Wednesday 17 October 2012

A stain on our county

Imagine that you have worked all your life and reached retirement age. You buy a cottage after a careful search, and then discover that your neighbour is riding roughshod over the law and wrecking the neighbourhood and the lives of those who live there. Gradually life becomes hell, with noise day and night as lorries enter and leave and heavy machinery is used to cut away rock and crush scrap metal. You complain, and the council tells you to gather evidence. This infuriates the anti-social neighbour who begins a campaign of physical and psychological intimidation which goes on for years and years.

To make matters much, much worse the council and the police, two agencies which you ask for help, first ignore you and then turn on you. They blacken your name; they put you on a blacklist and deny access to your elected representatives; they dispute what you say despite all the evidence; and then they arrest you six times, carting you off in handcuffs and prosecuting you. You fight the prosecution, and the conviction is quashed. You spend huge amounts of your heard earned savings on seeking justice through the civil courts and win, but the council and police still treat you as a troublemaker.

That, in a nutshell, is what happened to Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts, and it was clear from last night's edition of Week In Week Out on BBC1 Wales that they were not the only people to have complained about the activities of their neighbouring farmer/haulier/scrap merchant.

As both the Ombudsman for Public Services and a retired planning inspector told the programme, this was one of the worst, if not the worst, case they had come across in many years of dealing with local authority failures.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, the Assembly Member who represents Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts, has worked hard to get justice for them, and is calling both for an inquiry into the county council's planning processes and an examination of the actions of Dyfed Powys Police.

There are no indications that either authority is prepared to consider any such thing, and for its part the council is showing once again that it cannot accept criticism.

Every time that the council is criticised, it reacts in the same way. The critics, it says, are a small and unrepresentative group of troublemakers who are just trying to do the council down. It often adds that this or that person has "a problem with the council" or local government in general, as though it was dealing with a bunch of anarchists who reject the concept of local government in its entirety.

This is patent rubbish because what the council's critics have in common is a problem with the way in which Carmarthenshire County Council is being run and has been run for the last 10 years or more. This is a council, after all, where almost all of the senior figures have been at the top continuously for most of the last decade.

The problem that the council has is that the list of critics is growing, and the anarchist troublemakers include an MP, an Assembly Member, sections of the press, the Ombudsman for Public Services, a growing number of elected councillors and a great many members of the public.

The Breckman case, the arrest of blogger Jacqui Thompson and pending libel trial, and the appalling case of Delyth Jenkins are all stains on the reputation of our county and our council, and it is time for change.

Cneifiwr and Caebrwyn will be following up this story over the next few weeks. Last night's programme was an excellent account of the main outlines of what happened, but inevitably it left gaps because of lack of time and legal reasons.

The prgramme itself can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer here.

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