A WAR of words has broken out among the candidates for the job of Gwent Police and Crime commissioner in just the first few days of campaigning for votes.
Former senior policeman Ian Johnston said that recent claims made by rival Chris Wright on Twitter, implying that Mr Johnston was not a truly independent candidate, were unlawful.
He says he may take the matter to Gwent Police if Mr Wright makes the statement again.
On October 6 Mr Wright said on Twitter: “I am the only independent in Gwent. The other is a Conservative/Plaid Cymru man.”
Mr Johnston said: “I believe the public has no appetite for personal attacks on candidates.
“One of the other candidates has decided to act in what I consider an unprofessional manner.
I’m told what he is doing is unlawful.” He said he has been given legal advice that Mr Wright’s conduct amounts to “making a false statement about a candidate in an election”.
Under the Representation of the People Act 1983 it is illegal to make a false statement of fact during an election period relating to the personal character or conduct of a candidate aimed at affecting how many votes a candidate gets.
The offences only relate to statements of ‘fact’, not to expressions of opinion, and a person convicted of such an offence may be fined up to £5,000 and disqualified from voting for five years.
Mr Wright said his comment on Twitter was accurate and based on Mr Johnston’s statements to the Argus.
“He does not meet the definition of an independent candidate.
It means you are acting without political support,” he said.
The former sergeant from Llanbradach cited support for Mr Johnston from prominent Newport Tory councillor David Fouweather and South Wales East Plaid AM Jocelyn Davies, and claims by Mr Johnston he has had other behind-the-scenes encouragement from prominent politicians.
Mr Wright added that he would look forward to speaking to the police or the returning officer Tracey Lee about the issue.
Allegations over address and workplace of opponents denied
IAN Johnston also claimed one of his other opponents did not live in Gwent and another worked away for five days a week.
Both Hamish Sandison, for Labour, and the Tories’ Nick Webb said the claims are not true.
Mr Johnston claimed Mr Sandison works in London Monday to Friday and that Tory candidate Nick Webb lives in Bath, where he works.
“The feedback I’m getting from people is that they want someone who is from Gwent, knows Gwent and lives in Gwent,” he said.
But Mr Sandison, who is a partner in a law firm, said he has “never been in London Monday to Friday”. He said his last significant project was in Swansea with the DVLA and saw him commuting from his home two miles from Usk. He said he averaged one day in London every two weeks during that period.
“Before making untrue allegations Mr Johnston should check the facts with me,” he said, adding that he would give up his partnership in the firm if elected.
Mr Webb said he had never lived in Bath and has lived in Allt-yr-yn in Newport since the summer. He said he lived in Severn Beach, South Gloucestershire, before he moved.
“It’s interesting that the people who are arguing about keeping politics out of policing seem to be trying to play some, rather old-fashioned, political games,” Mr Webb said.