplied, the council refused to act against Andrew Thomas. The alternatives are almost unbelievable incompetence on the part of the council or Thomas having influence with the council. I was disappointed that WIWO did not explore this latter option, which might have led somewhere seeing as, on the evidence we have, this is the most plausible explanation.
Something else that worried me was the black and white nature of the presentation. Being familiar with disputes between neighbours, both as a participant and a peace-maker, I have never before encountered a case such as that presented last night by WIWO, in which one side was 100% right, and the other side 100% wrong. It’s just not possible. This was Bambi against Godzilla with the Ombudsman playing some superhero and WIWO standing in for Walt Disney.
WIWO tried to use the Ombudsman’s decision to prove that everything the couple said was true. Which was wrong, for the Ombudsman was dealing with specific allegations against Carmarthenshire County Council; he was not adjudicating on the personal squabble between the couple and Andrew Thomas. Yet WIWO accepted unconditionally the version presented by Breckman and Roberts without giving Andrew Thomas the chance of putting his side of the story. What might Thomas’s version have been? What might his films have shown? Yet, while both the council and the police were invited to comment, Thomas was not.
Having mentioned the police, one clip – again from the couple’s footage – showed Ms Breckman being taken away in handcuffs following yet another contretemps between the couple and Thomas. This I found very odd. Because I cannot believe that the police would have arrested Ms Breckman for her involvement if it had been limited to what WIWO showed us from the couple’s film. Something else must have happened, or been said, that we were not told about, to result in the ‘cuffs. Or are we to suspect that Andrew Thomas also has ‘pull’ with Plod!
Here’s my take on it. We did not get a full and balanced story last night. This was because WIWO got carried away with the footage Breckman and Roberts were able to supply and WIWO was able to gather itself: galloping horse . . . gates being erected . . . cockerel crowing . . . disagreeable Welsh peasant . . . ‘expert’ pontificating as requested . . . Ombudsman sticking to script . . . etc. Unfortunately the makers of Week In Week Out got so carried away that any consideration of balance went out the window. Andrew Thomas may not be everybody’s idea of an ideal neighbour, but he should have been allowed to defend himself.
The one thing to emerge clearly from last night’s programme was that, from this and other cases, it’s now obvious that Carmarthenshire County Council is a dysfunctional organisation, and the Welsh Government must intervene. The evidence is now stacked high enough.
Some reading this will accuse me of turning it into a Welsh v English thing. I’m not, but I fear someone else might be. I say that because we’ve been here before, with different actors but the same stock characters: meek yet articulate, wouldn’t-harm-a-fly English good-lifers falling victim to a vicious, vindictive – if not ‘racist’ – Welsh local.
If you think I’m wrong just remember how WIWO presented it. The ‘baddies’ were all Welsh, the ‘goodies’ all non-Welsh (apart from a rather vague contribution by a neighbour named Rees). We know there are plenty wanting to promote that kind of narrative. By abandoning any pretence of objectivity Week In Week Out last night gave them further ammunition.