Friday, 24 March 2017

Mr James and the gutter - Yesterday's hearing


Well it turned out to be a long day in court yesterday. The chief executive was attempting to get an order to force sale of my home, within a few weeks, for the libel damages (now around £36k plus interest).

Unusually for enforcement cases like this, the judge used his discretion and held the hearing in public. I was asked if I objected but it was fine by me, I have nothing to hide. The chief executive wasn't there himself.

I presented my arguments under Article 8 ECHR, the right to family life, home etc, incorporating the question of the unlawful funding of the counterclaim. I said that as the claimant had been funded by the council, and had offered to hand over any damages to the council he was acting as a public authority and therefore this gave me more protection under Article 8. I also questioned the motives of the chief executive in his pursuit of this money.

My husband, joint owner of the property had not been served with the claim at all, and it turned out yesterday that he should have been. The judge made him a party to the proceedings and he was also able to speak in defence of our home.

Essentially my main points centred around the reasons for us to keep our home, our sons have a business based here and Cae Brwyn (our home as well as my Twitter name), built by ourselves, is the centre of family life. The forced loss of our home would have a devastating effect on our family and the means to earn a crust.

Counsel for Mr James, from London, detailed the findings of Justice Tugendhat, my failure to offer sufficiently large instalment payments, refusals to pay (the judge felt I'd said this in the heat of various moments), my credibility, and so forth.

The hearing took an interesting turn when the judge asked to see evidence that Mr James had offered to hand any damages over to the council. This was, as I mentioned above, in relation to the Derbyshire Rule and in relation to his motives.

Adjourning for lunch I arranged with the court staff to provide the judge with a copy of the report to the executive board recommending the indemnity, in which Mr James states;

'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.'

Counsel for Mr James had to take instructions as he seemed to be unaware of this arrangement. He then told the judge that Mr James had changed his mind, he was entitled to do so, and could, in fact, choose to stuff the money in the 'gutter' if he so wished.

The judge seemed less than impressed and commented that it was remarkable for a head of paid service, the chief officer, to make such an official commitment and then change his mind.
He noted, later, that Mr James was probably not in urgent need of the money.

The judge listened carefully to both sides and retired to consider his judgement for a short while.

In the end, no matter what my article 8 rights were, there was an order against me which still stood. He issued an order for sale but suspended it for ten years as long as I make monthly payments of £250. He had asked me earlier for an affordable and realistic offer and I had said £80, so £250 is an alarming amount.

However, our home is safe for now and we are looking forward to the summer when we will be able to forage for nuts and berries to sustain us through the winter months. Mr James will now have a little addition to his monthly salary.

Then came the issue of costs for the hearing plus the prep work, which I was now liable to pay. The chief executive's cost schedule arrived in my inbox last week with a hefty thump. At £21,763.73 I thought it was a bit steep, which was an understatement. The judge seemed to agree and went through it there and then. He cut it by a third, including a payment to a media lawyer, leaving £14,348.61. This is still steep, though he added it on to the damages rather than giving me 14 days to pay.

It remains a matter of opinion whether the chief executive has benefited financially from an unlawful decision in public office, and the matter of the 'change of mind' is an interesting development. For me, despite the £250 sting, at least I live to fight another day.

I'd just like to thank everyone for their help and support and a special thanks to those who came to the court. Hopefully, with council business rumbling along, (bereft of Caebrwyn's usual vigilance), and an election coming up, I'll be able to blog about something else before too long....

25th March 2017; Y Cneifiwr; Reputations in the gutter, well worth a read.

6th April 2017; I have now received the Court Order from the hearing, I am, somehow or other, to pay Mr James £250 per month until May 2032. If I default in any way he'll force sale of the house without further notice.

8th April 2017; Found on Facebook, written by AnonyNurse;


Saturday, 18 March 2017

County Court hearing, 23rd March


Update 24th March - Mr James and the gutter - Yesterday's hearing

* * *

It comes to my attention, periodically, that members of the public have written to the council, well, to Mr James, Ms Rees Jones, or Council leader Dole in respect of Mr James's pursuit of damages. I am eternally grateful for their efforts and indeed the commendable, if brief mutiny by a handful of Plaid Councillors just before Christmas. My thanks for the continued support from Cllr Caiach goes without saying.
Astonished by the replies, some members of the public seek me out via the interweb to show me the responses.

One such reply came my way the other day. The reply had been written, apparently, by council leader Emlyn Dole, and he confirmed this following an enquiry as to who the true author actually was. The letter, and reply were both copied to Welsh Government minister Mark Drakeford.

The letter writer gave his name, but what was striking about the response from Cllr Dole was that despite stating twice that he was not acquainted with the writer, 'I do not know who you are'; he then proceeds, aggressively, to fire both barrels at myself, a piece of writing comparable to one of the chief executive's witness statements.

The email goes on to press home that thorny issue that the chief executive's actions are entirely a private and personal matter. If that is truly the case, which it isn't, I can only speculate as to why Cllr Dole felt the need to defend his honour so robustly, and on council facilities.

He concludes by saying "By the way, in case you think that I am being defensive so as to protect my own actions please note that I was not on the Council’s Administration at the time the decision was taken to grant the Chief Executive the indemnity." This begs the question as to why Cllr Dole is now so defensive over unlawful decisions prior to his leadership, let alone so defensive about Mr James's "personal legal rights and private life"?

Of course the unlawful indemnity did come under the previous administration but it is staggering to me that whilst I am facing the loss of my home, those responsible, including the chief executive, have escaped any sanction whatsoever. There is something seriously wrong when I face losing my home on the basis of an unlawful decision in public office.
With the council having funded the counterclaim, unlawfully, the word 'private' doesn't come into it. And this is without taking into account the innumerable working hours, the paperclips and the corporate coffee, so to speak.

Other correspondents who have since contacted me had gone directly to the award winning chief executive himself, or his trusty legal eagle and Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones. Not only are the letter writers furnished with lengthy rambling letters about criminal mastermind Mrs Thompson but, to push home the point, Justice Tugendhat's equally lengthy judgement is included as an added bonus. Caebrwyn is considering a FOI request to assess just how many gallons of council ink have been consumed in printing it out and whether Mr James has a stack of them close to his desk ready to hurl at supporters of Mrs Thompson should they venture within reach of the castle walls.

With the lines between private and public firmly blurred to a drizzly grey, next week the chief executive of the council will attempt to get an order to force sale of our family home, and place of business, for the damages.

Some victorious litigants, when faced with an impecunious opponent, are satisfied to point to an award of damages as a measure of vindication, in a dignified manner, some, however will behave with all the charm and persistence of a loan shark, even using other arms of the law to add pressure. It is a matter of personal, perhaps even spiritual choice which road they may take.

Whatever happens on Thursday, one thing I have learned over the past few years is that as far as legal matters go it's not over until it's over. And it's not over yet.

The hearing is at Carmarthen County Court, Picton Terrace at 10.30 am on Thursday 23rd March;

Court listing

Apologies but as before, I won't be publishing comments on this post but as ever, I am always very grateful for messages of support.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Police update


Update 22nd April 2017: After five weeks I have now been informed that the police are preparing a file for the Crown Prosecution Service.

----------------------------------------------

Just to say that I was questioned by the police today following a complaint of harassment by Carmarthenshire council chief executive, Mark James relating to this blog. As I said here, I attended voluntarily.
I gave a brief prepared statement in my defence followed by no comment to all the questions.
I will be informed in the next week or so whether the matter will go to court or not.
I cannot comment further at the moment.


Next Thursday, the 23rd, the chief executive will be attempting to force sale of my home.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Rotten Borough news - Emlyn Dole in Private Eye


Although he has yet to reach the giddy heights of national recognition achieved by chief executive Mark James, Council Leader Emlyn Dole (Plaid Cymru) has a mention in this week's Private Eye Rotten Boroughs column, and could well be a future contender for an annual award!

Source; Private Eye, Edition 1439

For a selection of earlier Private Eye appearances starring Mr James and the council see here.


20th March 2017; Llanelli Online; Private Eye on Leader

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Pembrey Unfair Dismissal case - Council "put me through hell"


The judgement has been issued for the Employment Tribunal held last month against Carmarthenshire Council for unfair dismissal. The claimant, Mr Eirian Morris, whistleblower and former manager of the ski centre at Pembrey Country Park won his case for unfair dismissal.

Those who have followed this, and the wider scandal, will be aware that part of Mr Morris's case was that it was his whistleblowing disclosures which led, after 27 years exemplary service, to him losing his job. The Tribunal did not find that this was proven but did find that the whole restructuring procedure which left Mr Morris in a 'pool of one' for redundancy was flawed, or shall we say, foggy, and that the evidence that he was eminently qualified for a new, similar post was mysteriously misrepresented.

In this case, the wider background, much of which is on this blog, and the fact that one of the main perpetrators of alleged criminal impropriety was allowed to resign, despite being under disciplinary procedures, whilst Mr Morris found himself out on his ear, speaks volumes about the council's treatment of whistleblowers.

MP Nia Griffith gave a strong reaction earlier in the week which can be read here.
In a completely separate case referred to in the Unison press release below, Mr David Lewis described the council's behaviour as "awkward and obstructive" and that he was made to feel "segregated and bullied". Shameful.

It remains to be seen just how much money was lost to the authority during the lengthy period of mismanagement at the Pembrey and Millenium Coastal Parks, and just how far up the pecking order the knowledge of events went. I know what I think.

Organisational Management Structure, Carmarthenshire County Council

Unison press release;

COUNCIL TO PAY THOUSANDS TO UNFAIRLY SACKED WORKER
An employment tribunal has forced Carmarthenshire County Council to pay tens of thousands of pounds in compensation after concluding it unfairly dismissed an employee working at Pembrey Country Park. Ski centre co-ordinator Eirian Morris was found to have been unlawfully treated when he was made redundant and supported by his trade union, Unison and law firm Thompsons, he has received the maximum permitted payout.

After the second five-figure payout to an employee for unlawful treatment in two years, Unison has condemned the council’s employment practices as woeful. The trade union lambasted executives for having spent public money on unwinnable cases and said it should instead concentrate on improving how it supports staff.

The employment tribunal ruled the council’s approach to Mr Morris’s redundancy was “not satisfactory”; that it “did not act reasonably” by failing to advise him of alternative positions and that it deprived Mr Morris of any opportunity to challenge the criteria on which the redundancy was based.

Eirian Morris said,
“Carmarthenshire County Council turned my life upside down and put me through hell. I suffered a horrible period of stress and depression as a result. An independent tribunal has recognised that the authority behaved unreasonably and ruled a significant award should be paid as recompense. I knew I was right all along and belonging to Unison allowed me to take on the council and win. The truth is though, if executives had acted in the proper way this whole process could have been avoided and I might still have a job.”

Mark Evans, Unison branch secretary said,
“This is the second five-figure payout we have won from the council in two years. The unlawful treatment our members suffered significantly impacted on them and their families. I question why public money is being spent defending the indefensible.  The council needs to use its time and resources looking at improving employment practices, rather than spending thousands of pounds employing lawyers.

“This is a timely reminder why everyone should be a member of a trade union.  Without Unison's legal support, Carmarthenshire County Council's unlawful practices would have gone unchallenged.”

Just last year, Carmarthenshire council was forced to pay thousands of pounds to refuse collector David Lewis after failing in its duty of care to find him suitable alternative employment when he beat skin cancer with surgery.

The council has also been censured by the Wales Audit Office. It concluded in 2014, that the local authority acted unlawfully by letting the chief executive opt out of a pension scheme to avoid potential tax payments. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Police


17th March; A brief update here

* * *

As readers are aware I will be fighting to keep my home in the County Court on the 23rd March. Chief executive Mark James has applied to force sale.

In addition, Dyfed Powys Police phoned me on Sunday to inform me that Mr. James has made a complaint of alleged harassment, relating to the blog, for the second time. I do not know the details yet.
I have no further comment until, and if, matters progress. I am due to be formally questioned on 16th March. If I didn't agree to go voluntarily, I was told I would have been arrested.


Carmarthenshire County Cllr Sian Caiach has tweeted this morning that Mr James has reported her to the Ombudsman; "Have been informed Mr Mark James made complaints against me to ombudsman and he will investigate 5. All code of conduct, no details"

Mr James is clearly a busy man.



8th March; Cneifiwr: Lumpy carpets - Part one