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;


37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Did the comment re stuffing money down the drain come from Mr James himself or was it said on his behalf. I know he wasn't in court but did he use the words and ask the brief to convey them. It's a bit like the Tory student a few weeks ago burning £20 notes in front of a tramp !!

Anonymous said...

Aha! So no he admits that what he told them when they granted the indemnity is no longer true. I hope the press crawl all over the details of yesterday's hearing in order to show the County Clerk in his true light.

Your judge sounds like a very sensible and fair man. Does the plantiff have a ready of appeal, or is the matter essentially concluded?

Martin Milan said...

I hope the Herald had the good sense to have someone in court covering this because this needs to be exposed...

It will be interesting to see if the Wales Audit Office wish to take a stronger stance given Mr. James' change of heart as to where the money should go...

I'd also like to know how Mr. James' fees for this hearing were paid? Has he had further support from the council?

Y Cneifiwr said...

Well done Jacqui. Under the circumstances, this was probably the best outcome available. For someone who places great store on PR, this was a disaster for Mr James.

Mrs Angry said...

Very happy to see this outcome, and that you have not lost your home.

I think the judge is to be congratulated for a fair decision, based on common sense.

On the other hand, the reported remarks about 'stuffing money in the gutter' are - quite extraordinary ...

And well done to you, Jacqui: throughout this prolonged ordeal you have conducted yourself with remarkable courage, and dignity, and I am not sure many of us could do the same, in such circumstances.

Jennifer Brown said...

None of the Local Papers were there but S4C attended and did some interviews taking notes like mad as was Alan Evans who used to write for the Heralds now publishing on line @llanellionline .He also did video interviews. Hopefully this judgement will not go unnoticed by the people of Carmarthenshire especially the true attitude of CEO Mark James towards Jacqui and her family. The Judge picked up on something the Barrister said about the family and Jacqui's hubby commented on it; he had the barrister confirm it was not meant as a disparaging remark; I was at back and only got the gist of the conversation. This was in the morning so may have been noted down by @amazonnewsmedia who were there in the morning but the others may have picked it up too. I feel that spoke volumes about Mark James despite the Judge's attempt to pour oil on troubled water. I agree the Judge was fair, impartial and thorough he could not go against the judgement from the London libel case so the outcome he proposed was the fairest he could possibly offer. I would like to think Mark James will have to pay his Barrister and legal team the full amount from his own pocket. Jacqui couldn't afford to have legal representation and Mark James was happy to add insult to injury by hiring at great cost legal representation knowing the costs would be bourn by Jacqui even though he is supposed to have some legal qualifications whereas Jacqui has none. All I can say is this Judge was totally unbiased and treated both sides with proper respect; he cannot be faulted. Hope, now, this is the end of any more court action regarding this.

Anonymous said...

A much better outcome than anticipated. Well done the judge.If only there had been a truly impartial one in the first trial.

Anonymous said...

'Stuffing money in the gutter' Business as usual then?

Owen said...

I won't say "congratulations", but as others have said this is a better outcome than many of us who've followed this sorry episode were expecting; at least common sense and fairness still exists somewhere.

And, as is always the case, this now raises as many questions as it answers - particularly the destination of the money.

Anonymous said...

I think it is in the Public Interest to be told where the payment of £250.00 per month is going. By rights as the CEO's action was funded with public money it should be paid into council coffers, especially as he stated it was going to be paid to the council or to a charity. Now it appears he's going to throw it in to the gutter!!

Maria Carroll said...

I've always thought that Carmarthenshire needed to run a public awareness campaign on the importance of supporting the local economy, given that it is of course a key objective of the Local Development Plan, which underpins all the work of the Council and its staff I. Decion making. One of the areas we could promote in the campaign could be legal advice. After all it is known that every pound spent in a local business (such as a law firm) Is then spent locally, invested locally and becomes worth £30 to the local economy. And of course buying locally not only shows a pride in local business and a support for the local economy it has environmental benefits too. Protecting the environment is of course another key priority for local government.
Of course all of this hits home even further today, when here in Llanwrda, North Carmarthenshire we have seen the closure of our local recycling centre, a centre owned and run by a local business, whose owner employs locally, invests locally and gives to the community locally, making a major investment to the economy of this fragile rural area. Wham - to recycling, - wham to support for local business.
Meanwhile what makes local people here in this close knot community (demonstrated by the fact that all of us, no matter about the rights and wrongs of the orgpiginal case, believe that making someone homeless is neither a good look nor cost effective to the publoc purse (filled of course by tax payers).
Of course one of the major issues raised repeatedly by voters and tax payers is the concern that there is no public record that we can find that shows actions that resulted in the loos of our Recycling Centre was ever placed before a meeting of elected representatives. There are two important points here that relate to Jaqui's case - the fact that Jaqui was in our opinion responsible for the opening up of democratic process to the public. Through her blogging and her 'naughty' recording of meetings, she raised the much needed debate on democracy and transparency in our county, we have gained webcasting of the authority meetings, we have had detailed analysis of what's happening in the affairs of the council and we have learnt, through Jaqui how to better understand the complexities of local governmemt.
So in my mind this matter should not yet be over. Yes, a line has been drawn under the first court decioms, but we are not yet ready to draw a line under the whole picture. We owe Jaqui for the price of that improved democracy and transparency. We owe to to ourselves and to our communities to continie to campaign for greater openness.
That's why we need to know where this £250 a month will go, whether the commitment that it is owed to the authority can be enforced. Whether we should all be looking into our pockets now to assist this family. whether the authorities, be they the councillors of Carmarthenshire themselves or those who are responsible for looking into the affairs of the council , look again at which 'drain' or 'gutter' in our community this should be invested, if indeed it should be at all.
Those who currently hold power were quick to criticise the way in which Jaqui was treated are now silent. Successful communities are those that make decioms together that look beyond the short termism of the election cycle, look back and learn, look forward to ensure mistakes are not repeated.
I'm glad that I live in a community that has those values and glad that Jaqui and her family are our neighbours.
No, it's not over. In fact on May 4th it could just begin.

caebrwyn said...

With regards to the 'gutter' comment, Mr James's barrister was there on behalf of, and as a mouthpiece for, Mr James, acting on instructions. During the libel trial in 2013, one particular line of questioning during the cross examination of Mr James, by my barrister, was considered by Justice Tugendhat to be worthy of adding towards his damage award, aggravated damages in fact. In other words, I was responsible, and liable.

Mr James is as responsible for the words spoken by his barrister on Thursday as if he had been standing there and saying it himself.

The main drift of Mr James's case on Thursday was to persuade the court not to believe a word I said, it would now appear that it wasn't me the judge needed to have been concerned about.

caebrwyn said...

Here is an email from Cllr Sian Caiach sent to Mr James on Friday, it has also been published on @LlanelliOnline. There doesn't appear to have been a response, so far:

Dear Mr James,

You will recall that some time ago I asked you for clarification of what exactly you intended to do with the damages awarded to you against Mrs Thompson. I was confused by the apparent conflict between the promise to pay any damages received over to the Council in the Executive Board meeting of 26.1.12, as a condition of the counterclaim funding, and later reiterated after the case concluded, in the Extraordinary Council of 27.2.2014 to examine the WAO findings where we had a report by Roger Jones and Linda Rees Jones stating that the £25k damages "is to be paid over to the Council". This conflicted with a press statement shortly after the court case which said you would donate the money to local charities. You did not reply to me.

In court yesterday I understand, your barrister said you had changed your mind about giving the damages back to the council, as he said you are entitled to do, that it was only a "voluntary" offer and you could put the money in the gutter if you chose. The judge, I gather, wasn't impressed that a head of paid service, and Council chief officer, could ignore his stated intention to hand over the damages which had been made on several occasions in official council documents. and neither am I.

I would like you to issue all Councillors with an explanatory statement as soon as possible.

Sian Caiach

Anonymous said...

You would have to believe on the balance of probability those words were spoken by Mark James when giving instructions to the barrister. Barristers are their clients mouthpiece as you say. If those words were not those of Mark James he should be suing his barrister for misrepresenting him.

Anonymous said...

You need look no further than Tim Kerr QC’s 2013 report, (http://newsroom.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/media/33895/TimKerrQC.pdf) prepared on the instructions of CCC, giving the reasons to justify the granting of the indemnity to Mark James. At the beginning he states that he has “no legal responsibility or duty of care in relation to the content of this Advice except towards my instructing solicitor and client, the Council. For reasons developed below, I am of the opinion that the decision to
indemnify Mr James in respect of the costs of his counterclaim was lawful.”

There are then three occasions in his report where he refers to the undertaking of Mr James to hand over any damages to CCC:

“12. The report also referred to the duty of care owed to the Chief Executive. It
recorded that he had agreed to pay over to the Council any damages recovered
by him under the counterclaim.


37. …… I think it was eminently reasonable to opt for an indemnity instead, 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.

41 . Assuming the existence of vires, 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;


Linda Rees-Jones was asked (23/1/12) by Geraint Norman of WAO if Mr James’ undertaking “will this be formalised in writing” (http://newsroom.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/media/34242/CORRESPONDENCE-BETWEEN-CARMARTHENSHIRE-COUNTY-COUNCIL-AND-THE-WALES-AUDIT-OFFICE-January-20-2012-%E2%80%93-August-2012.pdf).
It is for her to explain why it wasn’t.

However, Mr James gave his undertaking prior to the Exec’s board descision to grant the imdemnity. He was present at the Exec’s board meeting (21/3/12) where his undertaking was included in a written report, which the meeting considered prior to granting the indemnity. He then accepted the offer of indemnity and has since financially benefited from it. It would therefore seem reasonable to conclude that a contract was entered into with CCC by Mr James.
(post also sumitted to Cneifiwr)

Jennifer Brown said...

If the above comment 09:32 has the evidence to back it up then it would appear a Public Body (Carmarthenshire County Council) unlawfully conspired to take one of it's own council taxpayers to Court in order to benefit itself both financially & in the hope of putting the fear of God into anyone who openly raises concerns regarding its behaviour. This is what the Welsh Government & the Police need to investigate as abusing its power deliberately to stifle its critics and prevent open debate is Misconduct in Public Office. All involved in that decision, whether Officers or Members, need to be held accountable financially for the losses to the public purse and the unlawful action taken against Jacqui. Our public servants should not be above the Law we, the people who pay their wages, aren't. Only when these self interested public servants start being held to account and start suffering financially for their wrongdoing will all money in the public purse start being used for the benefit of the people of Carmarthenshire. This is why Jacqui's blog is so important as not only does she scrutinise the actions of the CCC but she gives us, the people, a chance to give voice to our concerns. We need to treasure all the bloggers in Carmarthenshire who continue putting the CCC under a microscope as they too give us a voice. Jacqui and her family have stayed strong in support of each other throughout and after meeting her for the first time, Thursday gone, I knew I was right to believe in her integrity and commitment in running a truthful and informative blog that is of benefit to the Carmarthenshire people & the public interest. Our public servants aren't superior to us they take on the task of acting in our interest and should be following the 7 principles of public office for which they are very well paid 'specially as they climb up the ladder. They are well paid because they have responsibilities for which if they get it wrong they are expected to carry the can; but as we see they are not held to account not even when they commit Misconduct in Public Office. Things have got to change so that when they gang up and conspire against us whether blogger whistleblower or complainant they do not have a free ride they get to be held to account. Jacqui your tenacity is admirable & all who actually understand the full story will no doubt become an admirer.

Tessa said...

"Stuff the money in the gutter"? I know where I'd like to stuff the money - he'd need to bend over first.

Anonymous said...

Correction to my comment of 25 March 2017 at 09:32 – the Exec board meeting was, of course, on 23/01/12. Linda Rees Jones’ report to the meeting can be found at: http://online.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/agendas/eng/COCO20140227/REP03_06.HTM

Anonymous said...

Sentence from the exec board minutes :

d) As regards proportionality, the Board is not being asked to indemnify a junior member of staff in the bringing of defamation proceedings, but its most senior officer. Integrity and reputation are essential in order for him to command respect, be able to lead and undertake his duties

that went well then didn't it ? LOL !!!!

Verity said...

And they say irony is dead, Anon @19.05! "Integrity", "reputation", "respect"??? You couldn't make it up. C(omplete)B(loody)E(xcrement)

Jennifer Brown said...

Well he's certainly never led his adoring Executive & admirers down the path of righteousness I'd think he's leading them down the path towards purgatory; he seems to have no saving grace. Maybe the Cllrs need to actually listen to their pre public meeting prayer. What a waste of time that has been all these years. No wonder I'm an agnostic.

Anonymous said...

Well said jennifer. If this conduct unbecoming continues MJ will find he himself is on the road to perdition taking his other christian followers with him.

Anonymous said...

Anon 19.05

Integrity & Reputation is now firmly out the window. A contract does not have to be in writing, it can also be
verbal.

Anonymous said...

What ever was the point of Officers Code of Conduct when it is clear it is given two fingers. What is worse the public have no-one to put their complaints to. The Ombudsman has no powers whatsoever, the Welsh Government refuse to intervene, Ministers refuse to intervene, leaving officers including the Chief one totally and utterly UNACCOUNTABLE for unethical, immoral and misconduct in public office. The public are completely unaware of this believing they have a voice to have miscarriages investigated. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this disgraceful conduct by the CEO, along with a few other equally disgraceful conduct issues by officers confirm this is so, if anyone had any doubts left this should prove beyond doubt counciks and it's officers can ride roughshod over the taxpayer with impunity.

Anonymous said...

If an "undertaking" given by a Chief Executive to the Council can be reneged upon with such nonchalant impunity, can the Council or the public have any confidence or trust in anything he says?

Maria Carroll said...

Would love to know how many hits this blog post is getting. Have the numbers shot up?

Anonymous said...

I believe the Ombudsman's report in the Breckman case gives clear examples of dishonesty by senior officers one being when the council deliberately blocked her email address, Mark James said it was a mistake when there was evidence it was deliberate. Another letter to Mrs. B from MJ was criticised, although the words by the Ombudsman very much sanitised, when saying " I do not consider the response in his letter to be convincing. In other words just plainly dishonest.
How on earth can councillors have any trust in this CEO when there is clear evidence of such dishonesty.

Redhead said...

What happens in 2 years time Jacquie?

Redhead said...

Sorry, meant what happens after 10 years?

caebrwyn said...

Hi Redhead,
I have no idea, I suppose the order for sale will become unsuspended, I haven't had the court Order yet. Ten years is a long time...we'll see. Maybe justice will eventually prevail...

Anonymous said...

Some semblance of honesty and democracy must return to this out of control council.I hope the coming election will sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Anonymous said...

I suppose an appeal against the order could be brought by Mr James. The danger for him is even more publicity about this thoroughly disreputable conduct, and getting an even bigger kicking from a High Court judge. Ironic that this was all about reputation - has his ever been lower? As for the Council - Shit of the Year must make them so proud.

Jennifer Brown said...

The local Herald has come up trumps with "CADNO AND THE GOLD IN THE GUTTER" Basically once it's had time to be digested it will show that Mark James CEO of our toxic Local Authority has shot himself in the foot. He cannot blame anyone but himself for scuppering his undeserved reputation of being a fine upstanding sort (might be how he sees himself); his change of heart over promise to give any damages he won to his employers who'd unlawfully indemnified him proves him to be shallow of character with an inability to keep his word. Another instance where he called Jacqui a liar and it was proved he was the untruthful one (her offers to pay damages through instalments denied by him)didn't do his reputation much good either. But as long as the majority of people in Carmarthenshire only read the Carmarthen Journal not enough will know the truth so he and his supporters are safe from any backlash. Quite depressing really how few avenues there are to get public interest information out into the community where it counts. Carmarthenshire. Did Radio Carmarthenshire report anything or S4C I wonder. The Journal's account was pathetic.

Verity said...

Many years ago, when he first arrived in Carmarthen, MJ was heard to say that he would have "to get the Journal onside" because it was printing critical stuff about the council and that would have to stop.

He's succeeded with the Journal but, as you say, Jennifer, Cadno's piece in today's Herald is a triumph; a superb analysis, well-researched and beautifully written and it's just such a pity that not enough people will read it in order to get the truth.

Anonymous said...

Send it to Private Eye.

Redhead said...

Jacquie - will you know whose account the money will go to that you pay each month - surely the court cannot keep this a secret and you have a right to know.

If it goes to Mark James - irrespective of what he then does with it - surely this shows that it has, in fact, reached the man and not the council.

caebrwyn said...

@Redhead 12:54

I have been notified of the sort code and account number of the 'nominated bank account' by Mr James' solicitors, it may be a client account, it may be his, but clearly payable to 'M V James'.