Saturday, 29 October 2016

A One Man Show - Mr James tightens the screws

Update 30 October (1)

Thank you to Anon in the comments below for reminding us of the previously exempt report which went to the Executive Board on 23 January 2012 recommending that the Head of Paid Service (Mark James) be given an indemnity to fund a counter-claim for libel.

Putting aside a number of assertions about the legal basis for the indemnity - assertions which the Wales Audit Office later dismissed as wrong - the report ends by saying that Mr James had confirmed that he would pay any damages over to the council.

Cneifiwr had forgotten about the existence of that sentence at the end of the report, and to be fair, so it would seem had Mr James himself a little more than a year later when he told the Carmarthen Journal that the money might go to good causes.

And although the report assured Kevin Madge and the rest that Mr James had said he would hand over the money, it would be interesting to know if he signed such an undertaking.

Update 30 October (2)

Interestingly, a Freedom of Information request to Carmarthenshire County Council earlier this year asking for a copy of the agreement between Mr James and the council covering the indemnity stated that no such agreement existed. The exempt report cited above is all that there is. In other words, it would seem that Mr James did not enter into any written agreement to hand over the damages.

Update 30 October (3)

Just in case there are any doubting Thomases out there who think that Cneifiwr must have imagined the Carmarthen Journal piece referred to above, here it is, dated 19 March 2013, under the headline

Carmarthenshire case win - money 'will go to good causes'

The article quotes Mr James as follows:

Speaking yesterday, Mr James said: "I never intended with this case that I wanted any money out of it. As and when the money arrives, I will decide what to do with it.

"I am sure there will be plenty of good causes in Carmarthenshire that will benefit."

Funnily enough, Mr James's recollections of the Executive Board meeting on 23 January 2012 were remarkably fuzzy, considering that he had more than a passing interest in the item relating to his indemnity. He told Mr Justice Tugendhat, who believed every word, that he could not remember being at the meeting. A year later, he was clearly unable to remember that the Board had been told he would give the money to the council, probably not most people's definition of a good cause.

It was left to the Wales Audit Office to jog Mr James's memory that he had indeed been at the meeting, that he had forgotten to declare an interest when the item came up for discussion and that he had forgotten that he should have left the meeting when it was discussed.

By anyone's count, that's quite a lot of memory lapses.

But as far as his "confirmation" to Mrs Rees Jones that he would pay the money to the council is concerned, he can be forgiven, it being worth about as much as the paper it was not written on.

Update 30 October (4)

The last update for today, and that's a promise. 

Two small but very significant points need to be added. The first is this line from the report which went to the Executive Board in January 2012:

It is unclear whether the other party has the financial means to meet any order for damages and/or costs that may be made. 

In other words, councillors gave Mr James the green light to proceed without knowing what Jacqui Thompson's financial circumstances were. That was utterly negligent and reckless to say the least.

The second point throws yet more damning light on the state of governance in County Hall. All Mr James needed from the assorted muppets and toadies which made up the board at the time was a rubber stamp on the blank cheque. Once he had got that, he had no further use for them.

Time passed, as it does in British legal proceedings, but by the end of 2012 the two legal teams had hunkered down to thrash out a settlement which would have stopped the litigation. Both teams thought they had something, but when asked, Mr James rejected the compromise.

Nowhere in the minutes of the Executive Board for 2012 will you find any mention of this, and it seems reasonable to conclude if there is nothing in the minutes, that councillors were never told that litigation could have been avoided. Perhaps Mr James forgot to tell them, and anyway, they never asked. 

Not that it would have made any difference because the various councillors on the Board at the time were either too much in awe of the "Chief", too stupid to realise what was going on, or were shrieking "burn the witch". Any Segeant Wilsons ("are you sure that is wise, Sir?") would have found themselves on the backbenches minus a senior salary in the twinkling of an eye.


It has been coming for some time, but the decision by Mark James, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, to force the sale of Jacqui Thompson's family home marks the beginning of a new chapter in a story which, more than anything else, will be the defining act of his career.

The personal consequences for Jacqui and her family are dire indeed, but what is this costing the rest of us, and what are the implications for the council?

Let's take them in turn.

The Iceberg

Over the coming weeks and months, there will be media reports citing various figures: £35,000 here, £190,000 there, and so on. What the public, and councillors for that matter, are very unlikely to hear is the true and staggering financial cost of this extraordinary vendetta which has been fought almost entirely with public money.

The infamous libel indemnity clause which, ironically, was itself the subject of comments the judge found to be libellous ('slush fund'), was suspended but not removed from the council's constitution in the wake of the Wales Audit Office's public interest reports. The council still maintains to this day that it had the right to use public money to bring actions for libel.

The suspension of the clause means that, in theory at least, Mr James can no longer get the council to pay his legal bills, but in reality the costs to the council (and that means you and me) have carried on rising and are set to rise a lot more thanks to what amounts to covert funding.

The smoking gun here is software which enables bloggers to view activity on their blogs. The sophistication of these toolkits varies, but public bodies, law firms and most corporate entities identify themselves through their IP addresses.

In the run-up to the latest welter of litigation and complaints, there was an extraordinary amount of activity on Jacqui's blog emanating from County Hall in Carmarthen. Council staff spent a huge amount of time combing through every single blogpost, and most likely printing them off for subsequent offline analysis. The time spent online being just the tip of the iceberg.

Not long after that came complaints to Dyfed Powys Police alleging harassment and perverting the course of justice. Even the police, when asked, did not seem to be entirely sure whether the complaints had been made by Mr James in person or by the council.

The complaints, which would seem to have been dismissed, took months to investigate and tied up expensive police resources in the process.

It is unlikely that we will ever know what that cost the taxpayer, but the sums will not be trivial.

As far as the council is concerned, Mr James has enjoyed the benefit of unlimited staff time to help him fight Jacqui Thompson for the best part of five years since she was arrested for filming a small part of a council meeting.

It is worth remembering that following the arrest, Mr James, the most senior officer in a local authority, took the extraordinary step of posting his thoughts on the Mad Axeman blog, written by someone who lives not in Wales but the north of England, and that it was those incendiary comments, attacking not just Jacqui but her entire family, which triggered the libel case.

Is it normal for council chief executives to attack a family living in his or her local authority area on a blog in their capacity as Head of Paid Service? It is a reasonable bet that Mr James is the only one ever to have done so, just as he was the only council chief executive ever to persuade his council to adopt an (unlawful) libel indemnity clause in its constitution allowing him to pay for his counter-claim using council funds (funds, but not in the slightest bit slushy ones).

The case and the fallout from it have tied up expensive council staff time for years, and that includes the hundreds of hours which were spent preparing the council's defence against the Wales Audit Office, not to mention the cost of the posse (including the Head of Law and Administration and the manager of the press office) which accompanied Mr James to the Royal Courts of Justice in London, with Mr James and others making use of the council limo and first class rail travel into the bargain.

All of these substantial costs are invisible to both public and councillors - below the waterline. We can be sure that that no councillor has ever questioned this behind the scenes use of council resources, and they would not be given an answer if they did. If anyone ever does get round to trying, the places to look will be the council's legal staff (cavalier at best, incompetent at worst, according to Sir David Lewis, who knew what he was talking about), and the press office, both of which, conveniently, are directly answerable to Mr James.

And these hidden costs are still rising and are set to go on mounting for months to come. The fictitious division between Mr James as an individual and the council having been a nonsense from the start.

Later this year, and following Mr James's bid to seize the Thompsons' family home, the council will weigh in with an action to try to recover £190,000 in costs awarded against Jacqui.

Mr James's award of damages takes precedent over anything else, and the likelihood is that the council will at best be able to recover only a tiny fraction of the £190,000. In all probability, the cost of bringing the court action will be greater than the amount recovered.

On top of that is a further £41,000 in costs relating to the counter-claim, costs which the council is not pursuing - not because it wants to show mercy, but because it knows that fighting that doomed battle might risk reopening the question of whether it was legally entitled to fund the counter-claim in the first place.

Holding to account

And that brings us to the crux of this whole problem: the failure by our elected councillors to hold Mr James to account.

That goes all the way back to 2008 when the council became the first and only local authority to give itself the power to bring publicly funded actions for defamation. At the time, Mr James's stock with councillors was running very high; he could do no wrong and he got whatever he asked for.

The council leader at the time was Meryl Gravell (Independent), whose line has never wavered. As she told councillors and the public at the extraordinary meeting to discuss the Wales Audit Office reports, "we always defend our officers". The royal 'we' perhaps, and 'officers' meaning Mr James.

Always, no matter what.

The second failure occurred under Kevin Madge's (Labour) leadership, when the council was persuaded to give Mr James a blank cheque (with Mr James present in the room) and to trigger the indemnity clause. From there, there was no going back.

Kevin Madge probably came to regret that decision bitterly, and was put through the mincer when he dared to suggest that Mr James should be suspended pending a police investigation into the unlawful pension and indemnity payments.

The council went through melt-down at the time, and Kevin Madge eventually found himself in the humiliating position of having to defend Mr James's conduct and subsequently to welcome Mr James's decision to stay on as chief executive after the council decided that it did not want to cough up almost half a million pounds to get rid of him.

And now we have a Plaid-led administration (in coalition with Mr James's ever-faithful friend, Meryl) being persuaded to initiate yet more court action on Mr James's behalf.

At first sight it is reasonable for the council to try to recover the £190,000. This is taxpayers' money, after all, and there can be no doubt that that was the advice the Executive Board was given by those same incompetent cavaliers. The fact that another court case was helpful to Mr James in piling on the pressure, may or may not have been coincidental, just as the timing of the police complaints was no doubt just a fluke, but councillors duly did what Mr James wanted yet again when they should have been asking:

a) is there any reasonable prospect of recovering the £190,000 or a significant part of it?
b) what will it cost the council to try to recover the money?

The result will be to throw yet more good money after bad, and all or most of the £230,000 (£190,000 plus £41,000 for the counter-claim) will have to be written off, along with the costs incurred in trying to recover the money.

All of which brings us to the implications for the council.

Election time

Mr James is now pushing ahead with trying to secure the forced sale of the Thompson family home so that he can bank the damages he was awarded. Thanks to an eye-watering interest rate of 8%, the debt has grown from £25,000 to £35,000. If the case rumbles on for much longer, Mr James will soon have doubled his money. And you thought pay-day lenders were sharks.

The damages are personal to Mr James, and the council has no claim on them. Moreover, in the scramble to seize Jacqui's meagre assets, Mr James's claim takes precedent over all others. Like it or not, there is nothing the council can do to stop him.

Indeed, if the council did try to intervene, we can be sure that the litigious chief executive would not hesitate to assert his rights.

The wheels of British 'justice' famously grind exceedingly slowly. The case is likely to drag on well into next year, and the run-up to the council elections.

If, by some miracle, the courts move with unprecedented speed to allow Mr James to seize the property and evict the Thompsons, the council's own action to recover part of the costs will follow on and ensure a double helping of negative PR for the council.

If things get really bad for the council, it won't just be the local press and BBC Wales which report on the case, but the big boys in London, with the Tory titles wading in to attack Labour and devolution. Cardiff Bay's failure to tackle this running sore will be cited as yet another reason why Wales can't be trusted to run a cockle stall.

Plaid Cymru stands to take most of the flak for Mr James's actions, even though this is a mess it inherited. Politics can be very unfair like that, and the consequences for local government in Carmarthenshire could be dire.

Cneifiwr is biased, admittedly, but with the best will in the world, the alternatives to a Plaid administration which is doing some good things are Pam Palmer's Independents - justifiably known as Mr James's political wing - and a bitterly divided Labour Party that can at best muster only about four councillors who are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Ironically, if Plaid loses and a Labour/Independent administration is returned, Mr James's position within the council will be immeasurably strengthened as he lords it over a weak, divided and largely fawning coalition.

Could councillors get rid of Mr James?

In theory, yes, but sacking a council chief executive is extremely difficult. Growing numbers of us are on zero-hour contracts with few legal rights, but council chief executives enjoy the sort of legal protection and job security that are otherwise enjoyed only by the likes of President Mugabe.

When Mr James applied to be made redundant, it was reckoned that it would cost about £460,000 to wave him goodbye. Neither Plaid nor Labour would be willing to face the public outcry. For their part, the Independents would be happy to pay him that as a bonus just to stay on.

And even if Mr James were to up sticks and leave tomorrow, the fallout from the Thompson case would continue. Not to mention any of the other legacy skeletons.

So the likelihood is that, unless the courts unexpectedly decide to temper justice with mercy, Mr James will run laughing all the way to the bank and continue his reign in Carmarthenshire.

The only small consolations for the rest us are that he will ultimately fail to silence his critics, and that the libel saga, meant to protect his reputation, has had the opposite effect.


Jac o' the North, said...

Isn't it possible for the council to remove James and refuse or reduce his redundancy payment on the grounds that he's brought the council into disrepute? Of course he'll kick up a fuss, but if this draws the attention of the London media - and that can surely be arranged - then it will prove the case.

Anonymous said...

Summed up perfectly as always. What dark days ahead for this shameless council and it's notorious and now infamous Chief Executive. I am confused over MJs damages, because if they are in consequence of an action using other peoples money, any money he wins from that action should surely be paid back into the very purse he unlawfully stole it from in the first place.

I'm just astounded, given the blatant overt vindictiveness of this man that his mentality isn't of concern to Ministers and he isn't being reigned in.

Cneifiwr said...

They could try arguing that he'd brought the council into disrepute, but the procedure is a long and complex one, with the distinct possibility that the chief executive would sue. The attempt a couple of years back merely to suspend him - not sack him - is said to have caused a very ferocious reaction from Mr James, supported by SOLACE.

That is why Pembrokeshire ended up giving Bryn Parry Jones a massive payout, and there have been several similar instances in England.

As for the damages, it does not matter who paid the bills, the case in the eyes of the law was between Mr James and Jacqui Thompson, and the winnings are all his to do with as he pleases.

Anonymous said...

I’ve just chanced upon Linda Rees Jones’ (at the time, exempt) report to the Executive board meeting of 23/1/2012 when the (unlawful)libel indemnity was adopted behind closed doors (in the presence of Mr James, who didn’t see fit to declare an interest) -

It makes interesting reading in relation to the current situation, especially the last point - “The Head of Paid Service has confirmed that he is not motivated by a wish to benefit financially and that accordingly should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority and will not be kept by him.”

I therefore expect that Mr James and the CCC press office will soon be telling us that his actions are righteously and morally acceptable.

Anonymous said...

So Mark James is sitting pretty then and untouchable? Would he sue the welsh assembly if they stepped in? Someone somewhere must surely be able to come up with a solution to get rid of this terrible despot.

Anonymous said...

SO James makes Jacquie homeless. Who then needs to provide a roof over her head? Carmarthen council I guess. Which council is struggling to find property to house people? Yup. Carmarthenshire.

Who is responsible for this debacle? Yup, mad james. The thick skinned brass necked 'chief executive' who can't take any criticism.

He's causing more financial impact than you suggest in his ridiculous pursuit of this malicious vendetta for the very council he supposedly controls yet the sheep simply look on and do nothing.

As said above it won't take much for this story to come to the ears and eyes of greater powers in London and the sooner the better. for only then will that be the start of the end for this megalomaniac and the restoration of some sense in the county.

With the forthcoming elections we can only hope the sheeple councillors are replaced with people who are capable of walking and chewing gum.

Anonymous said...

“should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority

This shows that, from the start, CCC knew that by funding the counterclaim it would gain from any damages awarded to Mr James.

They must also be aware that they will be making this gain from their funding of Mr James’ counterclaim which “was unlawful and payments made as a result of that decision result in an item of account that is ‘contrary to law’” (Wales Audit Office).

They must also be aware that the Authority’s gain from the pursuit of these damages by Mr James will ultimately make Jacqui Thompson and her family homeless.

Anonymous said...

One sure fire way of exposing this man is for politicians to demand a Public Inquiry. There are a number of cases that are deserving of one and this man would be called to defend himself through his involvement in them. All it requires is that good men do something rather than nothing. MJ has persistently blocked all attempts at requests for an Inquiry because it would expose him for what he is and is the one thing he fears most.

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you to Anon (29 October 18.44) for reminding me of that report. Please see the update at the beginning of the post for more on that topic.

Unfortunately the Carmarthen Journal shut down its old website, but if anyone can find a copy of the article where Mr James said he might donate his winnings to good causes, your reward will be in heaven.

Meanwhile, Cneifiwr is off to trawl through his own archives in pursuit of another interesting document related to this topic.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Mr James has agreed that he will not accept the damages personally put a new spin on things surely.

It could now be for right minded councillors to find a way through this crock of S**t which to be fair wasn't of Plaids making in a way that would satisfy everybody.

In mu humble opinion although Mr James seems to be the target of every body's ire at the moment there is no one to blame but the political masters at the start of this debacle. Gravell, Palmer and Madge should bear the responsibility of this without any shadow of a doubt.

Anonymous said...

Cneifiwr, here it is...

“Speaking yesterday, Mr James said: "I never intended with this case that I wanted any money out of it. As and when the money arrives, I will decide what to do with it.
"I am sure there will be plenty of good causes in Carmarthenshire that will benefit."”

Cneifiwr said...

Many thanks Anon @11.01. We passed like ships in the night. See the updates above. Mr James really did seem to have a problem remembering anything much about the 23 Jan 2012 meeting, didn't he?

Anonymous said...

The problem that CCC have is that, whether or not Mr James was at the 23 Jan 2012 meeting, the decision by the Executive board to (unlawfully) fund Mr James’ counterclaim was taken in the full knowledge of this statement by Mr James in Miss Rees Jones’ report.

Mrs Angry said...

Thank goodness for people of integrity and courage like you, Cneifiwr, who continue to report with such incisive and clear eyed scrutiny on the background to this terrible story.

Like you, I sat through the original court case in the High Court, reported it on my own blog - and was deeply upset by what happened to Jacqui, and feel appalled that she is now in this position.

I cannot understand what drives someone to such extremes in the pursuit of their interpretation of 'justice', that they seek to make someone homeless, and subject them to the merciless ends of such prolonged legal punishment.

If we don't forgive those who trespass against us - or those who we think have dared to do so - what hope of forgiveness is there for ourselves? None, I would say.

And yes, the 'Streisand effect' here would be most comical, were it not for the impact on the lives of those caught up in the reach of this tawdry saga.

Anonymous said...

The minutes of 23 Jan 2012 meeting record that both Mr James and Ms. Rees-Jones were present and there were no declarations of interest.

It would therefore appear odd if the report by Ms. Rees-Jones (Head of Administration & Law and a solicitor) would contain a statement (“any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority”) made to her by the Chief Executive (the holder of a degree in law) if it were not correct. Especially as the report containing the statement was being considered at the meeting where they were both present. If it was not correct they both had the opportunity and a duty to correct it before a decision was taken.

Sian Caiach said...

The exempt report also confirms that the posting of an inflammatory comment on the Madaxeman's blog was on "behalf of the Authority" and therefore probably approved by the then leader of Council. Very unusual for a Council to instruct a chief executive to do such a thing and the question should also be asked as to what happened to the promise to pay any damages back to the Council.
Is Mr James forcing a sale of a home for himself or CCC?

Anonymous said...

Jack O' the North
You say that this whole sorry state of affairs should be brought to National attention.As CCC.state that they "don't care what the law says"it would have little purpose. The first Minister stated that the payment was unlawful as did The Audit Office.It made not a jot of difference as they consider themselves answerable to no one.The only answer is a call for a public enquiry into the workings of this Authority.Past and present persons involved would then HAVE to answer to their decision making actions over the years. Councillors need to look to their consciences and stand up to condemn these actions that have been allowed to flourish unopposed for far too long.Many should hang their heads in shame by being led like sheep to the slaughter.

Ken Haylock said...

If he is forcing it for himself then he is, as mentioned, in the clearest possible conflict of interests, especially if he has been using council staff & resources to further a case that will personally enrich him to the cost of the taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

Just in case the council decides to mysteriously manage to lose the aforesaid minutes, they are now recorded in perpetuity here:

I know its probably been tried before but should sufficient people agree then the WAG would be required to explore and at the very least be made aware of james actions. He is going too far with this action and I for one am beginning to question not only his motives but his mental faculties. He is not fit for office.

Petition the WAG and see what happens, but I think there is sufficient groundswell now to achieve a very good number of votes:

Anonymous said...

For God sake Councillors wake up, surely some of you must have some bottle? Regardless of who is right and who is wrong here this has now gone too far. It is bringing Carmarthenshire down and no Chief Executive should be given a free hand to do this. It is so unprofessional and downright embarrassing.

I know that some of you say that come next May we will hopefully get rid of some of the hangers-on, but even with new blood it is very difficult because power and money corrupts. Not many Councillors will speak up for what's right if there's a threat to their pay-packets.

Jac o' the North, said...

Anon 17:06,

Thus far, the facts of this scandal are known only to people in political and official circles within Wales, and those who follow blogs like this. As long as that remains the case then James and the council are comfortable, and don't need to worry.

However, if Newsnight did a 10-minute piece on the case, or Private Eye ran an article, then that would change things.

Because such exposure would cause severe embarrassment to those at fault in Carmarthenshire and also put pressure on Carwyn Jones and his gang to finally pull their finger out.

The bad publicity itself could be enough to force James to climb down. And in addition to helping Jacqui Thompson it would make it difficult for him to stay in post.

Anonymous said...

Quite honestly I'm astonished how he still remains in post.

Anonymous said...

Cases like Jacqui's and the Breckmans to name just two, clearly highlight the need for a public inquiry.Hopefully it won't be too long in coming if the comments here are anything to go by.

Ken Haylock said...

The Breckman/Roberts case looks like it deserves a public enquiry on its own. And it would seem, glancing at the Herald's front page in the queue at my local petrol station, that the council is still at it, having been exposed for literally years of egregious and apparently malicious wrong doing, including using the police to aid them in the persecution of the victims, they find that the council's legal rottweilers are telling them that they can whistle for compensation because the persecution has been going on for so long that it is now out of time for them to do anything about getting compensation for the financial loss they have suffered, never mind all those years of officially aided and abetted misery.

Clearly, calling to mind the case of Iorwerth Jones & his past rooftop tile smashing protests, this is not all down to Mr James but something in the culture of local government in this part of the world perhaps, but he does seem to have embraced it enthusiastically. Mind you. from reading back the news stories at the time of Iorwerth Jones' last foray onto the roof of a council building, I gather that all _he_ wanted was a public enquiry & compensation from the council, and so sympathetic was the jury to the injustice of his plight that he was acquitted of all charges despite being filmed over an extended period taking a hammer to the roof of a council building.

I assume from the fact that that's the last reference I can find to him in the press that he never got either, so perhaps expecting some justice for Breckman or Jacqui is overly optimistic...

Ken Haylock said...

Jac ' O the North, I really don't think 'embarrassment' is a thing down here in Carmarthenshire. So much goes on down here that in any other public body I've seen would cause a blizzard of arse covering, finger pointing, blame shifting & backpedalling, down here it seems like the council dismisses challenges from even the Welsh Audit Office with a contemptuous shrug if not a full on angry repudiation and just powers on through regardless. Contrition is not part of their repertoire, it seems. Even to this day, the libel indemnity clause that has been declared unlawful is still part of the agreement, merely 'suspended', and the council regularly rails against the WAO for having the temerity to dare declare it unlawful. I can't imagine even the most arrogant local authority in e.g. the South East of England taking that line if they had somehow got themselves into the same position as Carms had...

Anonymous said...

Re: Update 30 October (4), Cneifiwr wrote,

“…the two legal teams had hunkered down to thrash out a settlement which would have stopped the litigation. Both teams thought they had something, but when asked, Mr James rejected the compromise.
…councillors were never told that litigation could have been avoided. Perhaps Mr James forgot to tell them…”

This is not the only instance of his forgetfulness; Mr James also denied that Jacqui Thompson ever made an offer to settle the damages by instalments. He stated,

“Regrettably, Jacqui Thompson is once again not telling the truth unfortunately.
She has refused point blank to pay anything. She has responded to my solicitor in writing saying she will never pay any of the damages and costs that the High Court awarded against her.
Had she offered to pay in instalments, this action would not have been necessary. Perhaps she will share with media written proof of her offer to pay in instalments? I would be most interested to see it.”

Where, in fact, she had initially made an offer just a week after judgement was made. Did Mr James make the Council aware of these offers?

Anonymous said...

I am aware that, in the Breckman case CCC dismissed the Ombudsman’s report after her complaint had been successfully upheld. In fact the previous Enforcement Manager not only made disparaging comments directed at the Ombudsman himself, but launched what can only be described as a vitriolic attack on Mrs Breckman. His comments would have had the potential of being libellous had he not been given privilege to make them What they do reflect however is the view held by other officers who then passed that view to other agencies.

Patricia B said...

I have kept this vitriolic letter to myself since the Ombudsman wrote his report upholding my complaint in 2012 . It is contained within the Ombudsman's report, therefore for public consumption. Maybe it's time part of this letter (more of a rant) written by CCCs retired Enforcement Manager (B. Canning), to the Ombudsman, was put on record. Mr. Canning states... "I consider the contents of your report in relation to my involvement in this long running and difficult case to be biased and lacking in any evidential basis"... "You insult my professionalism, and that of the Head of Planning (E. Bowen now retired) in stating that our dislike of this woman would influence the manner we have dealt with her many and varied complaints"... He goes on... " In relation to your conclusions/recommendations, I have absolutely no doubt that you have exceeded your remit, and have for some reason strayed into the field of being a planning expert..... " Of course your organisation is something of a loose cannon in that regard, as I have wondered on more than one occasion who exactly is the Ombudsman's Ombudsman - you appear just to be a self righteous part of the blame culture".... "It is my fervent hope that CCC seeks counsel's advice in order to vigorously challenge your recommendations in this matter". Mr. Canning continues to insult by calling me... "sly, devious, and a bully"... and..." a vicious and vindictive woman". He goes on..." to quote a World War 1 analogy, it may be better just to go along with the views of the donkeys sitting comfortably in the chateau, who all have 20/20 hindsight, so that the lions can get on with doing a real job, dodging the bombs and machine gun bullets in the front line, where decision making is much more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding. If you make a mistake, so be it, but at least you tried. The only people who never make mistakes are people who don't do anything. Perhaps the Ombudsman's Office falls into that category". These are just a few extracts taken from this vitriolic letter, but in my opinion throws a beacon on the mindset of this council. It proves their contempt for any organisation who dares question and how they attack members of the public who have the temerity to question their decision making. If this wasn't enough - I have copies of internal emails where there are more personal comments which are equally upsetting. One can only imagine how difficult it was for me trying to communicate with these two officers who held such bigoted views.
If ever there was a need for a Public Inquiry - it is now and must happen.

Anonymous said...

Further to Update 30 October (4) re “councillors were never told that litigation could have been avoided”

This is Jacqui Thompson’s account of negotiations to settle out of court:
“However what I do know was that in December 2011, around three months after my claim both I and my solicitors were given to understand that a settlement had been reached which was agreeable to all sides.

Mr James had agreed to retract his remarks and undertake not to repeat them, and he and the council had agreed to a contribution towards costs and nominal damages. I had also agreed, reluctantly, for the settlement to be confidential which was insisted upon, and which was of of paramount importance, to Mr James

For reasons which remain unknown, and to the consternation of both sets of solicitors, neither the council, nor Mr James followed through with this and shortly afterwards brought forward the counterclaim.”

The $64,000 questions are:
- what were the reasons behind the decision not to settle?
- was the decision contrary to the legal advice received?
- was the decision taken by elected councillors, e.g. the Executive board, if so, where is it recorded?
- if the elected councillors didn’t make the decision, who did?

Anonymous said...

Re: Update 30 October (2), “Mr James did not enter into any written agreement to hand over the damages.”

Interestingly, in her email of 23 January 2012 (same day as Exec board meeting) to Geraint Norman (WAO) Linda Rees Jones states:
“By the way, the Chief has volunteered to pay over any damages awarded to him if his counterclaim succeeds.”

Geraint Norman’s replies:
“Thanks for the update. Regarding the agreement to pay over any damages, will this be formalised in writing?”

For full details see page 3 at:

Anonymous said...

Further evidence, if any were needed, of Mr James intentions re his damages, it can be found in the report by Tim Kerr QC, Dated: 27 November 2013. (
Not only does it confirm that all the points in Linda Rees Jones’ report were taken into account by the Exec board, it also reproduces her email to the WAO as well as Tim Kerr himself referring to Mr James’ offer:

“37. As to (3), the possible alternative of a conditional fee agreement was expressly referred to in the report. I have not seen the minutes of the meeting, but I am instructed that all the points in the report were considered and taken into
account by the Executive Board.
So I do not agree that a conditional fee agreement was not considered. I think it was eminently reasonable to opt for an indemnity instead, particularly given the minimal extra cost of the counterclaim using the same lawyers and the offer of Mr James to use any damages recovered to offset the cost of providing the indemnity.

So, the following are of the understanding that “should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority ”:
- All and officers and members of the Executive board at the 23 January 2012 meeting
- Linda Rees Jones and all officers copied in to receive her email
- Geraint Norman of the Welsh Audit Office
- Tim Kerr QC

The QC’s report was produced some 8 months after the Carmarthen Journal article in which Mr James says he’s giving his damages to charity. Seems like the only person who’s unclear about his intentions is Mr James himself.

Anonymous said...

In both Jacqui Thompson's and the Breckman case it is abundantly clear that a culture exists in Carmarthen council which is designed to protect,at all costs, the interests of officers.This is in spite of decisions by officers(aided and abetted by most councillors) which have devastating consequences for the individuals.
In both cases there is most definitely an element of malice, which by it's existence
suggests fear of the truth.
Calls for a public inquiry seems to be on the increase if comments on the two blogs are anything to go by.Sooner rather than later I would suggest.

Anonymous said...

Also in the document (
on page 6 there is an email response from Richard Harries, Financial Audit Director at WAO, to a complainant which contains the following:

“12. With regard to the counterclaim, should Mr James win any damages, where would they go?
We understand from the Director of Resources and the Monitoring Officer that Mr James will pass any compensation received to the Council. There is no formal signed agreement in relation to repayment of compensation, but it was on this basis that the indemnity was considered and given by the Executive Board.”

Anonymous said...

So the executive board are heavily implicated.Can they sleep at night I wonder.Probably oblivious to the disastrous consequences of sucking up to Mark James.All it does is expose to people of integrity and empathy that they have neither and I would go so far as to say they love being controlled by Mark James.Then they don't have to think for themselves.Public inquiry calls keep coming.

Anonymous said...

This is all so shameful. Negative news comes out of Carmarthenshire on a regular basis because of this. Carmarthenshire will always be remembered for this case and it will overshadow everything else. Have you no shame Councillors? Where's your pride and integrity Councillors? You have allowed this situation to fester and continue. You represent us as residents and where is our M.P and A.M in Carmarthenshire?
This is their patch that is being brought into disrepute. Councillors will take the blame for this in the end because they failed to stand up and do something to stop what's going on. Embarrassing isn't a strong enough word!

Anonymous said...

Mr. James is pursuing this money and should accept the poison chalice and take it, as any person or charity who takes this cash will cause great harm to their reputation. Even a children's charity would be unwise to accept this money.

Anonymous said...

The time is ripe for a vote of no confidence in this man - what is wrong with councillors who are condoning this notoriously vindictive Chief Executive. CBE? HE is totally unworthy.

Anonymous said...

But I think it has been clearly established that the money is not Mr James to keep. The indemnity (unlawful as it was) was approved on the proviso that any award of damages would be transferred to the LA. Mr James tried to improve his image by saying that it will be given to good causes but it must be given to the LA - fairly clear in the documentation and minutes of meetings.