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.
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!!