Saturday 13 February 2016

When the empire Strikes Back

As a former whistleblower in the NHS I was at first absolutely astounded when I was hounded for telling the truth about greedy consultant colleagues using NHS resources for their private work, one of whom, a surgeon, I pointed out had apparently developed serious problems with his eyesight and was still operating. Even my professional body, the BMA, were not helpful. The management even kept the visually impaired doctor on staff and operating well after his retirement date!

It is always a shock to scratch the surface of Western Democracy and find corruption. Most people do not scratch and may sail through life without being exposed to the ugly underbelly of greed and power. From time to time you don't even need to scratch as the rotting flesh floats uncontrollably to the surface, often given buoyancy by elements of the Press, sometimes by bloggers like Jacqui Thompson.

Jacqui and her husband, like many people, had a disagreement with the local planning department  which inspired her to start her blog some years ago. Most of the content of the blog relates to local Carmarthenshire issues and sometimes serious criticism of the Council.

Criticise what goes on inside county hall at your peril
Jacqui was also famous for being arrested by the police after filming a public council meeting on her phone. There were of course no charges but the humiliation of being led away in handcuffs and treated like a criminal could not have been pleasant. The end result was freedom to film public council meetings being granted; her campaign has been successful.

Things became worse for Jacqui when Council chief Executive Mark James posted an insulting comment about Jacqui on the "Mad Axeman" blog (you have my permission to roll your eyes at this point). Subsequently he sent his post comment out to all Carmarthenshire councillors and I believe that I was the only person to reply negatively to that email. This lead to my emails being monitored to track where I was sending my miserable opinions. This is not allowable under the council's IT policy without informing me first by the way, and I'm still waiting for an explanation.

Jacqui was so outraged that she took out a libel case against the Council and Mark James. Now, Councils as government organisations cannot take out libel actions against anyone, but private individuals can. The Executive board decided to sponsor the chief executive to counter-sue Ms Thompson and with the might of public funds which financed the best lawyers in the land. Jacqui lost and Mr James got a bonus of £25K damages awarded to him on top of a free highly-paid lawyer at public expense. Not willing to accept an installment payment plan, he has recently sent in the bailiffs to get his money.
Emlyn Dole: The price of success in the
CCC is keeping your morals to yourself

Now although the Wales Audit Office rules the financing of Mr James' counter claim as unlawful, the Councillors, as a body, never have accepted this, just promised to suspend the clause of the constitution allowing council officers to be financed in libel cases. Even the current council Plaid Leadership refuses to accept the ruling. Interestingly, although the Plaid group leader and leader of the opposition at the time of the legal case, Councillor Peter Hughes Griffiths, seemed supportive of action against Jacqui, the position of current Plaid Council Leader, Emlyn Dole, was more balanced in opposition.

His conversion to denying the ruling of the Audit Office probably goes with the job of Council Leader for the CCC. It may even have been a condition of his coalition agreement with the right wing Independent, group who certainly seemed disturbingly enthusiastic for prosecuting the troublesome blogger.

The end result is financial ruin of a family simply because one member criticised a County Council who then decided to use the full power of the courts to silence her. This punishment may be legal but its not moral. Its time to draw the matter to a sensible and equitable conclusion and I am sure that most of the Carmarthenshire public would agree..

Siân Caiach

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