Tuesday 4 February 2014

Council Crisis: The Plot Thickens and it's Reports Galore!

Update 5 February 1pm

Thanks to Anon for spotting that the press release has now been moved into the archive. Confusingly the only press statement currently showing in the Media section of the website preceded the statement which has gone into archive. Oh well.

The archived statement also contains links to the two QCs' reports, about which more in due course.

Update 5 February

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser. The council press release announcing that Mrs Linda Rees Jones would be producing killer evidence to show that the council was right all along, has now vanished from the council's website. The statement which promoted Mr Adam Speker, James's barrister in the libel trial, to QC and  promised that the advice provided by genius Timothy Kerr QC in November 2013 would be published for all to see has gone, leaving just a funny smell and some lingering smoke.


The response of Carmarthenshire County Council to the auditor's reports, the calls for the suspension or dismissal of senior officers and the resignation of Kevin Madge and others has been, when stripped of the hysteria, that we should not judge too soon and that the council has evidence that will show the auditor was wrong.

Two documents have now been circulated to the councillors which set out the advice the council received on the ground-breaking indemnity amendment to its constitution in 2008, and another dated 27 November 2013 produced by Timothy Kerr QC on the legality of the indemnity in the Jacqui Thompson case.

Mr Kerr, it will be remembered, was also the QC who advised the council on the pensions pay "supplement" and whose chambers profile says that his clients love him and consider him to be a genius.

The conclusion of Mr Kerr's report is that the council was acting lawfully when it indemnified Mr James's counterclaim. What this cost is not yet known, but it will not have come cheap.

The reports have been distributed by Mrs Linda Rees Jones who says that councillors should compare them carefully with the contents of the auditor's report.

No doubt councillors will, but they may be puzzled about the timing of Mr Kerr's advice. One of the auditor's concerns was that the council went ahead with the indemnity without taking specific advice. When he became aware of this, he commissioned his own legal opinion and presented it to the council in September 2013.

Mr Barrett's advice was unequivocal - the indemnity was unlawful. That appears to have been the trigger which sent the council scurrying off to Mr Kerr whose report comes to the opposite conclusion. The problem with all that is that the council only sought legal opinion as recommended by the auditor 22 months after agreeing the indemnity.

Confused? Well, the bottom line is that the council is throwing down the gauntlet to the Wales Audit Office and preparing for yet more litigation and exorbitant legal fees, all to satisfy the demands of Mr James.

Mr Barrett on Public Interest Reports

After the hysterical tone of last night's press release from County Hall, here is the appointed auditor explaining in rather calmer tones why he sometimes (actually rarely) issues public interest reports.

Readers may recall that this is by no means the first time the council has had a run-in with an external body. One of the authority's bĂȘtes noires was the Ombudsman for Public Services who frequently clashed swords with Mr James and Co. The BBC, the Western Mail and local newspapers have also all fallen foul of the Kremlin on the Towy at some point, not to mention the growing list of whistleblowers and members of the public who have had the misfortune to become entangled.


Anonymous said...

So who gave the advice in 2008 and why was this evidence not produced to the auditor?

Cneifiwr said...

The 2008 advice was shown to the auditor, and his conclusion was that it was too general. The 2013 Kerr report came only after the auditor had advised the council to seek additional advice before it approved the indemnity in 2012 and after the auditor had provided his own advice in September 2013.

Anonymous said...

Mr Kerr may be a genius but, according to http://www.11kbw.com/barristers/profile/tim-kerr, he is not listed as a specialist in libel law.

Anonymous said...

Can we view the 2008 advice online?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many lawyers they approached before they got the answer they wanted?

Anonymous said...


Is this the missing press release that you are referring to or is there a different one?

Anonymous said...

If this disgraceful debacle continues for much longer, the conduct of James - Madge - Gravell - Palmer and Rees-Jones is going to supercede the seriousness of the original findings by the Auditor. They have lost touch with reality because they have been allowed to 'do as they like' by councillors and the Welsh Government for so long they actually believe they are above any form of scrutiny. It's gone beyond arrogance!

Anonymous said...

The criminal offence of 'Misconduct in Public Office' would rely on a 'wilfull neglect to perform his duty'. This would be neglecting to acquire detailed legal advise on lawfulness of the indemnity. As you say, the detail is absent AND the chronology suggests wilful neglect over a period of time. It would not be unusual for the such evidence to be withdrawn from the public domain if the council are providing assistance for a defence of criminal proceedings. The CPS need to decide the viability of a criminal prosecution against Mark James, the crux being the nature of and his duty to seek appropriate, detailed,and robust legal advise of the lawfulness of the indemnity, AND to have acted so in a timely fashion. We know the advise was not robust or detailed. How timely is 22 months? An elapse of such time would tend exclude the usual defence of reasonable excuse or justification, the main get-out clause in such offences. I'm surprised the executive board are still backing Mr James, who in any other local authority would have found pressing family commitments of career opportunities elsewhere. The only motive I can think of is that somewhere in the mire is collusion between political members and council officers. That in itself would indicate an important public interest in pursuing a detailed criminal investigation.

Anonymous said...

Its not in the archive. If you click the Newsroom tab, it's there under Latest News.