Poor old Ötzi collapsed and died of his injuries high up in the Alps, and it took nearly 5,000 years for his mummified remains to reappear. The British legal system, not known for bringing matters to a speedy conclusion, moves at a gallop in comparison, and the last week has seen some interesting developments in the Jacqui Thompson case, with one long-buried grizzly exhibit being disgorged at the foot of County Hall's very own glacier and giving off a distinctly unpleasant odour as it lies alongside two other pieces of legal detritus.
The exhibit in question takes the form of a statement issued by the council chief executive to councillors explaining his decision to send an inflammatory piece attacking Jacqui Thompson and her family to the Madaxeman blog for publication back in 2011. This extraordinarily vitriolic piece was written in response to widespread criticism of Jacqui Thompson's arrest for filming a small snatch of a council meeting, and it triggered the libel case.
After it was sent, Councillors were provided a copy of the blogpost along with the following brief statement:
You may have received a letter from Mrs Jacqui Thompson, furthering her continued campaign against the Council. Members have asked that a response be sent to Mrs Thompson. Please find attached a copy of a response which was sent to a blog site supporting Mrs Thompson. This sets out the Council’s position succinctly.
This should have come as a surprise to most of the 74 councillors who would have struggled to recall asking Mr James to write to the Madaxeman.
The Madaxeman is a blog written by a man called Martin Milan who lives in Yorkshire. Martin's interests are wide-ranging, and include the NHS, software development and, occasionally, cases in which the full weight of the law has been thrown against unfortunate individuals for very trivial reasons. The Twitter Joke Trial had previously been the subject of posts on his blog.
Jacqui Thompson's arrest for filming was triggered by a complaint made by Cllr Pam Palmer, the leader of the "Independent" group on the council which not for nothing has often been described as Mr James's political wing. Cllr Palmer felt violated by being filmed in a public meeting of the council. If children enjoyed legal protection from being filmed and photographed, so too should county councillors, she argued, somehow forgetting that five year olds don't put themselves up for election to public office and run councils.
Jacqui Thompson's arrest triggered a huge amount of negative publicity for the council, and attracted the attention of the London press.
This has always been one of the central paradoxes of Mr James's very long rule in Carmarthenshire: for someone who has invested huge sums in building up the council's PR machine and gone to extreme lengths to silence criticism of his council, Carmarthenshire County Council has gained one of the most tarnished reputations of any local authority in the UK. And there is some pretty stiff competition out there.
If Mr James had received requests from councillors asking him to respond to Jacqui Thompson, why did he choose to write to the Madaxeman instead? And why on earth did he chose that blog when he could have picked up the phone and dictated copy, as was his wont on many other occasions, to the Carmarthen Journal and Llanelli Star which, unlike Martin Milan's excellent blog, were actually read by people in Carmarthenshire?
Mr James's views would also have been welcomed by other, more august publications, such as the New Statesman, where David Allen Green, now a columnist on law and policy for the Financial Times, had been extremely critical of both the county council and Dyfed Powys Police for their handling of the affair.
All of these widely read and influential publications were disregarded in favour of an obscure blog, and papers released by the council ahead of the libel trial show that in penning his piece, Mr James hunkered down with a select group including the then Head of Law and Administration, Lyn Thomas (responsible for inserting the unlawful libel indemnity clause into the council's constitution) and the head of the council's press office, the source of numerous attacks and smears over the years against council critics including Members of Parliament and Assembly Members.
There is in the documents released nothing to show that the resulting fire bomb was ever authorised by anyone apart from Mr James himself, but that single act has continued to reverberate down the years and inflict damage on the council.
A more cynical commentator than Cneifiwr might conclude that the Madaxeman statement was deliberately inflammatory and intended to provoke a response which would escalate matters further. If that was the case, Mr James succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Councillors who ponder why the council has got itself into this mess, should ask themselves whether the council's interests were best served by seeking confrontation when a more moderate and diplomatic response would probably have laid the filming controversy to rest.
Perverting the course of justice?
The most damning and damaging passage of Mr Justice Tugendhat's verdict in the libel trial was that Jacqui Thompson had lied about the sequence of events which took place in the public gallery at County Hall in April 2011. This, he concluded, amounted to an attempt to pervert the course of justice, and it was that finding which resulted in Jacqui's insurers revoking their cover.
In his recent comment on Facebook, Cllr Alun Lenny refers to this finding, and it is fair enough that anyone reading the verdict would take this at face value.
What does not emerge from the verdict is the background to the witness statement which was the basis for Mr Justice Tugendhat's ruling..
Following Cllr Palmer's complaint, a hapless council officer was dispatched to the public gallery to remonstrate with Jacqui Thompson. As anyone familiar with County Hall in Carmarthen will be able to testify, not only is it impossible to see the whole of the chamber from the gallery, but those sitting in the chamber have a less than perfect view of the gallery.
So what ensued came down to the word of one individual against another, with Jacqui Thompson alleging that her arm was grasped and her phone snatched from her.
For his part, the council officer changed his statement twice, producing three differing accounts of what happened. Surprisingly, perhaps, from being rather uncertain, his memory improved with each successive account.
It would be outrageous to suggest that the officer was in any way coached or leaned on to change his story. Suffice to say that he works for the current Head of Law, Mrs Linda Rees Jones, who as we know was appointed to her role by Mr James himself and appeared as a witness in the trial.
The standard of evidence required in civil cases such as this is much lower than it would be in a criminal prosecution. Beyond reasonable doubt it was not, and yet the consequences for both Jacqui Thompson personally and the council financially and reputationally have been little short of catastrophic.
Contempt and "not meeting the criteria"
The attempt by Cllrs Alun Lenny (Plaid) and Cefin Campbell (Plaid) to table a motion proposing a compromise which would allow the Thompsons to continue to live in their home was, as we know, blocked.
The official fiction as relayed by the council's Press Office to the Carmarthen Journal is that the somewhat bewildered looking council chair, Cllr Eryl Morgan (Lab), came to the conclusion after rigorous examination of the council's constitution that the motion submitted by the two Plaid councillors did not meet the criteria for a Notice of Motion:
"The chair of council has confirmed that he ruled the notice of motion as submitted was inadmissible, because it did not meet the criteria set out in the council's standing orders."
Meanwhile, the two Plaid councillors were told by Mrs Rees Jones - Cllr Morgan being apparently unable to speak for himself - that the motion might run the risk of being in contempt of court, and that anyway, they had been extremely discourteous to poor old Eryl by sharing their thoughts on the matter with the public before the chair had been
told what to
say formed his own opinion.
Those familiar with council meetings presided over by Mr James and Mrs Rees Jones will recognise this "make it up as you go along" approach to the rules.
This is all the council's standing orders have to say about the criteria for Notices of Motion:
Motions must be about matters for which the Council has a responsibility or which affect the wellbeing of the administrative area of the Council.
Bearing in mind that the council funded the entire libel case and is now having to live with the consequences, it is hard to see how the proposed motion could fail to meet the criteria described. But in this matter, Mrs Rees Jones, as Monitoring Officer, is the font of all wisdom. As so often in the past, it seems reasonable to conclude that she must have been reading from an entirely different rule book.
As for the suggestion that the motion could leave the council open to charges of contempt of court, a learned friend of Cneifiwr's described the idea as being, in that well known legal phrase, "utter bollocks".
The council has through the courts gained control over the Thompson home, and Mr James has gone on the record as saying both that he is not interested in the money, and that he would give his damages to the council (although he told the Carmarthen Journal that he might give the loot to good causes).
The only way that the High Court would consider whether the Lenny-Campbell proposal constituted contempt would be if the council's chief executive applied to the court to ask it to rule on the matter.
In other words, it seems that Mr James, speaking through Mrs Rees Jones, is threatening the council with court action. If so, it would not be the first time, it being understood that Mr James brought in the lawyers when the council was considering suspending him pending investigation of the unlawful pensions and libel indemnity allegations.
The compromise eventually agreed was that he would voluntarily "stand aside" during the investigation. And not long after that he put in an application for redundancy which turned out to come with a very high price tag.
Mr James has now been chief executive for 15 years, which is rather longer than the vast majority of senior officers stay in post in either the private or the public sector. Many councillors are still in denial, but the tantrums, threats and control freakery are all classic signs of an abusive relationship which has to be terminated.
Meanwhile, the legal glacier will carry on disgorging more gruesome remains in the run-up to next year's council elections and beyond.