Tuesday 4 July 2017

Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Updated

Update 8 July 2017

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald also notes that a council computer appears to have been used to trawl through Jacqui Thompson's blog just before Mr James went to Dyfed Powys Police with a complaint of harassment.

The newspaper notes that it would be "wholly inappropriatefor any officer to use council IT infrastructure to assist another officer in the preparation of a private legal matter, and that it would also be wholly inappropriate for any officer to ask or instruct another officer to do so".

The council failed to answer questions from the newspaper as to whether any officer or employee time was spent on checking the blog in the preparation of Mr James's complaint.


There being no election campaigns to fret about, at least for the next few months, it is time to return to a subject which has preoccupied this blog ever since it first saw the light of day very nearly six years ago after Jacqui Thompson was arrested for filming a short snatch of a council meeting.

The dispute between Jacqui and the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council has now run on for rather longer then the Second World War, and it shows no signs of coming to an end.

Right from the very start, this has been a fight between, on the one hand, a woman armed with nothing more than a laptop, and the other the longest serving and most highly paid council official in Wales with friends in high places and access to what amounts to almost unlimited resources.

Having won the libel case and more recently gained control over Jacqui’s home, Mr James is now embarked on an attempt to drag her through the courts on charges of criminal harassment.

The first stop will be a visit to Llanelli Magistrates’ Court, now scheduled for 13th July, and unless the charges are dropped at the last minute, it is a near racing certainty that the case will move from there and go to trial, most likely somewhere towards the end of this year.

Representing Jacqui Thompson will be Matthew Paul, Cneifiwr’s favourite true blue fox bothering barrister and Herald columnist.

We have been here before – well, almost – because last year Mr James presented Dyfed Powys Police with a bundle of documents, believed to have been printouts from her blog. In what may or may not have been a coincidence, the documents were produced after IP addresses belonging to Carmarthenshire County Council spent days trawling through Jacqui’s blog.

Of course, it would be outrageous to suggest that council staff and resources were used to perform work for which a solicitor would have charged a small fortune because, as the council likes to remind everyone, this is an entirely private matter between Mr James CBE and a resident.

Except of course when Mr James was crowing to the world that his victory at the High Court was a victory for councils everywhere.

That first complaint ground slowly through the Dyfed Powys mill, and was eventually dropped, although Jacqui received a letter which, while it took no view on the validity of Mr James’s claims, stated that the police could act if further complaints were received.

Coincidentally, Cneifiwr understands that the Ombudsman for Public Services is still engaged in a less high profile investigation of complaints made by Mr James against former councillor Siân Caiach.

Just as with last year’s attempt to have Jacqui Thompson criminalised, Mr James had also previously sent a batch of complaints to the Ombudsman about Ms Caiach, only to be told to grow a thicker skin and have all five complaints dismissed.

Alert readers may at this point wonder who is paying for all these very slow-paced investigations and the days and weeks spent by council staff, police, CPS and the courts dealing with Mr James’s complaints of lese-majeste.

We are, of course.

One of the many ironies of this sorry tale is that Mr James, who famously takes a very dim view of any criticism or complaints levelled at his leadership, should be such an avid complainant in his own cause.

In the case of Siân Caiach and the Ombudsman, the irony-meter is close to melt-down because recent history is littered with examples of Mr James’s exasperation and barely concealed anger at critical reports produced by Peter Tyndall, the previous holder of that office which is supposed to champion the rights of Dai bach against government and council Goliaths.

Fortunately for Mr James, Tyndall’s successor in the office, Nick Bennett, appears to have drastically reinterpreted his role, to the delight of downtrodden Goliaths across Wales and the despair of everyone else seeking redress.

Readers of this blog and other publications invariably hold their hands up at this point and ask where in this unending saga are our councillors, and why they seem content to go on employing a chief executive who dragged them into this morass.

There are almost as many explanations for this as there are councillors, a good many of whom still believe that Mr James was sent to lead them to the Promised Land. Others are more sceptical, but have been persuaded to keep quiet.

But we now have a new council with a fresh intake; it will be interesting to see if the newly elected councillor for Lliedi, Rob James, follows up his pre-election promises in the press to get Mr James suspended any time soon. We wait with bated breath.

How Mr James will fare in the courts, we will have to see, but one of the mysteries which may just be solved is what if any difference there was between last year’s unsuccessful complaints to the police and this year’s crop of grievances, and what has persuaded the police and CPS to bring a prosecution after all this time.

Whether the prosecution case amounts to anything more than a sheaf of blogposts criticising Mr James’s rule in Carmarthen and exercising those quaint rights to freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, we will have to see.

On a number of occasions Cneifiwr has heard whispers emanating from County Hall that there is more to the Jacqui Thompson case than meets the eye. Sensible councillors, it is hinted, will steer well clear of getting involved because the, ahem, facts, vouchsafed to very, very few show matters in a different light.

Perhaps this dark truth about the Wicked Blogger of Llanwrda which has so far uncharacteristically been kept under wraps will finally emerge blinking into the harsh light of the court room. 

Or rather more likely it will remain hidden from mortal eyes like a local government version of the Ark of the Covenant somewhere in the inner sanctum on Jail Hill, from whence it will continue to be used to crush the heretical thoughts of councillors who ask awkward questions.

It’s all a bit reminiscent of that 1930s masterpiece, Cold Comfort Farm, where Aunt Ada Doom constantly complains that she “saw something nasty in the woodshed” sixty-nine years ago when she was no bigger than a titty wren. 

Or as psychiatrists would put it rather more prosaically, Aunt Ada was suffering from a traumatic fallacy which she projected onto her brood, the Starkadder family, and as a result had them all running around bringing her five meals a day and doing whatever she wanted.

As Flora Post, the heroine of Cold Comfort, puts it when she confronts the old tyrant:

Any attempt by any of them to get away from the farm made one of your attacks of madness come on. It was unfortunate in some ways but useful in others . . . The woodshed incident had twisted something in your child-brain seventy years ago. And seeing that it was because of that incident that you sat here ruling the roost and having five meals a day brought up to you as regularly as clockwork, it hadn’t been such a bad break for you, that day you saw something nasty in the woodshed.

“I saw something nasty in the woodshed, and now everything depends on me”, Aunt Ada replies.


Brychan said...

It seems to me that any chief executive who feels ‘harassed’ by criticisms on a blog, is clearly completely unsuitable for the role. There are numerous examples of criticism of local authority executives both online, and in the letters pages of the Daily Post and Cambrian News and blogs galore from the Usk to the Cleddau, from the Menai to the Taf. In all parts of Wales. It goes with the job. But it’s only in Carmarthenshire that the chef exec has got on his high horse and starts bothering the plod. What’s wrong with this chap?

Elderly Neil. said...

This is a very accurate compendium which not only identifies the many transgressions of the C.E.O carmarthenshire but also involves the complicity of the carmarthenshire police

Corruption ongoing on the grand scale and authority besmirched. - DIABOLICAL.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting times ahead in CCC I do believe.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think James is stupid enough to embark on a vendetta against one person given his safe-world cosseted ivory tower, replete with mega-buck income. To pursue an individual to the point of further prosecution is purely vindictive and bordering on harassment or there is more to this than people are aware, and as you allude, could all come to light in forthcoming hearings.

If so, we can only hope it exposes James for the insecure narcissistic person he really is in which case it would provide support for the argument to release him from his role. He may well be the highest paid, but certainly not providing value for money.

Whatever happens, he can always seek treatment in the Wellness hippy village and get priority treatment through his old mate merryl grovel.

Anonymous said...

surely the only "nasty" thing that Jacqui Thompson can be accused of is exposing the weakness and immorality at Carmarthenshire County Council which allowed a man to get a secret extra pay rise when he was the highest earner there and then CCC paid his legal fees in a libel counter claim when he was in the best position to pay for himself. He did not have to go ahead with either, he could have not accepted the secret pay rise and need not have gone ahead with the libel action - an offer to settle quietly out of court was on the table.

So far James has persuaded the executive board to spend £1/4 of a million of public money in legal fees to protect his reputation and if an eagle eyed member of the public had not picked up his secret 16 K pay rise in the accounts he would still be dishonestly and unlawfully taking it home with him. His promise to the executive board to return all damages to the council was a cynical lie. His reputation is in tatters.The only nasty thing in the CCC woodshed is this disgraceful record

Hopefully he will retire gracefully of his own accord as the elected councillors are either too afraid of him to act or too implicated in the grubby saga to come clean and admit the man is not worth keeping!

Lesley said...

Interesting item in today's Herald ....

caebrwyn said...

For any readers who are wondering...I'd just like to make it clear that the case against me relates to the contents of my blog alone, not any other kind of activity at all. There is nothing in the woodshed.