Sunday 10 August 2014

A tale of two councils

 Jacqui Thompson recently reported on her blog that Mark James, the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, is now taking steps to secure the damages that were awarded to him following the libel trial, and the Western Mail has covered the story in more detail.

There is little to add to these reports, except to clarify that, with interest, the damages have now risen to  £30,000. On top of that are some £220,000 in costs awarded against her, and there is as yet no indication as to how the council and its insurers will seek to recover the money.

The damages were awarded in respect of Mr James's counterclaim, which in the view of the Wales Audit Office was unlawfully funded by the Council. While the council's officers were adamant in their report last month that the indemnity was lawful, councillors opted for a fudge to "note" the officers' views and sit on the fence.

As things stand, one of the highest paid officials in Wales stands to scoop winnings of £30,000 from an unlawfully funded litigation, quite possibly making a family homeless into the bargain.

The only crumb of comfort that can be drawn from this is that contrary to Mr James's assertions that he had blazed a trail which other councils would follow, no Welsh council in its right mind is likely to go down that path ever again.


Meanwhile, the Winter Palace in Haverfordwest looks set to come under siege as three of the largest unions have joined forces to call for the Chief Executive, Bryn Parry-Jones, to step down while the latest round of police investigations into the pension payments is underway. Unison is going a step further and balloting its members in a vote of no confidence, and the unions have also called on the public to join them in a protest outside County Hall.

It's worth recalling that the trouble stems from the tax dodging pension scheme, and that the Labour Party is playing a leading role in trying to call the council chief executive to account.

Next door in Carmarthenshire where the Chief Executive, Mark James, was found to have benefited from not one but two unlawful schemes, Labour has adopted the opposite policy and has defended Mr James for all its worth.

If that was not bad enough, Jacob Williams has published a copy of an explosive letter written by the former lay chairman of Pembrokeshire's Audit Committee explaining the reasons for his resignation. The account given of the chief executive's conduct is extraordinary.

The Audit Committee row relates to suspected fraud in the administration of building improvement grants, and is the subject of a separate and extremely slow-moving police investigation.

How the good people of Ceredigion must be looking forward to merging with their neighbour on the southern banks of the Teifi.


Blodwen said...

I am horrified, appalled and disgusted by the conduct of both the CEO of Carmarthenshire and the CEO of Pembrokeshire.
Never having been in the position of applying for a CEO post myself, I am drawn to wonder what the personal qualities job spec for CEO of a local authority might be. Arrogance, bullying, greed, lack of Christian (or any) ethics would seem to be some of the common requirements.
After reading Jacob Williams's latest stunning blogpost surely this has got to be the end of Bryn Parry Jones at least?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps all those that so strongly supported/egged-on Jacqui Thompson should start to dig deep. Or a whole lot deeper. And that includes the author of this blog here.

Idiocy in the extreme.

Anonymous said...

From a resident of Ceredigion "Oh no wer'e not"

Redhead said...

Perhaps all those who didn't support Ms Thompson should also search their souls. If someone sets up a donation page for her I will happily chip in.

Anonymous said...

It's not idiocy,it's called Guts, to make a stand against
bullying,especially from a more powerful opposition.

Anonymous said...

However distastful and arrogant Mr James might be, to accuse him and other unnamed officials of being "corrupt" and operating an unauthorised "slush fund" without factual evidence, is libel. Simple as that - and the Courts have so found.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@11.45 - I don't think that Jacqui Thompson accused Mr James of corruption. The slush fund was the term which Jacqui used to describe the fund used to finance the libel litigation. The council said there was no fund, and the judge decided that the term was libellous, leaving the question of where the money which funded the court case came from something of a mystery. Funds which did not come from a fund.

caebrwyn said...

@Cneifiwr, thank you for responding to Anon @11.45, your summary is correct.

Anonymous said...

Well said Redhead and anon 17:29!!! I too am happy to donate!

Blodwen said...

Regardless of whether or not Jacqui Thompson libelled Mr James Anon @ 11.45, I object to the fact that councillors who represent me agreed (and are apparently still agreeing) to unlawfully indemnify him against his legal costs.
Jacqui very bravely spoke for a huge number of us in Carmarthenshire and I agree that we should set up a fund to try to ameliorate some of the despicable damage that is being done to her and her family.

Anonymous said...

Jacqui Thompson is in my view a woman of both principal and honour, and someone for whom I now have a great deal of respect.


"Idiocy" was to respond to my questions, without answering them, but instead making a number of claims about Mrs. Thompson and her family that she was certain to object to.

Further idiocy was to fail to grasp the chance to amend his comments when I offered the opportunity, prior to publication, when I foresaw Jacqui's objections.

Sheer bloody lunacy however, remembering that I offered him a chance to amend his comments prior to publication, was to then have me cross examined on the stand at the High Court and try to imply that Jacqui and I were somehow working together in some sort of vendetta.

I sent Jacqui a number of supportive tweets, as I supported her position. I felt, and continue to feel, that she is the victim in all this. Some of those tweets were humourous...

To imply however that Jacqui and I were somehow coordinating our activities in a personal campaign rather misses the following points:

1/ At the time of the events, I had no axe (pun intended) to grind. My open letter was perfectly civil, asked reasonable questions, and although I consider Mr. James to have evaded providing a meaningful response I can't say I was aggrieved to the point of declaring a pox on all his houses...

2/ If I were coordinating my actions with Jacqui in a campaign of vengeance to bring Mr. James down (for which I would have no motivation), I would hardly have offered him the chance to amend his comments prior to publication.

I consider Jacqui to be the victim of a massive miscarriage of justice, and though this will bring little practical comfort, Jacqui should remember this - "The truth will out"... It always does - it's when, not if.

As for one of the other comments, I have considered whether or not I have egged Jacqui on, and I don't consider that I did. I never suggested she sue, and never tried to influence her to do so - though I understand why she chose that course of action. Was it ill-advised? certainly - It turns out you can't rely on justice from the courts.

As for the politicians in Carmarthenshire, well - words fail me. This happened on your watch - you allowed this to happen! Even when the legality of the indemnity is questioned in clear, logical terms from the Welsh Audit Office, you still refuse to act.

I hope Jacqui stands for election at the next council elections, and I think it's fairly likely that she would be elected now. If that happens, then I await the day when some of you have to look into her eyes across the council chamber, and remember what you did.

Whilst what's left of your conscience is working that one over, you might also consider that it's not just Jacqui who has been failed - it's the entire electorate.

The representatives of the people MY ARSE!

Mrs Angry said...

As someone who sat through the High Court hearings, and wrote about it in some detail, my view is that Jacqui's defence arguably did not receive a fair representation in court, and that the judgement was astonishingly harsh in some of its findings.

If I were Mr James, I would think that the verdict itself was sufficient vindication of my position, and not seek to press for the damages, especially from a case funded in the way it was: this would be a dignified response, and restore some balance to the situation. To do otherwise, and require someone to lose their home, may be lawful, and his right - but it is unnecessary.