Monday 3 February 2014

MP asks police to investigate senior council officers (updated)

Update 12.55

Dyfed Powys Police have confirmed that they are liaising with the Crown Prosecution Service and a second police force following the Jonathan Edwards' intervention.


Jonathan Edwards, MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, has written to the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police to ask for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the unlawful decisions and payments made "contrary to law" to the council's chief executive, Mark James, to determine whether there has been gross misconduct of public office.

The Plaid press release (full text below) says that the decisions involved over £55,000 of unlawful expenditure.

The true figure could be significantly higher. Not only is litigation still ongoing under the indemnity, but Jacqui Thompson was ordered by the court to pay some £40,000 in costs in respect of the counterclaim which was underpinned by the unlawful indemnity. The discrepancy between the amount she was ordered to pay and the expenditure identified by the auditor has so far not been explained.

In addition, the pension payments exclude the as yet unknown cost of the specialist financial and legal advice which the council commissioned before paying Mr James his "salary supplement".

It is understood that Jonathan has asked for any police investigation to be handled by a different force because of the close links which exist between the county council and Dyfed Powys Police.


Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament, Jonathan Edwards, has requested the Police investigate Carmarthenshire County Council’s Chief Executive, Mark James and Head of Administration and Law, Linda Rees Jones for possible Misconduct in Public Office following highly damaging public interest reports from the Wales Audit Office which conclude the Council had acted unlawfully in two key matters.

Wales Audit Office reports published last week (Thursday 30th January) investigated the decision of the Council’s Executive Board to indemnify the chief executive’s legal costs to launch a libel counter-claim against a critical county blogger, and the decision of the Executive Board to enable its Chief to avoid tax he would have been due to pay after a change in the law relating to pension contributions for high earners.

Instead of paying employer contributions to the Local Government Pension Scheme, “pay supplements” worth £28,750 were credited directly to Mr James on top of his salary.

On the libel indemnity, the Auditor concludes the local authority did not have the power to agree the indemnity - costs of which currently stand at £26,426 - and that the report given to members of the authority’s Executive Board to make a decision was not representative of the Counsel received. “The cautious and reserved terms in which Counsel expressed his opinion to the Council are not reflected in the report to the Executive Board. Instead, the report represents his advice in unequivocal terms – that the indemnity can be granted but only in exceptional circumstances, although these were not defined”, the Auditor said.

The Auditor further stated that the Chief Executive took part in the decision-making process “whilst having a disqualifying financial interest in the outcome of the decision.”

The report, written by the authority’s Head of Administration and Law, Linda Rees Jones, has been branded a “sexed-up dossier” by Welsh Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas.

In an astonishing revelation, the Wales Audit Office has since disclosed that the council did not seek legal advice specifically on the indemnity as it was advised to by the Auditor, but instead relied on general legal advice it had sought four years prior to taking the decision.

This revelation, MP Jonathan Edwards says, raises serious questions as to whether elected members were deliberately misled by the senior officers to ensure the indemnity was approved. Mr Edwards stated the Auditor’s new comments suggest misconduct of public office has taken place in that public officers have “wilfully misconducted themselves to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in them without reasonable excuse of justification other than to ensure the indemnity was granted.”

Outlining his reasons for contacting the police, Jonathan Edwards MP said:

“The unlawful indemnity and unlawful pension arrangements have seen over £55,000 of public money spent for the benefit of the Chief Executive.

“The reports are extremely damaging.  In my mind the findings justify dismissal of senior council officers and should make the council’s elected leadership stand down from their roles. 

“But even more worrying is the disclosure of the appointed Auditor that the council did not seek specific legal advice on the lawfulness of granting the indemnity. 

“The documentation presented to the Executive board when deciding to approve the indemnity was a report created by council officers. It was not based on specific legal advice which the council was advised to obtain, nor was it representative of even the general legal advice obtained four years earlier.

“I have to question on what evidence exactly the documentation was based to justify a blank cheque of potentially tens of thousands of pounds for the cause of the Chief Executive and whether any criminal activity took place in the process.

“This astonishing revelation from the audit office leads me to no other conclusion than misconduct of public office has taken place. By producing what appears to be a grossly unqualified report, and taking part in the decision-making process, my reading of the legislation suggests these public officers have wilfully misconducted themselves to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in them without reasonable excuse of justification other than to ensure the indemnity was granted to benefit the Chief Executive.

"Furthermore, given that officers drew up the report without any specific legal advice, questions need to be asked as to whether the officers were aware that their actions might be judged to be unlawful but decided to press ahead despite the risk of the grave consequences

“This is a deeply regrettable situation to have been put in. When I entered politics I never thought I would have to report civil servants to the Police - this is the darkest day of my career. However, where such serious activities have taken place, I believe it is my duty as a Member of Parliament to stand up for the taxpayers I represent.

"I have contacted both Dyfed Powys and South Wales Police forces to request an investigation into the whole affair in order for the police to satisfy itself that no such misconduct has taken place.

"The Labour-run Council seems intent on challenging the independent Audit Office reports, and the Auditor's recommendation to rescind the indemnity looks set to be rejected. With the Council leadership digging their heels in and court action seemingly inevitable, my duty as an elected member must be to protect Carmarthenshire tax payers from footing the bill for further expensive legal costs."


Anonymous said...

I said a long time ago on this blog and probably Jacquie's that at some point chickens would come home to roost in relation to the goings - on at county hall. It seems that the homeward journeys of said chickens have commenced!

He is right to ask for an outside force to investigate - there is a much too cosy relationship between the force and the council. They work in close partnership on some issues. For example the CE and the local Chief Supt sit on a community safety committee and other bodies as well.

Well done Jonathon that's what I say !!

Anonymous said...

At last people other than a few "malcontents" are taking notice of what has been going on!

All I can say is a heartfelt 'thank you' to the Auditor for bringing some of the dark goings-on out into the light, to Jonathan Edwards for his unrelenting attempts to seek justice for the people of Carmarthenshire, to Cneifiwr for his witty and erudite blogging which keeps us all in the picture and, most of all, to Jacqui for her amazing courage and commitment. I salute you all; a million thanks. Let us now hope that there will be a satisfactory result that sees all this greedy ineptitude finally banished from County Hall.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear anon 09:27. Eloquently put!

Ken Haylock said...

I'm on tenterhooks, not so much to know what happens to the regime in Carmarthenshire as a result of their pension & libel indemnity allegations, although that is still interesting enough, but waitinf for what happens when competent independent auditors get to look at all the papers and internal documentation on the Evangelical bowling alley and a large number of other big ticket Carmarthenshire projects.

I suspect that the excrement and the air conditioning may have a percussive and very smelly interface.

If all this does lead inexorably to Jacquie's vindication, the jailing of officers, etc etc... then I will be nominating her for any number of national Political Blogger of the year awards; I don't remember anybody trying to reduce Guido Fawkes to penury to try to silence him this year!

The other interesting question is, if independent forensic auditors lift the lid on Carmarthenshire and discover scandal, graft, incompetence and dodgy dealing on a sufficiently massive scale, what happens next? Will the conclusion be 'one or two bad apples, root them out, then back to business as usual' or are the conclusions likely to be more drastic for the entire Carmarthenshire edifice?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone mentioned any of this to
Mr Justice Tugendhat?

Ken Haylock said...

I know hindsight makes fools of us all, but the judge in question is going to look particularly foolish if the cards now fall where it looks like they will...

Latra said...

Well done Jonathan! There is immense support for Jacqui Thompson who's bravery is staggering. To see her vindicated would be the icing on the cake baked in celebration of the liberation of our county when those responsible are brought to justice. It's been a long time coming.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear Latra!

Anonymous said...

Is it perhaps now the time for the council to be specifically asked what its intentions are regarding Ms Thomas?

Anonymous said...

Ken Haylock ... I'm afraid that if the independent auditors are anything like those in WEFO, you will be on tenterhooks for some time! It has taken them approximately 18 months to investigate a complaint of maladministration in CCC's Coastal project. See links below

Anonymous said...

Many are awaiting the day when the books, financial accounts, minutes, legal opinions and sexed-up dossiers on questionable dealings (Y Cneifwr passim) are hauled out into the sunlit uplands of transparency in a new dawn of Council openness.

But I can't really see this happening at present. Regardless of what seems to be the inevitable fate of some senior officers, Labour and the Independents will still want to minimise the fall-out, and I am certain that they will try to limit the focus of scrutiny. Unless the WG or the WAO insist of an audit, the biggest skeletons in the cupboard will remain there.

Anonymous said...

Here lies the problem. Chief Executive given too much power.
Councillors need to show that they are the decision makers.
They tell him what to do not him them!

c r cooper said...

The Welsh Assembly must take over the administration of Carmarthen County Council to avoid any further conflict of interest in this matter.
The protestations of the CCC Executive and their decision to hold meetings to discuss the matter are now irrelevant.
Council Members must recognise that the findings of the Welsh Audit Office justify a full judicial review.