TopOfTheCops can exclusively reveal today that Home Secretary Theresa May met with Falklands veteran Simon Weston at the end of January, and just days later he launched his ill-fated bid to stand as an Independent candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales.
The information was contained in the Home Office's response to a Freedom of Information request from TopOfTheCops editor Sam Chapman submitted in July after Weston's withdrawal from the race.
Queries had been raised surrounding Weston's eligibility to stand, given he had a conviction as a teenager. Despite virtually unanimous legal opinion that Weston was ineligible, Theresa May announced that the law was not aimed at people like Weston, and Michael Crick was told that the Attorney General and Home Secretary both believed that Weston was allowed to stand. Meanwhile election law expert Ros Baston unearthed evidence of Policing Minister Nick Herbert having previously briefed the House of Commons, as they passed the law, that juvenile convictions would be able to disqualify PCC candidates. The full history is here.
Shortly afterward, Weston withdrew from the race saying it was getting too political, and then Ros Baston received confirmation from the Home Office that people in Weston's position would be banned from standing, as just about every lawyer who wasn't Attorney General seemed to have always thought.
TopOfTheCops then asked the Home Office for details of any meetings between their Ministers or Senior Civil Servants and Simon Weston since the General Election. The Home Office replied that one meeting had taken place between Home Secretary Theresa May and Simon Weston on 31 January 2012.
This was the same day given as a deadline by the Conservative party on application forms for the Police and Crime Commissioner nomination, so the Home Secretary may have already known about the likely range of candidates the Conservatives might have to choose from. Indeed, only three weeks later the Huffington Post's Chris Wimpress was reporting that the candidates the party had to choose from were a massive disappointment to No.10. The 31 January deadline was then extended eventually until the end of May in most areas.
In late January there were few high-profile candidates. The Conservatives had only Colonel Tim Collins, who was seeking the Conservative nomination in Kent and who had yet to make unfortunate remarks about doing the job part-time, which some believe doomed his campaign.
After meeting the Home Secretary on 31 January, Simon Weston announced he was running for the role on 9 February in the Sun newspaper. He began the campaign with much press coverage but little internet presence, which may suggest that the public launch of his campaign had not been preceded with a long period of preparation.
The Home Office response lists no other Ministers as present at the meeting with Mr Weston, which suggests Policing Minister Nick Herbert was not there. If this included a discussion about the PCC elections, and had Mr Herbert been involved, clearly he could have been in a position to pass on his knowledge about the impact of previous convictions.
The only other contact listed between the senior levels of the Home Office and Weston is when the Home Secretary's Diary Secretary called Weston to arrange the meeting. This suggests that the meeting was instigated by the Home Secretary.
Curiously, the Home Office says there is no record of the conversation between the Diary Secretary and Mr Weston, and that no note or minute of the meeting itself was taken, and the Home Office therefore has not revealed the subjects discussed at the meeting. The civil service is known to be fastidious about these things so the absence of a record may lead to further questions from interested parties.
The Home Office has stated it has responded with all relevant data that it holds about the meetings, so the official position of the Department appears to be that it does not know what was discussed at the meeting.
What is clear however is that 9 days later Mr Weston launched his campaign, which was an upset to the then favourite declared candidate in South Wales, former Labour First Minister Alun Michael MP, who had declared his intention to seek the Labour nomination two weeks before the Home Secretary met Weston. It is not clear whether his announcement predated the Home Office's first approach to Weston.
The revelation about the meeting will likely lead to further suspicions in the Labour party around Independent candidates, particularly in areas such as South Wales where Conservatives have yet to pick a candidate or do not have a recent history of electoral success. It was after all in February that Peter Hain warned of Independents who in his view were 'closet Tories' standing in local elections in Wales.
Finally, as the only meetings and telephone contact with Weston disclosed between Home Office Ministers or Senior Civil Servants was related to the 31 January meeting, this means that the Home Office has no record of any meetings, phone calls or email contact between themselves and Simon Weston or his representative in June and July when his personal circumstances were under review at the Home Office and in the media. Did they just abandon him at this difficult time, and pass messages only through statements to the media, or was there communication that for some reason was not on the Home Office's books?
TopOfTheCops awaits further developments with interest.
Midday Update:- Michael Crick, of Channel 4 News, has picked up the story and added what he knows, and some questions this raises:-
- Weston repeatedly told Crick that his previous conviction would not prevent him standing.
- The Home Secretary personally told Crick that Weston's conviction would not be a problem. This was wrong.
- Was Weston's confidence based on discussions with May?
- Was this discussed at their January meeting?
- Was Weston a proxy Conservative?
- Did Simon Weston launch his campaign on this basis of duff advice and assurances from Theresa May?
I would add the following:-
If Weston's confidence was based on discussions between him and May then:-
1) if it was at the January meeting, why was Nick Herbert not kept informed? We know he knew that such convictions were a problem – he had agreed that approach deliberately with Labour in the Bill's committee stages. Do May and Herbert not talk?
2) if it was other than at the January meeting why has it not been disclosed in response to the Freedom of Information request.
Whose idea was it that Simon Weston should run? Weston's or May's?
Had South Wales Conservatives decided not to run a Conservative candidate by the end of January? If so, why has this never come out? If not, was the Home Secretary encouraging someone to run against her own party's candidate? Is that OK now within the Conservative party?
It would be handy if someone could ask the Home Secretary and/or Simon Weston some of these questions – in particular what their meeting was about, and whether Weston's candidacy and the impact of his conviction was covered.