The South Wales Evening Post has picked up on the story that Carmarthenshire County Council, or actually we the taxpayer, will be funding a libel case involving the Chief Executive, Mark James, and award-winning blogger Jacqui Thompson. The article can be found here, although as Jacqui herself has now confirmed and this blog hinted a few days ago, it is not just the defence we are funding, but also a counter-claim for damages against Jacqui.
Perhaps the Evening Post will pop back and ask a few more questions in County Hall.
This has all been rumbling away in the background for many months now, so for anyone who has lost the plot, here is a brief summary of the story so far.
June 2011: Jacqui was arrested after filming a small snatch of a council meeting on her phone. She was taken from Carmarthen to Llanelli and held for several hours, and was there told to sign an undertaking that she would not film council meetings again.
It subsequently turned out that the council had no rules or policy on filming its meetings, but in true Carmarthenshire fashion, it took multiple letters of complaint, queries and Freedom of Information Requests and many months to drag out this admission.
In the ensuing uproar created by the incident, which came to be known as #daftarrest, another blogger who writes under the rather alarming name of madaxeman invited Mr James to comment on the affair and explain his course of action.
To everybody's surprise, not least "Madaxeman" himself, I suspect, Mr James duly obliged, and went even further to make remarks about Jacqui's family. It is those remarks which caused Jacqui to seek legal redress.
It is understood that the Council has engaged the services of one of the most expensive libel lawyers in London to handle both Mr James's defence and his counter-claim, which is based on remarks Jacqui made in her blog.
No doubt, the detail of what Mr James found so objectionable in Jacqui's blog will come out in due course, but anyone who has read her blog will know that, while she is very critical of Mr James in particular, there is nothing in it which would strike the average reader as beyond the sort of criticism which any public figure, such as Mr James, should expect.
Anyone who has followed the story will know that Carmarthenshire is probably unique among UK local authorities in giving itself powers to fund legal actions in this way, and the case raises all sorts of questions about the use of public money, the nature of the administration run by Mr James and freedom of speech. We should also remind ourselves that Mr James is one of the highest, if not the highest, earners in Carmarthenshire.
For the time being, the council should be asking itself some pertinent questions, including:
- Why on earth Mr James decided to make comments on a blog, not least one called Madaxeman, in the first place.
- Did he clear his remarks with senior councillors before making them? It would seem unlikely, given the nature of the remarks.
- Is writing comments on blogs a part of the chief executive's job description? If not, then why the hell are we being made to foot the bill?
- And why on earth has the Executive Board of the council agreed to escalate the entire matter and dramatically increase the cost by hiring some of the most expensive lawyers in the country to fight a housewife and retaliate by bringing a counter-claim?
was mark james responding to madaxman as a member of the public?
or was he responding as a council employee?
It seems that both he and members of the Executive Board have taken the line that he was acting as a council employee.
However, we can reasonably assume that writing comments on blogs is not part of a chief executive's duties.
This raises the question of whether there has been misuse of public property in the form of the council's computer system.
I cannot imagine Mark James letter which appeared on Madaxeman's blog, was approved by his legal department nor full council before he so recklessly published it. Therefore he and he alone is responsible for the words so foolishly used, and the taxpayers of Carmarthenshire should not be bailing him out!
should mark james had his chief executive cap on and was representing the whole of the council, he was acting on the will on behalf of all the members dragging her children into it.
can you imagine all 70 odd members debating mrs thompsons children in the council chamber? the principle is the same even if the venues are different.
i do find it very unusual that councillors have not been compaining that their own names have been sullied when he was acting on their behalf, as all are involved in this should it be the case of him representing the council. (anon2)
With all the budget cuts, the public have a right to know where Mark James is finding the possible hundreds of thousands of pounds he could be running up to pursue his defence over his offensive personal remarks waged at Caebrwyn and her family.
i like the name madaxman...
But would you want to meet one?
ah, but it depened in what context. i use an axe in the past to chop wood and i do get mad, so someone calls me a madaxman lol
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