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."
"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.
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.
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.