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The start of Vaughan Gething’s time as Welsh first minister has been marred by a row over campaign donations

A company that bankrolled Vaughan Gething’s successful bid to become Wales’ first minister was linked to a criminal investigation at the time, the BBC can reveal.

Mr Gething’s leadership campaign accepted £200,000 from a firm controlled by millionaire businessman David Neal.

A criminal investigation into suspected environmental offences by one of Mr Neal’s firms, Resources Management Limited (RML), is being carried out by Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

A spokesman for Welsh Labour said the issues had “previously been addressed by Vaughan Gething and are a matter of public record”.

Vaughan Gething avoids criminal probe donation question at the Urdd

But it is not the first time a waste management company controlled by Mr Neal has been investigated.

He was twice convicted for environmental crimes relating to two companies in 2013 and 2017, and one of those also pleaded guilty in March this year to another offence.

One woman said she moved back to her childhood home in the nearby village of Crundale with her partner and two young children for a “better quality of life”, but it has been marred by the Withyhedge site.

“I went out of the house to go to work and was hit with a horrible stench of rotten eggs, I held my breath until I got to the car. It was horrible,” Jenny Clubbe told Wales Investigates.

Jenny Clubbe with her partner Rupert and kids Emelyne and Sebastian

The Clubbe family says their life has been ruined by the smell from the landfill

“When I got to the car, my lips started tingling and I started getting headaches soon after.

“We’ve been shutting the windows because we don’t want to wake up to my house smelling of rotten eggs, which is worse than my son’s nappy.”

RML said it would no longer be accepting “a number of waste streams” they say contributed to the smell, and are planning engineering work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Sue Lewis Protestors stood on the road with signs saying 'stop the stink'Sue Lewis

More than 2,000 people have joined the ‘stop the stink’ campaign relating to Withyhedge landfill

Retired council worker Colin Barnett, who also lives near the landfill, has organised community protests over the smell and has been complaining to NRW for seven months.

“We started a Facebook campaign based on the fact that the local Facebook for Spittal village got overwhelmed by questions about the tip.

“When the drone footage [of the site] that I took went public, they started investigating it more, and it’s only since then there’s been more pressure from us that they’ve had to keep going back.”

David Neal controls companies linked to both NRW's criminal investigation and to Mr Gething's political donations

David Neal controls companies linked to both NRW’s criminal investigation and to Mr Gething’s political donations

The group Mr Barnett started now has more than 2,000 members and he said it was a “massive campaign now”.

“They’re probably very surprised they’ve had such fierce resistance from a rural area that they thought was quite small, but the problem is, they’ve affected so many of those villages.

He added that very early on in a public meeting Mr Neal stood up and said he wanted to be a good neighbour.

“Well, if this is being a good neighbour, forget it. Just go away.”

NRW says it has identified the smell as hydrogen sulphide.

Huwel Manley, head of operations for the South West, said the regulator was working with the local authority, local health board and Public Health Wales to fix the issues.

“We identified issues of concern late last year,” he added.

“The company is under investigation at the moment”.

Who knew about the investigation?

NRW is overseen by the Welsh government and it had been briefing ministers about the Withyhedge site controlled by Mr Neal since before Mr Gething became first minister in mid-March.

Health secretary Eluned Morgan and then-climate change minister Julie James both had meetings with the regulator about problems at Withyhedge in February.

It was revealed in March that Mr Gething has also previously spoken to NRW on behalf of Mr Neal back in 2016, asking them to ease restrictions on one of his businesses, Atlantic Recycling Ltd.

The second chunk of money Mr Neal gave Mr Gething in January 2024 was donated the day before another of Mr Neal’s company’s outlined plans for a new solar farm on the Gwent levels, in an area of Special Scientific Interest.

In a statement Mr Neal said: “All donations made have come from a separate account to those used for the development of our business; we have never requested or expected anything in return.”

The leader of Plaid Cymru said the party would back a no confidence vote against the first minister

Plaid Cymru leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth said the party would back a no confidence vote against the first minister

But Plaid Cymru leader, Rhun ap Iorwerth said there was now a perception the company had bought favours from the first minister.

“One would have thought that somebody paying that much money would want something, and it’s that that causes the questions here,” he said.

“Why is it that a first minister would be so happy to leave himself wide open to such obvious accusations of some kind of improper relationship?

“It just adds up to very poor judgement.”

Some Labour members have also questioned the judgement of the first minister, with the BBC learning that one senior figure within Welsh Labour offered to loan Mr Gething the money to allow him to pay back the donation – which was turned down.

But other senior party figures have also publicly backed the first minister, including party leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens.

Speaking on the election campaign trail, she said: “Vaughan didn’t break any rules in that leadership campaign and we are just looking forward to getting on with the general election. There’s positive reaction for him on the doorsteps.”

Senedd Cymru Andrew RT DaviesSenedd Cymru

Andrew RT Davies says people have “serious questions” about the donations

Politicians in the Senedd will vote on Wednesday on whether they have confidence in Mr Gething’s leadership.

If he were to lose the vote, he would not be forced to resign, but it would put him in a difficult position.

It was proposed by the Welsh Conservatives leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, who said the debate will give people the chance to have their say on Mr Gething’s “judgement, transparency and truthfulness”.

BBC Wales Investigates: A Big Stink is available on iPlayer and BBC One Wales at 20:00 BST on Monday 3 June



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