Politician expenses probe taken seriously - Tory

Laura Anne Jones
Laura Anne Jones has lost her Conservative shadow cabinet role in the Senedd since the investigation was announced [Senedd Cymru]

The Welsh Conservatives are taking a police investigation into the expenses of one of its members seriously, according to a fellow Tory Member of the Senedd (MS).

Laura Anne Jones was stripped of her shadow cabinet role on Friday after texts from her phone appeared to show an employee was asked to maximise expenses claims.

A solicitor on behalf of Ms Jones has said she "is satisfied that any allegations in relation to impropriety surrounding expenses are entirely misconceived".

There have been calls for Ms Jones - who remains a Conservative MS - to be suspended from the Tory Senedd group.

North Wales MS Sam Rowlands told BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement that any action would be taken when investigations finish.

Ms Jones, an MS for South Wales East, is under investigation by police over allegations concerning her expenses.

One message asked a staff member: "When doing petrol thing - always make more than I did – add in stuff please ok".

BBC Wales has seen messages sent to a member of staff, who had asked whether they should make expenses claims for the politicians for days when Ms Jones was off sick.

There was no direct answer to that question. However, a graph of proposed expenses then appeared to be sent to the phone of Ms Jones.

A response from Ms Jones's phone said: "If you could always do more than it says, that’d be fab, thanks". It was followed by a thumbs up emoji.

Another message from the same phone said: "When doing Petrol thing - always make more than I did - add in stuff please ok". It was followed by a thumbs up and a folded hands emoji.

When the staff member asks "like visits to constituency office?", a response says: "Yes - stuff like that [folded hands emoji]."

Screenshot of messages
BBC Wales has seen messages sent to a member of staff [BBC]

The BBC cannot verify whether the messages represent the whole conversations between the people involved, nor their full context.

Ms Jones is currently being investigated by the Standards Commissioner Douglas Bain and South Wales Police.

The police investigation is ongoing. No arrests have been made.

Mr Rowlands said: "She's been removed from the shadow cabinet in the Senedd, and work is under way to understand what is going on, that is being done independently, and I'm sure appropriate action will be taken as a result of that.

"All we've seen so far is a few screenshots of some messages.

"We need to understand the detail of that before appropriate action is taken.

"The shadow cabinet is an important role in the Senedd, so Laura being removed from that post is a significant move and shows the seriousness [with] which this is being considered."

Screenshot of messages
Messages seen by BBC Wales appeared to show texts from Laura Anne Jones asking an employee to maximise expenses claims [BBC]

Mr Rowlands was also pressed on why Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies has removed Ms Jones from her shadow cabinet role but not suspended her from the Conservative group.

He said: "Removing that role in the shadow cabinet is a real significant step."

Asked if that decision undermined Mr Davies's postion when he is questioning the integrity and judgement of First Minister Vaughan Gething, Mr Rowlands said: "Andrew RT Davies's integrity and judgement is absolutely important within this and I'm sure he is reviewing the detail as it comes to light and will take steps as and when it is absolutely necessary."

A lawyer on behalf of Ms Jones has said in a statement that she "did not receive any formal bullying complaint in relation to any of her staff members".

They added that she "is satisfied that any allegations in relation to impropriety surrounding expenses are entirely misconceived".

"Ms Jones’s belief is that these complaints being lodged with the standards commissioner are without foundation.

"As these matters are the subject of ongoing inquiries, it would be inappropriate for Ms Jones to make any further comment.

"Ms Jones has no issue with the BBC or its sources putting these allegations to the police and/or the standards commissioner, which will provide her the opportunity to respond in a formal manner as part of the inquiry should the authorities require it."

Meanwhile, Mr Rowlands also said Conservative general election candidate Craig Williams betting on the date of the next general election had been a "huge error of judgement on his part".

"The issues around Craig have been raised on the door," said Mr Rowlands.

"But more people are interested in the record of government here in Wales."

Mr Williams was an aide to the prime minister in the last Parliament.