After a substantial debate Pembrokeshire councillors chose to go into private session to discuss the details surrounding the “unlawful” settlement agreement and pay-off of the authority’s former chief executive.

A report to an extraordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council had to be considered “when it became apparent an unlawful decision has been made” acting head of legal services Rhian Young said on Monday, October 11.

Concerns about how the settlement agreement was made were raised by Audit Wales and legal advice has been sought, councillors heard, with the matter considered to have been carried out as an executive decision when it should have been done by full council.

Council leader Cllr David Simpson withdrew from the meeting on advice, having declared a personal and prejudicial interest in the matter due to his “involvement” in signing off the settlement linked to Ian Westley’s departure.

Presiding member Cllr Simon Hancock told members the meeting would look only at the “unlawfulness of entering into an agreement and the payment” to Mr Westley, as well as the next steps for the council to take with no discussion or questions on the role of individuals.

Cllr Reg Owens said that legal advice had been “paid out of the public purse” and people would come to their own conclusions if the matter was discussed in private, leading to a “lack of confidence with members of the public in their elected members.”

Others also supported holding the meeting in public, including Cllr Jamie Adams who said councillors were “entirely capable” of not reference exempt information while Cllr Jacob Williams added it was “secrecy and backroom deals that got us into this mess.”

The move to go into private session was put by Cllr Joshua Beynon, seconded by Cllr Phil Kidney, who said it was it was a situation where “what’s popular and what’s right are conflicting.”

Miss Young reminded members reminded that privileged legal advice was to be discussed as well as a risk of breaching the settlement agreement made and there could be a risk of further legal action.

Cllr Paul Miller added that he expected “some flack” for supporting private discussions in this case but “in the long term no one’s going to thank us if we expose this council to potential action.”

It was agreed to discuss the matter in private 35 votes to 17, with one abstention, with the meeting due to return in public at some point today.