Sunday, 23 April 2017

Statements in the Western Mail - my comments



The article pictured above appeared in the Western Mail last week, it's not online but please click to read in full.
The piece carried two statements, one from council leader Emlyn Dole (Plaid), currently competing for votes for the council seat of Llannon, and one from Mark James' solicitors. I would like to make a few observations concerning both statements.

Emlyn Dole states that the 'gutter' comment was an "insensitive off-the-cuff remark made on the spur of the moment by his [Mr James'] legal counsel in reply to an inquiry by the judge.” The implication being that it is clearly of no consequence, it is unimportant. I have no doubt that the comment came as a shock to Mr Dole, as much as it did everyone else, including me, but Mr Dole was not in court.

During the hearing, before adjourning for lunch, the judge asked for information regarding the promise by Mr James to hand over any damages. We both had an hour. Within ten minutes I had found the report with the relevant clause, emailed it to the court staff from my phone, and they kindly printed it out, let me highlight the clause and had it on the judge's desk within minutes.

Mr James' expensive brief (£3500 for the day) also had an hour to take instructions or at least come up with a decent response to the judge's enquiry. The response, for which Mr James has forked out a total of £22,000 (£14k now payable by me) for, was that he'd changed his mind' and could stuff it in the gutter.

'Off the cuff' remarks are an interesting concept when it comes to the legal world. 'Pinocchio' and 'slush fund' were off-the-cuff, would Mr Dole agree? And comments I have made about not paying Mr James a penny were regarded by the judge on the 23rd March as said in the heat of the moment. off-the-cuff.

And what about words said by your barrister on your behalf? My barrister, during the libel trial and during the cross-examination of Mr James referred, carefully, to the '£5000 in the brown envelope' episode. That line of questioning, was included by Judge Tugendhat in the extra £5000 aggravated damages awarded to Mr James, it was deemed as too upsetting for the CBE holder. I was liable for it.

I acknowledge that Mr Dole had no part in the unlawful decision to indemnify Mr James in 2012 although it was common knowledge that the Plaid group leader at the time, Peter Hughes Griffiths was keen for it to go ahead. There was no comment from Mr Dole until Mr James was rumbled by the WAO in 2014, over both the libel indemnity and the pension tax avoidance scam. During that time I was even contacted by a senior Plaid source stating that they were 'after Mr James' blood'. By June 2015, and now council leader, Mr Dole suddenly became 'unaware' of any unlawful payments; selective amnesia seemed to be a pre-requisite for power in County Hall.

I have no problem with Plaid as a party, nor any other party (all are good in parts, bad in others and to be taken with a pinch of salt at elections time), and I think Jonathan Edwards and Adam Price are decent constituency politicians. I believe they have been badly let down by the Plaid leadership on the council.

Aside from Mr Dole getting some 'off-the-cuff' planning permission, the episode before Christmas when Plaid councillors tried to broker a resolution to my impending homelessness through public debate illustrated the point well. The Motion, engineered by Adam Price, was blocked by Mr James under spurious threats of 'contempt of court'; it was a 'private matter' and all that nonsense.

Mr Dole was silent on the subject despite his councillors coming under flak and even having to remove statements from social media. Mr Dole showed plenty of leadership when he and his executive board decided to pursue me for £191k but precious little when confronted by the arrogance and bluff of Mr James.

Clearly, Mr Dole's everso polite invitation in the Western Mail for Mr James to consider handing the damages over (once his costs have been recouped...) shows that the word 'private' never came into the equation. It also shows we're right in the middle of an election.

Don't think for one moment that this lets Labour, or the Independents off the hook. Kevin Madge, an original member of the Exec board which approved the unlawful blank cheque, and the pension scam, is standing for re-election in Garnant. The current Labour group leader, Jeff Edmunds, has not said a word on the subject. Meryl and Pam have, as we know, finally hung up their Official Civic Broomsticks to retire on their generous councillor pensions.



Now I move on to the statement from Mr James' solicitors which I find remarkable. And if I didn't live in a bungalow I'd be heading to the foot of our stairs.
"The matter of what Mr James might do with the damages, as and when he finally receives them was irrelevant to the purpose of the enforcement proceedings. On the day of the hearing, Mr James' solicitors were unable to take instructions and confirm his position to the court.
Mr James' barrister clearly explained to the court that he had been unable to take instructions and confirm Mr James' position but the destination of any damages payment was irrelevant"

There are two issues here. I clearly heard the barrister say he had taken instructions, who from is not clear, and neither does it matter. Mr James had been dishing out instructions for twelve months. What was said was said, as I have pointed out above.

The second point concerns the matter of irrelevance. An average forced sale hearing should cost no more than £2000 to £4000 and take, at most, a couple of hours. They wanted a whole day and Mr James managed to rack up £22,000 of complete irrelevance. I went to the hearing prepared to defend the forced sale of my home with a two page skeleton argument.

Mr James had clearly instructed his solicitors that an extensive character assassination of Llanwrda housewife Mrs Thompson was absolutely necessary and crucially, relevant. The judge did not seem to think so.

Mr James had, in the course of the enforcement proceedings instructed no less than three barristers, one being Mr Adam Speker, his media lawyer from the libel case. The 250 page court bundle had, unbelievably, cost £1100 to cobble together, a hundred and odd pages of which was Tugendhat's original judgement. The two page Court Order from the trial would have sufficed.

Mr James' lawyers, despite the fact that they had not been properly briefed about Mr James' broken promise, clearly expected a slam dunk victory and the keys of the house safely in Mr James' pocket by 4pm. This was clearly based on the instructions he had given them and the irrelevant documentation they had been supplied with.

It turned out, of course, that the court felt that Mr James' intentions, and indeed his motives, were highly relevant.

There is another way of looking at this. If Mr James felt he was on shaky moral or legal ground, Derbyshire-style or otherwise, and that the unlawful circumstances which gave rise to the damages were casting a niggling doubt over his actions and motives, then what better way to counter it than to go on the attack with as much irrelevance as he could muster.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

'In The Gutter' - Mark James back in Private Eye


The latest edition of Private Eye features further national recognition for Carmarthenshire Council and Mr James CBE. This is the third mention this year alone in the Rotten Boroughs column...a hat trick for 2017.

Rotten Boroughs, Private Eye No.1442

I have written to my MP and AM, Jonathan Edwards and Adam Price seeking their views on Mr James' 'change of mind' and whether they are prepared to challenge him in any way, or at least flag it up with the Wales Audit Office. After all, part of the council's justification (Mr James' justification in fact, as he approved and contributed to the report before the Exec Board even saw it) for giving him the unlawful blank cheque was that he would hand over any damages to the council.

In my opinion, aside from the vindictive actions by Mr James, there has been a massive breach of trust and yet another question mark placed squarely over his integrity.  Any other employee would have found themselves sat in front of a disciplinary panel by now, or worse.
Neither Mr Edwards or Mr Price have responded yet.
I also understand that anyone asking for a comment from Mr James on these matters, is now directed to his solicitors.

As for the police, I still haven't heard anything since being interviewed under caution on the 16th March, five weeks ago. So much for "you'll hear in a week or so". Whether the police decide to take further action or not, the details of the allegations made against me will become apparent in due course.

Mr James has insisted that the police investigate me on and off for fifteen months. Given his close working relationship with the force I would have thought he would have been well aware of their limited resources, and that their time would be better spent elsewhere rather than poring over this blog for hours. (Update 22nd April; I've been informed that the police are preparing a file for the CPS)

Update 12:39; There is an article concerning Mr James' intentions regarding the damages in today's Western Mail, it is not yet online. Council leader Emlyn Dole, choosing his words carefully, states that he hopes Mr James will consider honouring his promise to hand over the damages to the council...once he has recouped his £14k costs.

The previous mentions in Private Eye (in 2017) are here, (the national accolade) and here.
Earlier posts on the court hearing are here, and here.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Carmarthenshire Council Candidates 2017


Update 18th April; With a general election announced for the 8th June, so far Nia Griffiths MP (Lab) Llanelli and Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid) Carmarthen East and Dinefwr have confirmed they will stand for re-election. I will add to the list of candidates as and when they declare.
Turning out to be a bumper year for the Returning Officer...

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For your information, the list of local election candidates for the 74 seats on Carmarthenshire County Council, to be held on the 4th May, can be found here, and the candidates for the Town and Community Councils here.

Caebrwyn is not standing for County this time, being a little preoccupied with other matters but have put my name forward for the Llanwrda Community Council of which I have been a member for seven years.

After seven candidates stood for the Cilycwm by-election last September the numbers are down to three, Labour and two independents. It appears that Plaid were unable to persuade farmer Dafydd Tomos, who won in September, to extend his brief foray into the world of politics, or anyone else to stand.

There's a sprinkling of Kippers across the board who will hopefully get nowhere; voters of Carmarthenshire be warned as you will recall that somehow we ended up with Neil Hamilton as a regional AM. There's also a smattering of Conservatives who never do very well in Carmarthenshire though it has been long suspected that some members of the Independent Group are actually closet Tories, and veer towards the far right.
Essentially the election will be a three way contest between Plaid, Labour and independents.

Four of the seats are uncontested; three Plaid and one Independent. Plaid have taken the Llanddarog seat by default from the retiring Independent, Wyn Evans as no one else stood, not even Labour.
We'll have to wait and see how many Town and Community Councils are uncontested, Llanwrda will be one of them.

The Libdems are still trying for a seat though hopefully they will not revert to the tactics used in the September by-election. A campaign manager called at Caebrwyn's home to threaten a dirty tricks campaign if I didn't withdraw my nomination. I hope that little gesture bites them on the backside.

There is no Meryl or Pam this time, so we should be thankful for small mercies, but a few other members of the Independent group, who have held the sway of power in County Hall for years, are having another go, including Jim Jones, Mair Stephens, Jane Tremlett. It is difficult to determine on the candidate lists which independents might be likely to join the Independent group, which could still be going strong - this is something voters should be asking, ie, are you a true independent? And candidates should also be on their guard, Pam and Mair turned up at the Cilycwm by-election and made a bee-line for the unsuspecting independent farmer candidate to woo him into their clutches.

Another Independent group stalwart, Phillip Hughes is up against former AM Plaid's Rhodri Glyn Thomas down in the depths of St Clears. If Thomas wins, rumour has it that he will be aiming to knock Emlyn Dole, of recent Private Eye fame, off the leadership perch. Emlyn Dole is in the running in Llannon a two seat ward currently shared with Labour.

Another two seat ward is Hengoed currently represented by Sian Caiach and Labour's Penny Edwards. I hope, of course, that Sian Caiach is re-elected having been one of the only councillors to have consistently attempted to hold this basket-case authority to account with determination and persistence.

Talking of baskets-case councils, let's hope that the long standing rumours that chief executive will be departing after he's collected his Returning Officer fees turn out to be true. Incidentally he took £20,000 in 2012, in advance of the election and before the number of contested seats were known.
If not, then it makes little difference who wins next month, he'll still be running the council.

Anyway, I'm sure there will be plenty of analysis, bickering and social media gaffes to amuse us in the run up to May 4th so I will leave it there for now.
Let's see what happens on May 5th.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Cadno - The Gold in the Gutter - Carmarthenshire Herald


Further to information which came to light at the court hearing on the 23rd March, Carmarthenshire Herald columnist, Cadno has provided us with a thoughtful opinion piece in this week's paper, here it is in full;


'The Chief Executive had an indemnity from the Council in order to fund his defence of a libel claim brought against him by blogger Jacqui Thompson and was also provided with funding for a counterclaim in which he alleged libel against Mrs Thompson. 
Mrs Thompson lost her claim and the counterclaim and costs were awarded to Mr James (and, therefore, the Council recouped the costs it incurred on our behalf when defending Mr James and supporting his counter-suit). 
Mr James was also awarded damages of £25,000, for which he has pursued enforcement action. Based on a valid judgement, there was no defence to enforcement of the judgement debt. Indeed, it is worth noting that a statutory demand based on a concluded judgement has no defence. Quite how he managed to rack up a claimed 21K plus in costs in enforcing a judgement, while changing solicitors several times, is a peculiarity only Mr James can answer. 
At least he faces coughing up over £7K of the extraordinary costs himself, after a District Judge struck them down to £14K. 
In the course of the hearing on Thursday, March 23, a question was put to Mr James’s barrister about whether the beloved and respected CEO, whose name is a byword for integrity, intended to stick by a promise he made to the Council to pay the damages he received over to his employer. 
Mr James, the Court was told, had changed his mind. The damages were his to do with as he pleased. Cadno will not repeat the phrase used in Court, but if Mr James is prepared to take the step his Counsel suggest, Cadno supposes that he must be referring to the gutters between the lanes in God’s Bowling Alley. 
So much is reported elsewhere in this newspaper. But Cadno wants to walk you through the background papers to Mr James’s decision to renege on a promise made to the Council about the damages. 
We start with the fateful Executive Board meeting on January 23, 2012, at which the decision was made to grant the blessed Mark a costs indemnity to go with his CBE. 
Here is the minute, readers: 
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.' 
The Council has no interest in the public relations cost of its present situation and, if one accepts that Mr James’s action against Mrs Thompson for damages is entirely a private matter (and Cadno is proud to have kept a straight face writing that phrase), then it has no interest in how, when, or whether Mr James chooses to extract his pound of flesh. 
Except it does. 
Mr James would not have defended Mrs Thompson’s claim against him – offers to settle had been made – and would not have launched a counterclaim without the Council writing their Chief Executive a blank cheque. 
But, even worse is the record of correspondence between the WAO – who ultimately ruled the indemnity unlawful – and Linda Rees-Jones, now Head of Legal to the local authority having been appointed to that role by Mr James’s exercise of delegated powers. 
Ms Rees-Jones told the WAO, on the day the indemnity was agreed, 
‘The Chief has volunteered to pay over any damages awarded to him if his counterclaim succeeds’
Geraint Norman of the WAO responded with a query: 
‘Regarding the agreement to pay over any damages, will this be formalised in writing?’ 
If the WAO received an answer, there is no readily available public record of it. The Herald has made a Freedom of Information request relating to that correspondence, just in case Mr James had changed his mind on what to do with the damages at an early stage. 
However, in August 2012 the WAO investigated a complaint by a third party regarding the Council’s actions relating to the libel case. 
The WAO were able to offer a limited assurance to the complainant based upon what it had been told by senior council officers, and that response was cc’d to Roger Jones and Linda Rees-Jones: 
‘We understand from the 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’. (Emphasis added). 
And if that was wrong, it was up to the Director of Resources and the Monitoring Officer to put the WAO right. 
Indeed, there was continued discussion about one aspect of the WAO’s report to the third party between Linda Rees-Jones and the WAO, but no issue was raised to correct the assertion that the indemnity was given in light of Mark James’s promise to pay over his compo if he won. 
We can leave the WAO correspondence there and move on to the advice the Council received from Tim Kerr QC about whether its libel indemnity was lawful. Mr Kerr, who picked his words very carefully, said the report upon the basis of which the Executive Board offered the indemnity to Mr James: 
‘recorded that he had agreed to pay over to the Council any damages recovered
by him under the counterclaim’.
 
And when he considered whether the Council’s decision to grant the indemnity, Mr Kerr said it was ‘eminently reasonable’. And he said that: 
‘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’. 
And he went further again at a later juncture: 
‘if ever there was a case that was truly exceptional so as to justify using the power to grant an indemnity outside the 2006 Order, this was it. The following ingredients co-existed to contribute to that conclusion: …… (iv) the undertaking of Mr James to reimburse the cost of providing the indemnity from any damages recovered’. 
Well, readers, after the comments made on Mr James’s behalf in Court next week you have to wonder whether the councillors who granted Mr James his indemnity feel ripped off. 
And whether, should the wonder precisely what value they should put on an officer’s word in the future, they should start in the gutter and look for it there. 
Coincidentally, should you consider these lines to be justification for defending one’s good name: 
'Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.'
 
You would do well to think hard on which of Shakespeare’s characters uses them and to which intent and tragic end.'
          (Reproduced with permission, Carmarthenshire Herald 31st March 2017)
       
The 'fateful' 2012 Executive Board meeting to which Cadno refers was also attended by Mr James himself, who neither declared an interest, nor left the meeting as he was being personally, and unlawfully bankrolled for tens of thousands of pounds. The WAO took a very dim view.

In fact, not only was he there, he had also discussed the contents of the Report recommending the blank cheque, privately, three days prior to the meeting, with Linda Rees Jones. The discussion shows that Mr James approved the report, subject to a clause offering to pay any damages over to the council being included.

Of course, you might say that his presence at the meeting, and his offer to hand over any damages were a calculated attempt to ensure that the special cheque book was presented to him on a gold platter. On the other hand, being bankrolled, and giving any award over to the council, might have been seen as a direct breach of the rule that a governing body cannot sue...and one can only speculate whether or not Mr James had any true intentions of handing over the damages in the first place.

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Anyway, it's a lovely sunny day, so let's finish today with a short poem. This one is written by 'Anonynurse', who can be found on Facebook, here.

A local bod with national honour's praised,
A toast is due, yes! Glasses should be raised!
For, in our midst, we have 'Shit of the Year',
By Private Eye decreed (whom we hold dear).

From deep within the bowels of County Hall,
He issues forth whilst brown-nosed minions crawl
In glistening tracks - be careful not to skid,
Mark my words, they'll do as they are bid.

They dumbly fall in line with their Big Cheese,
And grunt his name, with hands upon their knees;
Bank notes like toilet paper tossed his way,
He's flushed with pride but should be flushed away.

So, come out, sniff the air, what do you think?
Would not Beelzebub envy such a stink?
"Richly deserved" an eminent doctor noted;
I'd like to shake the hands of all who voted!!