Saturday, 10 December 2016

Carmarthenshire Council Chair refuses Plaid motion on libel and legal costs.

The Chair of Carmarthenshire Council is a pleasant elderly gentleman called Eryl Morgan. A local grammar school boy who went to Oxford and became a social worker. Whenever we meet he asks me to join the Labour party in a friendly manner and I politely decline. He's told me he knows none of the detail of the libel actions which were commenced when he was not a County Councillor. Unfortunately the rejection of a motion trying to resolve the present situation by a debate in Council on Wednesday 14th December 2016 is issued in his name.

 He is now the puppet being used to smother democratic debate on the fall out of Carmarthenshire County Council's decision to allow its Chief Executive to formally comment on a blog using a carefully prepared and scripted statement composed with the assistance of the Council's press office and the advice of our legal department.  Lets look at the history of this sad saga.

 The purpose of the "statement" on the Madaxeman blog was to discredit the local blogger Jacqui Thompson who was campaigning hard to get County Council public meetings freely filmed and available on line.We had just had the woman arrested and detained by the police for some hours and forced to sign a form promising not to be naughty and never film the council ever again. There was no evidence that she would not honour the agreement but someone felt the need to justify our hostility to her personally and to filming council meetings by posting a statement on this blog.
Silent Councillor Meryl Gravell, 

.Whose bright idea this was is not completely clear  The Leader of Council at the time was Meryl Gravell and she must have been at the very least informed, and compliant. Her silence on this whole matter which she probably initiated, I believe, shows that she's not proud of her actions.Perhaps too afraid to admit any regret or accept any responsibility? She's retiring as a councillor next May, possibly to take up a full time position with the Swansea City Bay Region. All skeletons to be left locked in the cupboard deep in the cellars of County Hall?

All County Councillors were soon informed that the chief executive, had, on behalf of the council, made the statement on an unnamed blog. The statement was sent to all of them. I doubt many complained. I did and the documentation of the tracking of my rather negative reply was later released to Jacqui's lawyers with most information on it redacted. As I had already been warned that my emails were being monitored I was not surprised to see this. There were distinctive features which gave away exactly which email this was, despite names,text and dates being wholly or partially redacted.

Despite the CCC advice that the tirade of character assassination was not libellous, Mrs Thompson got a legal opinion that it was. She started a libel action against the Council and Mr James,An initial plan to settle out of court for a modest sum accepted by Mrs Thompson,
was ditched
.
 The executive board in January 2012 was persuaded not only to pay for Mr James' libel defence as an officer of the council but also a specialist libel  lawyer advised a counter claim based on Jacqui;s Blog comments about Mr James, The libel was defended and the counter claim won with Mr James awarded damages. It cost the Council well over £200k .The £25,000 damages Mr James had promised the Executive board to return to the council were now apparently, according to a press statement by himself, to be given to charity. I have asked Mr James whether this is correct and have not received a reply.

 In that 2012 meeting Mr James claims that he is not interested in the money if damages were awarded and will return them to CCC to offset their legal costs.The man subsequently has not explained whether or why the money is to be used by him personally in some fashion  The current Council Leader, Emlyn Dole, is unable to tell me the actual position either and therefore he has not authorised a change in this original agreement, but another Leader may have. All very mysterious.

It does not matter to Mrs Thompson materially as to whether or not the sale of her home, to obtain the costs or damages from her half share, benefits the Council or Mr James' favourite charities but it does say something of who is in control  when our most senior civil servant may apparently play "pick and mix" with executive board decisions. Perhaps he thought that a strategy planned in secret would never be available for scrutiny by the public. It is only the investigation by the Wales Audit Office which found the funding for Mr James unlawful, which has brought the previously "exempt" document to light. Most other critical exempt executive documents are never seen by ordinary councillors or the public.

I am sure that the majority of current councillors, in a free vote, would not wish to enforce the sale of Mrs Thompson's home. Much of the legal costs are insured and the whole affair was a plan to stop the Filming of Council meetings, which now happens routinely and without harm to our local democratic processes, This has become a farce, I cannot even find out whether Mr James has changed his mind about the damages because its a personal matter which he wishes to keep secret from me. So I do not know whether:
a)He is maintaining the agreement to return any damages to the Council [and we councillors could ask him to not do so or us by forcing the sale of Jacqui's home on our behalf].
or
b) He has taken a personal decision not to return any monies recovered as per a press report offering to give the money to charity[and we councillors could ask him why? He did promise to return the damages to us in January 2012, I gather he did not sign an agreement. A verbal statement only was minuted, which he could challenge as not binding.The bottom line here is trust, CCC paid £40,000 for his legal fees].

 Plaid Councillors Lenny and Campbell have been informed by the Chair that their motion [suggesting that negotiation to allow Mrs Thompson to keep her family home are commenced] is unacceptable to the  chair. The council legal advice seems to be is that if damages or legal costs in this case were waived or affordable instalment payments accepted,this may leave the Council open to the charge of contempt of court. No case law is quoted and I doubt this explanation is valid.
Carmarthenshire Council Chairman  Eryl Morgan

Eryl Morgan enjoys an extra £9,000 p.a., lots of free lunches and public functions, a big gold necklace and a car and driver as County Chair. In  our Council it's a post not primarily of authority but mainly of ceremony. A little treat for seniority and loyalty. The 3 major parties take it in turns to hold the post and only one candidate is put forward. The downside is that the chair is supposed to be in charge of our monthly full council meetings but in fact the decisions seem to be made elsewhere,

 I suppose its to Eryl's credit that he is not trusted to send the recent emails informing Councillors that their submissions cannot be discussed, The Head of Administration and Law does that, claiming to be acting on the chair's instructions. I met the chair just before the last council meeting in November. He could not give me an explanation, face to face, as to why he had rejected my question to the Leader for that meeting despite having allegedly instructed the Head of Law to contact me rejecting the question only days before.

The real tragedy is that Councillors cannot protect the quality of people's lives, livelihoods, services environment and monitor the use of the public's money entrusted to the Council when the democratic process in the Council just does not work. The reputation of Carmarthenshire County Council was not "saved" by using a large amount of public money on a High Court Libel defence and counter claim, but trashed instead. If the Libel case decision had not been made in secret by a small clique it would probably never have been made at all.

. Siân Caiach,     Carmarthenshire County Councillor for Hengoed Ward, Llanelli

Update December 12th 2016
I have this morning sent an urgent request to Linda Rees Jones, Head of Legal at CCC to ask for the case law and precedents informing the Chair's decision not to allow the Plaid Councillors' notice of motion to be debated in our Carmarthenshire Full Council meeting on the 14th

Update December 13th 2016
Although in his email to all councillors of the text of the statement put on the Madaxeman blog in 2011, Mr James states " Members have asked that a response be sent to Mrs Thompson." 
He does not explain why the response had to be via the Madaxeman's blog or mention which members requested it.
 In the libel court case, I have just discovered, Mr James says in his evidence statement that no formal instruction was given to him by any councillor. I may therefore be mistaken in my assumption that the Council Leader, Mrs Gravell, had anything to do with a formal order to post the statement on that blog.
 Email records released to the court show that a member of the press office and 2 other council officers were involved advising Mr James in the composition of the statement but no councillor seems to have reviewed the document prior to publication. So Mrs Gravell may have had nothing to do with it, or perhaps an "informal" role.

Siân Caiach,.

8 comments:

  1. So, when are you going to table a vote of no confidence in james and rhys-jones? Perhaps include gravell too. All 3 seem implicit and at least 2 incompetent. Why should they be allowed to leave with pensions etc after causing such damage.

    They need booting out.

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  2. It is well known that MJ and his team are adept at throwing in the threat of "Legal issues"to thwart any attempt by councillors to question suspect decisions.It must be very easy to prove Linda Legal either right or wrong.

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  3. I find it unbelievable that circumstance related above seemingly do not merit enquiry from above. The welsh government for example. Ever keen to proposition parliament over their problems when woefully their own house is grievously out of order. This business has finally attained
    the attention of the BBC who failed to acknowledge my approach a couple of weeks or so ago as has the secretary of state for Wales and 10 Downing Street. Maybe the european courts of justice might take an interest prior to Clause 50.

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  4. linda RJ will have to come up with case law.If she does not and she has been asked to use contempt in order to threaten councillors she has no right whatsoever to be head of Legal in CCC.And we all know the term for officers misleading
    councillors

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    Replies
    1. No reply to my request for case law yet but I am aware that some councillors appear to have the impression that the risk of contempt is real if any settlement is suggested. I hope clarity on the issue will be forthcoming.

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  5. Any response from LRJ yet? Surely she should have answered by now!

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    Replies
    1. Not a squeak out of Mrs Rees Jones so I presume there is no legal precedent etc. If the comments of the judge actually refer to the Eifion Bowen Case as I've been led to believe they are not even relelvent. How can this woman threaten Councillors with contempt when it is just a fairy story to fighten children? She and Mark James are probably laughing at the mindless trust and stupidity of the elected members!

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