Sunday, 18 January 2015

Jacqui Thompson

Friday was the deadline for fellow-blogger Jacqui Thompson to tell lawyers acting for Mark James, chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, how she intends to pay the £30,000 plus awarded to him in damages in the now notorious libel case. Plus, because the charge is subject to interest which is currently adding to the total at a rate of £166 per month.

The question posed by Mr James's lawyers is a rhetorical one because they know, as does Mr James, that Jacqui Thompson does not have £30,000+ stashed away in a savings account, and that is presumably why he instructed his lawyers to go to court to secure a charge on her home.

This latest milestone in the case was the subject of reports on BBC Wales and Newyddion 9 on S4C.

I was interviewed for the piece, but my pennyworth did not make the final cut. So here for the record is the gist of what I had hoped to say.

One of the first questions was what I thought the implications were for freedom of speech.

Although Mr James won the case and said afterwards that he thought he had established a principle which would be of benefit to other councils and public bodies, his victory turned into a nightmare for Carmarthenshire County Council which last year found itself the subject of a very public telling off by the Wales Audit Office. The Welsh Government also made its opposition to libel indemnities clear, although the council tried to spin even that.

Politically the case has been a disaster. The libel case and the pensions scandal together hang liking a rotting albatross around the neck of Labour leader Kevin Madge, and have done the Labour Party no good at all.

Ironically for Mr James who took the action to protect his reputation, his standing in the eyes of the public has never been lower. Ironic too that a council which spends so much on its PR operations should have gained such a bad name for itself.

There also remains the question of who is going to pick up the bill for the case, which runs to around £250,000 not including the £30,000+ in damages awarded to Mr James. Not to mention the money the council spent on defending its actions by hiring Tim Kerr QC.

So while the Council maintains that it was legally entitled to fund the case, the libel indemnity clause is now suspended, probably for good, and no Welsh public body in its right mind would be tempted to follow the trail blazed by Mark James.

Freedom of speech remains where it was before the case started.

This blog started in the aftermath of Jacqui Thompson's arrest for filming a couple of minutes of a public meeting of the council. There was nothing in the council's rule book to say that filming was banned.

At the time the arrest looked like a massive over-reaction, and it later emerged that Dyfed Powys Police was none too happy about being dragged into the mess.

Ironically the chain of events which ended with Jacqui Thompson being led from the council chamber in handcuffs was begun by a complaint from Cllr Pam Palmer. Ironically, because Mrs Palmer is very fond of lecturing the council about common sense, which she likes to say is a very rare commodity nowadays.

The problem right from the beginning was a lack of common sense on the part of the council which could and should have found ways of defusing the situation.

Common sense also suggests that the case should never have gone to court, and lawyers for the two sides apparently came to an agreement weeks before the trial began. It is understood that it was Mr James who insisted on having his day in court.

Common sense never got a look in.

The usual anonymous spokesperson for Mr James told the BBC last week that his lawyers were waiting to open a negotiation with Jacqui Thompson.

The only asset she has is her share in the family home, and she cannot afford legal representation. She probably rightly suspects that any negotiation would be a very one-sided affair.

And yet.... Mr James went on record before the case landed in court to say that he was not in it for the money.

The only hope for the Thompson family is that Mr James now shows that he is as good as his word. He won the court case, and from his point of view emerged from the saga vindicated, without a stain on his character.

It would do his reputation no harm at all if he now adhered to Churchill's maxim of "In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity", invited Mrs Thompson to a meeting without a battery of lawyers and told her that he was drawing a line under the affair by dropping his claim.

This would also pave the way for the council to find a way out of its difficulties.

The council still has to decide what to do about trying to recover its legal costs. A solution which does not involve making the Thompsons homeless and having to rehouse them is surely something which could be found.

A messy compromise, but as the council has found with the Wales Audit Office, messy compromises are sometimes the best option.


29 comments:

Anonymous said...

But what about all those people that encouraged Jacqui Thompson to pursue her chosen course of action. Don't they share some responsibility too. And didn't many of them also offer to help out with funding. Isn't it time to cough up?

Come on now, you have a record of many of these 'supporters'. It's time to name and shame!

Anonymous said...

She brought a libel case and lost. These are the consequences.

She should have been advised of these by her lawyers.

Cneifiwr said...

Both of those comments are naive. In Britain, justice is often determined by who can afford the best lawyers.

And even if the public managed to raise £30,000+ to pay off Mark James, the likelihood is that the council would weigh in with a demand for £250,000.

The sight of a rich and powerful man and an arm of government grinding an ordinary woman into the dust for saying "slush fund"
is something which should turn the stomachs of anyone with a shred of compassion and decency.

Anonymous said...

A very good piece WELL DONE!

Your LINK to CAEBRWYN'S BLOG of 2014 and the DYFED POWYS POLICE's reaction to what had occurred regarding her arrest for filming at the COUNCIL MEETING was interesting.

It looked as though the police force was trying to appear it is not going to be at the beck and call of the CCC in future.

From my dealings with both the CCC and the DYFED POWYS POLICE in regard to their(CCC)MISCONDUCT in PUBLIC OFFICE and my inability to actually communicate with the CHIEF CONSTABLE on this matter I can only deduce the relationship is still too close for the police to be completely impartial.

Freedom of speech is even more important when an elected body and it's paid officers coerce to avoid bad press and a loss of reputation. Also important is to have an unbiased and independent police force willing to act impartially when MISCONDUCT in PUBLIC OFFICE is referred to them.

I believe your and CAEBRWYN's blogs are doing a public service and FREEDOM of SPEECH for you BLOGGERS, WHISTLEBLOWERS and COMPLAINANTS has to be protected in the PUBLIC INTEREST.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with your comment Cneifiwr. I realise that even writing comments on blogs leave us commentators open to actions like the one taken by MARK JAMES. The powerful who fail in their post to follow procedures in place to serve the public interest will use any method to protect their reputation against ordinary people who have only the Freedom of Speech to protect them when trying to hold wrongdoers accountable.

THE PIDA does not protect whistleblowers against powerful and dishonest employers.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that it would have been wise to take out an insurance to cover to protect her from such an eventuality.

Jac o' the North, said...

There is a similar case happening right now. A Valleys family is threatened with losing their home for a judgement of less than £10,000.

And who's pursuing this case - why! it's the local branch of the YMCA, a branch where Mo Sykes was a trustee. Let me remind you about Mo Sykes. http://j.mp/1rhQ9q0 The parent body, YMCA Wales, has now gone into liquidation.

Arguing that Jacqui Thompson is the author of her own misfortune does not address the real problem, which is the legal system of Englandandwales.

A system that has always been weighted towards the wealthy. Which explains why theft - a cross-class crime - was always regarded as more serious than members of the lower orders killing each other.

This system has adapted to the 21st century and to the point where London is the global capital of litigation, and explains why arms dealers, Russian oligarchs and assorted scumbags flock to the Great Wen to haggle over their ill-gotten billions.

To defend Mark James is to defend this system.

Anonymous said...

I shall put my Three Pence to the argument :

Did not Mrs T secure layers and barristers who after the damming comments made by the judge against Mrs T of lying in court decide that they would refuse the No Win No Pay Policy as they had been mislead so if we are economic with the truth and determined to pursue CCC for a Planning application Refusal stretching back years ago then there are penalties .
MR&Mrs T have been vicious in their attacks so
time to pack & move

towy71 said...

I'm probably mangling a Dickens quote but "the law is a ass" and I can only see the whole episode including the verdict as proving that point.
Wish I could help Jacqui but I can't!

Blodwen said...

I cannot believe how spiteful and unpleasant are some of the comments made here about Jacqui Thompson.

Mrs Thompson has been extremely brave and public-spirited (on behalf of ALL of us) in her fight to make Carmarthenshire County Council open, transparent and accountable for its actions. The fact that a very rich and powerful man appears now determined to extract his "pound of flesh" from her is despicable. We would all think far more highly of him if he could find it in his Christian heart to draw a line under this fiasco by accepting that he has won his point and leave it at that.

Perhaps if Jacqui had been able to muster a team of top London barristers, paid for at council taxpayers' expense, then the outcome might have been different - but that's another story.

Mrs Thompson is in an invidious position and is suffering enough without nasty, smug comments from people who obviously have no humanity.


Anonymous said...

But you all miss the point. Mrs Thompson was 'egged on' and encouraged by others, many of the same 'others' that contribute to this blog.

It's time these 'others' put their hands in their pockets because this is what they promised to Mrs Thompson. And that's why she kept going!

Shame on you.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @18.20. Jacqui is very grateful for the support she has received and she has never asked for or expected people to put their hands in their pockets.

If you had read this blog carefully, you would know that finding £30,000 could be just the beginning. Short of a miracle, it is hard to see what can be done at the moment.

If any readers have experience of raising funds in situations like this or can offer help or advice, please get in touch through the e-mail address at the top of this blog.

Anonymous said...

Online Crowd funding is relatively simple these days and I would imagine the likes of Private Eye and some other UK outlets would be willing to give the appeal some publicity - it's a newsworthy story after all. £30,000 then becomes manageable and has to be a better option than losing your house.

madaxeman said...

Jacqui remains in my view a well meaning individual, doing her damn best to support to public despite the huge hurdles being placed in her path.

Let's deal with a few of the issues raised in the previous comments shall we?

Jacqui's initial beef with the council stems from a planning dispute, this is true - but this does not continue to be the driving force behind her campaign. You want evidence? Fine - when was the last time she mentioned her original dispute? In Jacqui we have someone who confronted her council, didn't like what she found, as it happy to shout about it in order to try to serve the public at large. The overwhelming majority of the stories she has covered have no benefit, direct or otherwise, to her.

Jacqui operates a blog, and as far as I can see, has always invited reader comment on the posts she has made. Isn't it odd that when she makes specific, detailed allegations (as she often has), the Council don't appear to want to engage with her views? Not being prepared to defend your position is often a sign of knowing how poor it truly is.

Should Jacqui have had insurance? Yes, she should - and indeed did. However, following some of the Judge's findings, her insurers apparently withdrew their support. What sort of findings? Well, for instance, finding that she had attempted to pervert the course of justice, despite a complete lack of evidence or indeed trial for what is after all a criminal matter which should be subject to the criminal test - ie. Beyond all reasonable doubt. How the judge arrives at the conclusion that she attempted to pervert the course of justice, which would require a specific intent, he hasn't chosen to share with us.

As for egging Jacqui on, I don't think anyone has. I myself offered Mr. James a chance to amend his comment before it was added to my blog - in an attempt to nip this in the bud quickly, quietly and with no loss of face to anyone. He chose not to go with that.

Can I support Jacqui financially? Sadly, no - I'm just a regular Joe like everyone else - I don't have the means... Does that mean I am any the less convinced that she is in the right? No. Does it make what happened any the less of a travesty? No. It's a nice little curve ball thrown up by people who don't want to face the real issues in the case.

I have total faith in Jacqui and what she is trying to do.

Madaxeman.

Anonymous said...



Supporting Jacqui is quite different from egging on. It insults Jacqui to suggest this. She is an intelligent person who in my view had a justified case against Mark James and I am still of that opinion. She has a mind of her own.
Mark James has reaped a financial reward by using other peoples money.
The equivalent of finding someone else's winning lottery ticket and keeping the winnings. He remains in my view a thoroughly dishonest individual and should hand all the money back that was deemed unlawfully acquired and remember he chose to go to court rather than settle amicably out of court.

Anonymous said...

I share Jennifer Brown's comments with regard to the relationship between CCC and Dyfed Powys Police. My life has been seriously compromised by this relationship when I tried to expose misconduct in public office by certain officers within CCC. Closing ranks - besmirching ones name - dishonestly discrediting the complainant seems to be the culture within these agencies especially when their opponent is an ordinary member of the public attempting to exercise their democratic rights.
They weald too much power and have the ability to destroy any honest individual who dares oppose them when they team up.

Tessa said...

Well said Madaxeman.
How Tug-It-Hard came to his strange conclusions is baffling.
How he - presumably - believed Weasel, and in particular the answer of "I can't remember" when asked the simple and direct question of - was he at the meeting where the legal indemnity was approved - is beyond baffling. It's truly astonishing!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Redhead said...

I just need an address, po bix number or something to send a cheque to.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely correct Madaxman.It sometimes gets lost i.e the fact that Mark James was given a chance to take a less damaging course.He chose not to.
Good suggestion of publicising perhaps via Private eye in order to help Jacqui with financial support.

Tolstoy said...

Cneifiwr...the second comment sums it up for me, even though you dismiss it as justice being only for the rich. That response isn't good enough I'm afraid.

If Jacqui was so poor why did she sue Mark James, knowing the risks of litigation, and if she was prepared to settle out of court to prevent it going before a judge, why then in the courtroom did she try (unsuccessfully) to prove that her defamatory remarks were justified (ie true) making it worse? That element of not wanting it to go to court doesn't stack up one bit. She wanted her day in court as much as anyone, she wanted it to be her moment.

She didn't also just refer to the slush fund she also called him a liar in other ways she was unable to prove.

I'm afraid as cruel as it sounds and as much as I detest Mark James and all he stands for, Jacqui sued HIM for libel on a non existent claim and is suffering, of course she is - and for that I have sympathy but It would never have gone to court if she had never brought the case against him to start with. The best form of defence is attack and that's exactly what Mark James did by counterclaiming for libel and he won.

So many comments are misguided...this is NOT a freedom of speech issue it is a LIBEL issue. If anybody should know this it should be Jacqui Thomson herself. She has been successfully sued for libelling a council planning officer before and that cost her thousands of pounds too.

As for Madaxeman's comment, hello? The name of Jacqui's blog is 'Carmarthen Planning Problems and More...' and its address is carmarthenplanning.blogspot.co.uk She also sets out to attack Mark James for anything and everything, which I think is a good thing, the man's awful, but nobody deserves to be libelled! If you disagree with that then that's the end of the conversation...that's not free speech, it's irresponsible. I would also suggest that some of the other comments posted on this post are libellous of Mr James.

Cneifiwr, I notice in this blog you are appealing to Mark James's sense of humility. I think you'll be searching a long time!

Anonymous said...

Tolstoy

I wonder if you are referring to, in your sentence below, my comments as being libellous of Mark James.

"I would also suggest that some of the other comments posted on this post are libellous of Mr James."

Libel, surely, is when someone knowingly speaks untruths against a person for the sole purpose of causing damage to his/her reputation, to injure their standing in the eyes of others.

Mark James is the very well paid CEO of the LA. This post brings with it responsibilities and he is ultimately accountable for any failures within the LA (surely this is why the position is deserving of such a high remuneration).

He can be held responsible if he fails to act on information given to him of his officers wrongdoing. He has studiously ignored his duty in regard to W/B concerns which is set out in the LA very robust W/B policy. AS a matter of fact HE is a W/B's first port of call when a W/B is not happy with the Council's response as is the Chair of the Standards Committee(CSC).

W/B are also told to approach the OMBUDSMAN,Regulatory Bodies, POLICE, WAO or Trade UNION as an alternative to the CEO or CSC.

I did not initially complain to Mark James about the handling by POVA of my disclosures but complained to the OMBUDSMAN who only the year before had produced the very damning report concerning failures by POVA and the council officers after another W/B disclosure. MY evidence would have proved POVA and the council officers had not followed procedures once again, instead ignored the fact that what was taking place was a crime under the Mental Health Act. Some of the same officers were involved as during the previous incident on which the OMBUDSMAN's Report had been based though my W/B was in a (CSSIW) regulated department.

The OMBUDSMAN would not look into the matter. The CSSIW told me to speak to the POVA Manager if the complaint was against the actions of POVA. I did this and the Statutory Social Services Complaints explained they would look into the matter. I'd had no response from the POVA Manager.

Head of Service did not allow the Complaints Officer to send me her Report despite the present Monitoring Officer advising them of the necessity to investigate the complaint against POVA.....

Anonymous said...

.....I was later suspended putting complaint on hold. It was then I first contacted Mark James to ask he persuade the complaints department investigate the matter. I attached documents which explained the narrative as to what had taken place. He did not respond to me, a W/B, but was referred by a corporate complaints officer to a libellous statement which had been written into a Medical Suspension Letter written to me after I had W/B to the service user's (without capacity) General Practitioner out of desperation because her health was deteriorating rapidly. This had taken place seven months after I first raised her plight with the POVA Manager and six months after actually writing a statement to Social Services repeating all of my concerns regarding the Institutional Abuse taking place in the Care Home that I had explained to the POVA manager. He was also told I had been on suspension ever since then (I was on suspension only for a month and been passed fit to work by the Occupational Health Department)

The CEO did not respond to me, was it because my reputation and standing had been damaged by the HR department who had composed the letter followed by the untruth told by the complaints officer? I contacted him again months later and that time he was told by the then Social Services Director I had been investigated during the early 2010 response to my and 3 other w/b disclosures. This again was untrue as I was a witness and was not investigated as a perpetrator(Libellous or what?).

This LA acted with vindictiveness and malice (Misconduct in Public Office)in their attempts to avoid following the Social Services Statutory Complaints POLICY even going so far as to have the person who had endorsed Linda Rees Jones' advice months before to look into changing that advice. His new advice wasthat as I was not representing a service user it negated my ability to complain. This conflicted with WAG guidance.

This advice was given approx. a month before my disciplinary hearing. They also intended to use the Disciplinary Investigation File to have an injunction taken out against me contacting the Authority in the future. This can only mean the result of the Disciplinary Hearing had been pre determined. Most of my evidence to what I have referred to I received under the Data Protection Act.

I personally could not afford to take the Council Officers on for LIBEL and these episodes which proved what was taking place was completely ignored by the Judge at my ET.

Even though I have conveyed, to the CEO, earlier this year, my concerns that his officers are not following policies and procedures he choses to ignore this along with the CSC and Linda Rees Jones. The CCC have no compunction in libelling complainants and W/B and without proof I would not say what I have been saying.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Cneifiwr said...

After careful consideration, I have removed a couple of comments from this thread relating to misconduct in public office.

Nobody wants another libel case.

Anonymous said...

I understand your concern Cneifiwr.

I would not have brought out into the public domain my concerns regarding the CCC and MISCONDUCT in PUBLIC OFFICE had they actually followed statutory procedures in place and looked into their failures regarding POVA.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

I don't believe the actions by the CCC against Jacqui Thompson should prevent people (when all else fails) speaking out and trying to change what takes place behind closed doors of our Public Bodies. The CCC is answerable to us!!!!!

madaxeman said...

The highest circulating newspaper in Britain is called The Sun, yet contains little in the way of solar happenings...

Your point?

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine works for the C.C.C. She is good and kind and has a strong religious belief.
She never speaks unkindly of anyone and does not like to hear such things. She is very defensive of Mr. Mark James and his good name and has mentioned his own religious belief.
Now I am an Atheist but would never knock anyone else's beliefs.
I would however (and probably many other people would), be better able to understand, if Mr. James could now find it in his heart to 'turn the other cheek',
(or whatever is the Christian thing to do), and withdraw his claim against Jaquie Thompson.
I believe there is some mention of "It not being about the money".
If that is true then it would be nicer if Mr. James might now find the generosity to prove that.
I feel positive that he will more peacefully enjoy his retirement.

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you for that thoughtful comment. I wholeheartedly agree.

Anonymous said...

The three wise monkeys

Gandhi's vision was of the three wise monkeys being the way of peacefully changing oppression and injustice.

He spoke up against the injustice, oppression and wrongs perpetrated against his people by the British. Personally "seeing no evil, speaking no evil and hearing no evil" seems at odds with what a whistleblower has to do in the public interest and to Gandhi's actions.

Is it Christian to deliberately turn your eyes away when someone vulnerable is suffering and pretend it is none of your business? Is it Christian to tell no one of the wrongdoing you witnessed allowing suffering to continue? Is it Christian to cover your ears when information of wrongdoing is passed to you and you do nothing and refuse to listen?

Anonymous appears to be describing a person working in the CCC who would excuse herself from any moral responsibility if she failed to disclose wrongdoing because her Christian values forbade her speaking up against what was taking place.

People who allow wrongdoing to continue unchallenged because they prefer to stay silent are not true Christians; but if that is how true Christians are supposed to act then I'm glad I'm an agnostic.

Has the CEO acted as a true Christian when he ignores disclosures evidencing his officers of wrongdoing thus allowing the vulnerable to continue to be left unprotected because of failings in following policies and procedures?

I'd like to believe a true Christian would speak up and would do all they could to protect the vulnerable however uncomfortable it made them feel; am I wrong?

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)