Tuesday, 8 June 2021

The leaked £190,000 costs report, part two - Unredacted. And a reply from the Police Commissioner


After several months, and some pressure from the ICO the council finally changed its mind, and sent me a (mainly) unredacted copy of the March 2016 report to the Executive Board. The report had in fact been leaked by the council, to the press at the time. 

This was the report which recommended that I be pursued for £190,390. These being their defence costs following the trial which I became liable for when my insurance was withdrawn following Tugendhat's judgement. My own solicitors were so disgusted and astonished by the judgement that they waived their own costs, and took my case right through the Court of Appeal pro bono.



Have no doubt that this whole situation arose from my attempts, in 2011, to film a public meeting and try to bring greater transparency to the council. Nothing more than that. 

Back to the report. One paragraph remained redacted under Data Protection because "its content is different to those other paragraphs referring to Mr James in that it does not also refer to yourself and is information not contained elsewhere in the report"
The mind boggles, maybe it was referring to the colour of his pyjamas.

Actually the next paragraph gave a hint as clearly he was asking them to pursue me for the unlawful counterclaim costs. In the event they deferred that one, Ms Rees Jones, clearly worried, stated that it "may resurrect the issue of lawfulness with the Wales Audit Office...the Wales Audit Office may see the enforcement of the Costs Order as an integral part of the counterclaim process".

Quite.

As the council paid for his 'private' counterclaim, the council, it seems, were lumbered with trying to get it back, This would have also provided further confirmation that the council were in breach of the Derbyshire Rule.

Linda Rees Jones, head of legal

Readers will recall that when James was bankrolled in 2012 he confirmed an undertaking to pay any damages back to the council. It transpired later that he had been lying about that bit.
We were also on the brink of an early settlement, until James decided to dip into his slush fund, your money, and bring his counterclaim.

Mark James  

Anyway, back to the council's enforcement of the £190,000. 

Mark James was already well underway enforcing his damages, and the motive, for both his action, and that of the council, with him firmly in the driving seat, was to punish. I'd had the temerity to continue to criticise the council, when necessary, despite his best attempts to shut me up. This pursuit of money definitely wasn't out of any concern for the taxpayer.

Had that been the case they wouldn't have unlawfully bankrolled James' counterclaim in the first place. And neither did they pursue him to get it back. Didn't even ask him. Or for his tax-dodge cash.
Neither would they have allowed him to bung his friends at Scarlets Regional Ltd £200,000 to settle a third party debt. 
I could go on.
Nor would they have erected a road sign costing £136,000 for that matter.

Adam Price wrote to Emlyn Dole last year asking him, on our behalf, to reconsider the council's £190k charge on our home. Dole, a devoted disciple of Mark James, flatly refused. "I do not intend to consult the Authority’s Corporate Services Director or the Section 151 Officer regarding your request, or ask the Executive Board to consider withdrawing the Charging Order on Mrs Thompson’s home" .

Emlyn Dole

His letter states that this debt was no different to any other which the council enforces each year.
Mr Dole is wrong.

The 2016 Executive Board meeting (which was, incidentally Chaired by Rev Emlyn Dole, and featured former suspect Meryl Gravell) heard that;

 "Because of the high profile nature of this case, and the publicity that will inevitably follow if the Order/s is/are to be enforced, she [Linda Rees Jones] considers that it is a matter for the Executive Board to decide." 

That makes it a political decision. Its a decision which must be revisited. This was far from a normal decision. Aside from anything else this was far from an objective report, it was persuasively loaded.

This pursuit of this money was politically charged and unreasonable, a vindictive step given our financial circumstances, which were fully known at the time. Mark James controlled every aspect of the Executive Board either directly or through his personal legal aide Linda Rees Jones, Cllr Gravell and Emlyn Dole. How ironic was it that it was James and Gravell whose homes were raided by the organised crime squad, and not mine.

Mark and Meryl

To add to the punishment it was decided to pursue me for the whole lot, not just the excess. Not that that made a blind bit of difference to me.

The mental strain of the presence of this charge, and the likelihood, confirmed by Emlyn Dole that the council could enforce it at any time is, to be honest, unbearable. We are already struggling to pay James every month to stop him actioning his suspended Order for Sale.

This cannot go on indefinitely. The judge in Carmarthen who imposed this huge Charging Order did so, and I quote, "reluctantly". His hands, he said, were tied by a higher court and his demeanour exposed his disgust over the council's actions. He warned them to go no further. This was the same judge who expressed similar disgust over Mark James' enforcement tactics.

Something has got to change. I will continue to contact anyone I can think of to bring pressure to bear over this total miscarriage of justice and hope, before much longer, someone has the bottle to take it on.
If not, somehow I'll take matters into my own hands...


*****************************************


Email from Police Commissioner


In what was possibly the least surprising email of the week, I had a reply from Dafydd Llywelyn, the Plaid Cymru Police Commissioner for Dyfed Powys to this message I sent at the beginning of April;


Dear Mr Llywelyn

I am sure you are aware of the recent decision by the CPS not to charge several suspects following the Wellness village bribery investigation by Tarian, the regional organised crime unit.

You may also be aware that the police revised their own statement shortly afterwards which said that there had been evidence of potential criminal acts.

I am sure that it is in your remit, as the current PCC, to ask the CPS to review their decision and indeed charge the suspects, one of which is the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James.

Whatever the reasoning behind the CPS decision it cannot be right that the individuals involved had accepted, and stood to personally gain bribes of millions of pounds in public cash and equity from the developers of the project. This was fraud, and had been years in the planning.

The tender for the project, the central issue in the investigation, was, to put it bluntly, rigged by Mark James. Not only did he stand to gain a substantial amount himself, he jeopardised the integrity of the council and the entire City Deal.

The fact that this is a Plaid run council and you are a Plaid Cymru PCC should, I trust, not be an issue.
I look forward to you early reply to this email, and details of how this matter can be taken forward with urgency by either yourself or your successor.

Your sincerely

Jacqui Thompson

This was the reply;

SWYDDOGOL OFFICIAL

Dear Ms Thompson,

Further to your query below and having made enquiries with the Force, I would advise that this was not a Dyfed Powys matter and that it was managed by the Regional Organised Crime Unit which was then reviewed and decided by the CPS.

As previously advised, the CPS have their own appeal route which can be found on the following link Reconsidering a Prosecution Decision | The Crown Prosecution Service (cps.gov.uk)

I apologise that the Commissioner can’t assist you further on this matter however it is important that all correspondence is dealt with in accordance with the relevant procedures, policies and legislation. The reason that we comply with the correct procedures, policies and legislation is to ensure that all individuals are treated in a fair and consistent manner and subsequently have any relevant right of appeal available to them.

Yours Sincerely,

Business Support Officer
Office of the Police and crime Commissioner


So that was that. I wasn't exactly surprised. It's clearly beyond his remit, with the added complication that it was Regional Organised Crime Unit that made the case to the CPS. 
I was already aware of the CPS appeal route but given the fact that the 'victim' in this case was the local authority, the taxpayers of Carmarthenshire and the City Deal region, a comment from the Commissioner would have been appropriate and welcome. It appears that Police Commissioners also lack personal initiative.

PCC Dafydd Llewelyn

I have no issue with the police themselves over all this, given their revised statement in March, and as far as I am aware, they were clearly as frustrated with the CPS as I am. Nearly two years of a complex bribery and corruption investigation, which included search warrants, the seizure of evidence, interviews, and even the arrest of Mark James, pretty much came to nothing. Not because of insufficient evidence, but because one of the key witnesses, Franz Dickmann, was too frail to stand trial.

Appealing against a decision such as this would have to be made by a more senior and influential figure than a blogger from Llanwrda, also someone with an extensive legal background in criminal matters.
Any takers? 

There is no news yet on whether the sacked Swansea University academics, including Marc Clement, will continue with their Employment Tribunals. As Swansea Uni warned in March "Whilst the CPS may have decided it is not in the public interest to prosecute this case, the evidence compiled by the university will obviously come out during the employment tribunal, which will take place in the public domain, should the individuals still wish to proceed."

It seems, so far, that the former suspects would rather avoid that scenario, and carry on forming their tangled webs. The evidence which would come out would also involve and implicate Mark James, currently lording it over Century Wharf.

As for the council, there has been no comment. Surprising really given that their former chief executive is a shyster and a conman. Still, as one door closes, another will eventually open...I'll make sure it does.




*************************************
 

And finally...

On a completely different note the Ombudsman's Code of Conduct casebook has recently been published. One anonymised summary concerns a Carmarthenshire Councillor and relates to the appointment process for the new chief executive, Wendy Walters in 2019. The report was actually issued in March 2020.

It seems that the councillor inadvertently told the unsuccessful candidate that they had been unsuccessful, and he or she also made the appointment public without waiting for the required 30 minutes.
The Ombudsman dismissed the first incident as a genuine error, frowned on the second incident, but decided, quite rightly, that no further action was necessary.
Well, there we are. 
I could have told them exactly who was going to be the new chief executive about 5 seconds after Mark James announced his hurried 'retirement'. I'd have also told any other budding candidates not to bother applying. It was, all of course, a done deal.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Carmarthenshire Council company almost struck-off

A brief post just to mention that Lleisant Delta Wellbeing Ltd, one of the arms-length companies wholly owned by Carmarthenshire Council has narrowly avoided being struck-off from the Companies House register.

Delta Wellbeing Ltd was set up in 2018 as the council's social care call centre and employs around 60 people.

Their latest accounts are over two months late, hence the compulsory strike-off action published on Tuesday 1st June.
 
The action has now been discontinued, presumably the council woke up and responded with some sort of excuse.

 
This is a shambles by any standard. Questions need to be asked about what has been going on here...where are the accounts? Why did the council came so close to losing the company, and, more to the point, the jobs of sixty staff.



Unsurprisingly there's precious little oversight of any of the council's companies apart from the occasional decision to chuck a few million their way and hope for the best. Not very sensible given this council's track record, and particularly as they were set up during Mark James' reign where his priority was to help out his mates and fill his own wallet.

The other companies are Cwm Environmental Ltd which run the waste services (see previous posts) and Cartrefi Croeso in charge of housing and construction. Egni Sir Gar, the energy company is a 'mutual' so not even the accounts are freely available. According to the mutuals register, the last set of accounts were submitted in 2017. 

There was no explanation why one council official, Gareth Miller, was made a director of their housing company Cartrefi Croeso in July 2018 but wasn't registered on Companies House until January 2021, two and a half years later.

The main problem, as ever, is a lack of transparency and scrutiny. A quick google search of council owned companies show how things can sometimes go horribly wrong, but by then, it's all a bit too late. The same can be said about the Wellness Village scandal, no one knew, or cared what was going on until the whole thing collapsed in a pit of corruption, with Mark James' hands caught firmly in the till.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Emlyn's folly - the Carmarthen 'Gateway' sign

Whilst most of us are struggling to pay council tax, put food on the table, and local businesses are trying to keep heads above water, Carmarthenshire Council are spending nearly £350,000 on a sign. The structure, currently being constructed on the outskirts of Carmarthen has caused considerable controversy, and anger. 
It's not just the cost, which also, apparently, includes a few benches and sculptures on the nearby Morfa Wetlands, it's a dangerous distraction to drivers along the busy and accident prone A40. 

Also, by any stretch of the imagination, it looks bloody awful. The result of some brainstorming session that went horribly wrong. That's just my personal opinion, and I'm not averse to public art, but as 'gateway signage' goes (the terminology is used to justify the enormous expense), I've seen better.
And if nothing else, the timing is not great.

Sensing something of a backlash over the cost, Emlyn Dole and the press office have been hurriedly spinning the yarn that it's part of a wider scheme and part-funded from EU community grants, Rural Development funds and section 106 money, as if it all just fell out of the sky, hoping no one realises that it's all public cash.  The rest of it is coming from council funds. This does nothing to enhance or help the local community, by any EU standards, and using Section 106 money? From where?
Playgrounds, school facilities please, not a vanity project and a photo opportunity for Emlyn Dole.
They're currently being shy with the actual cost breakdown.

It has, naturally, been several years in the making, involving consultants, designers, artists, manufacturers etc, none of which, I notice, come from anywhere near Carmarthenshire. The designers are from north Wales and the company making the letters resides in Yorkshire. It is, apparently, a sculpture, not just a sign.

Under construction


Artist's impressions of finished sign
Pics from Carmarthen Journal


The finished sign! Oh dear....and it runs parallel to the A40 
(Pic source; Media Wales)

All views welcome.

Update 1st June
As per my comment below, the council have finally said that this sign cost £136,000. Or that's how much they'll admit to anyway. Absolutely shocking. Whoever signed this off, and decided it was a great use of public money needs to be relieved of their duties immediately. 

Friday, 21 May 2021

No slush fund at Bristol City Council...

Events over the bridge, at Bristol City Council, have caught Caebrwyn’s attention. It seems that two of the city’s councillors are being sued for libel by two senior council officers. I am not familiar, nor particularly interested in the parties involved, nor the allegations made. The details were published here by the Bristol Post, which has also seen the full video of the heated meeting, which has now disappeared from the council website.

City Hall, Bristol

Caebrwyn’s first thought, given what has happened in Carmarthenshire, was whether Bristol City Council, ie the taxpayers, were funding the claims. I emailed the press office who soon confirmed, categorically, that no, they weren’t.
"We can confirm that the Council is not funding these claims."
 This means, obviously, that the officers were funding it themselves, or maybe using a Conditional Fee Agreement (no win, no fee).

Very interesting.

One wonders whether the officers had considered the possibility of council funding. Or that the council had taken a look at that possibility and decided that no, they couldn't, it would have simply been unlawful.

The words they’re complaining about were allegedly made during, and relate to, the course of their employment. Had they been senior officials of Carmarthenshire Council, Leader Emlyn Dole, head of legal Linda Rees Jones and the cabal would have been tripping over each other to offer blank cheques, regardless of the truth, or the consequences to the taxpayer.

Bristol City Council seemed to have taken a different view to our own villains in County Hall. They have taken the correct legal view.


County Hall, Carmarthen

It is, as I have said, prohibited under legislation for public authorities to indemnify officers’ libel claims. A view reinforced by the Wales Audit Office in 2014 who deemed the indemnity given to former council CEO Mark James CBE to fund a counterclaim for libel as unlawful. 

Both Mr James and Ms Rees Jones should have been sacked for gross misconduct there and then. (readers new to this blog might be interested to know that Mr James has recently been under criminal investigation for accepting offers of £mms in bribes from a company in Kent, whilst he was CEO.  And there's nothing 'allegedly' about it)

Mark James

Ms Rees Jones, and of course Mr James have tried, for many years, to find loopholes to justify their unlawful actions concerning libel indemnities. There is plenty about all this on the blog. The latest round of desperate barrel-scraping by the reckless Ms Rees Jones is to claim that the Executive Board have the power to dish out libel threats on behalf of officers under a vague ‘duty of care’ personnel function.
This is despite the threat of judicial challenge by the Auditor General for Wales.

Linda Rees Jones, Head of Law

This argument was rejected years ago, not only is there the necessity for full and robust democratic debate and scrutiny, but local authorities have other, less chilling means, such as well-stuffed press offices, to deflect allegations, unwarranted or otherwise. Using public money to sue the public is not an option.
It would be unheard of for a council to be found liable for failing to provide a duty of care by not issuing libel claims on employees’ behalf.

I would doubt if these cases will get very far, given the circumstances, but what do I know. Whether the claims would meet the higher demands of the 2013 Defamation Act remains to be seen. It is notable perhaps that the libel claims, and code of conduct complaints against the two 'troublesome' councillors appeared within a couple of hours of each other, a co-ordinated attack perhaps.

Whilst bringing a claim for libel with public money is banned, defending one with taxpayers' cash isn’t. I understand that the Bristol councillors have already instructed expert counsel. Observers might want to make enquiries, out of interest, as to who might be paying for that. So far, letters of claim have been issued, but it won’t take long for bills to reach eye-watering levels.



As it stands, the fact that these council officers are acting in a personal capacity, without the bottomless pit of taxpayers’ money must be a lesson to Carmarthenshire Council, who remain unique in their capacity, determination and enthusiasm to unlawfully sue their critics, with your money.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

The slush fund - the 2020 CRWG meetings

Last week I finally received copies of the minutes from two of the meetings held in private last year to discuss the fate of the unlawful libel indemnity clause. 

Readers of this blog will recall that back in July 2018 at a meeting of the held-behind-closed-doors cross-party Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) it was decided, by Plaid Cymru to try and reinstate the then suspended and unlawful Libel Indemnity Clause (the Mark James slush fund) back into the Constitution. An unbelievable decision.

The slush fund clause, unique to Carmarthenshire Council, was to fund officers' libel claims, or counterclaims, with taxpayers' money, all of which is clearly prohibited under 2006 legislation. Mark James was still in post in July 2018 so in full control, although he was probably getting sidetracked with his fraudulent arrangement with Clement, Dickmann and co by then....

The unlawful clause had been suspended since 2014 when the Wales Audit Office found that the funding of Mr James legal fees by the taxpayer was unlawful.

As James knew full well at the time he was bankrolled, in 2012, that it was unlawful, he hedged his bets by getting the then Executive Board to rubber stamp his slush fund. He remained in the meeting to ensure the deed was done, which was also unlawful. He also sweetened the Executive Board by promising, in writing, that he'd pay it back if he won any damages. He never did.

Despite this, Mark James and his personal legal minder, head of legal Linda Rees Jones, who also doubles-up as Monitoring Officer (personally appointed by James) continued to claim it was lawful. They should, in fact, have both been sacked for gross misconduct.

Emlyn 'two barns' Dole, once deeply opposed to the clause and the specific funding of  Mr James, when in opposition, fulfilled his end of the power deal with Mr James by doing a U-turn, and was now fully supporting his paymaster.

Moving to the July 2018 meeting, Labour leader Rob James had suggested the clause be removed completely. However, as I said, the Plaid majority (ie Mark James and Linda Rees Jones...) had other ideas and wanted it reinstated  - to remove it exposed that thorny problem of finally admitting they'd acted illegally. 

Plaid Cymru leader Emlyn Dole even wanted it extended so senior councillors, like himself, could dip into this slush fund if they so desired.

At the July 2018 meeting it was eventually decided to write to the Auditor General for Wales for his blessing, with fingers crossed that he'd now changed his mind.

Two and a half years then passed during which time Linda, on behalf of Mark's reputation and her career, wrote two lengthy, detailed pleading letters to the Auditor General. Both of which received sound rejections. He also warned them of potential legal challenges should they try it again.

Eventually, in August 2020 CRWG met again. Ms Rees Jones had no choice other than to relay the grim news from the Auditor General to the assembled CRWG. 

She was clearly starting to panic over the prospect of her dishonest, misleading advice to the High Court, and councillors, being very publicly exposed. 

If they decided to remove the clause she insisted that it be made VERY CLEAR "that it was being done as part of the process of tidying up the constitution and not because it was unlawful in any way".  

No, not unlawful in any way AT ALL. What a joke.

Emlyn was worried that if it was removed, they wouldn't be able to sue anyone with taxpayers' money. Linda had come up with a plan though and assured him that it made no difference, if the unlawful delegated power WAS removed....they could just switch it to a power of the Executive Board! No worries Emlyn! We'll continue to ignore the fact it's illegal!

Anyway, as if this hadn't gone on long enough, they then went away to their political groups to discuss the options. Remove it, reinstate it, or the Rees-Jones Option to move it quietly to a power of the Executive Board.

The next meeting was held in September 2020.

Linda was by now in meltdown, with the spirit of Mark James, if not the person himself, breathing over her shoulder. 

If it was to be removed completely, A JOINT STATEMENT must be issued making sure her, and his back was covered.

"If a decision is made to remove the clause then that should be done with two provisos (1) it should be made perfectly clear that members will wholeheartedly support officers in any case of defamation and (2) it should be made absolutely clear that it in no way undermines members’ support of the Head of Administration and Law and that members’ support for her remains steadfast"

Remarkably, they were all sent away to discuss it yet again with their political groups. 

By now though there was the Rees-Jones Option, to slip the clause into the Exec Board's power instead and save face and reputations. Unfortunately this was still illegal. Not that this bothered Ms Rees Jones.

Prior to the full council meeting held on October 10th, CRWG had a 10 minute meeting on the 1st October and decided to move the offending item to the Executive Board powers. The Plaid and Independent contingent of CRWG had a majority anyway. No objections were going to get a look in. Job done.

The whole idea of a statement fizzled out. For two reasons; a) they hadn't removed the clause, just moved it and, b) Why attract any more publicity to this notorious business than was absolutely necessary.

"All four political Groups confirmed in turn that they supported relieving officers of the delegated authority of determining applications for such indemnities, with a view to the function being exercised by the Executive Board, as indeed had happened on the one occasion to date when such an indemnity had been granted.

Members expressed their support for officers and the unacceptability of some of the treatment that they have to endure and asked that it be explained how officers and members could be supported should any issue arise in the future, as it has in the past."

What should have been glaringly obvious was that the 'one occasion' the Executive Board rubber stamped an indemnity, it had been found to be unlawful.

The whole idea that they were circumventing the Derbyshire Rule, let alone risking millions of pounds of taxpayers money was quietly ignored by Plaid and the Independents, under the dishonest advice of Linda Rees Jones, and the influence of the now departed Mark James.
Still, why worry about trifles of legality or squandering taxpayers money.

You will note the second paragraph from the minutes. There appears to be confusion between unwarranted abuse, and valid and robust criticism. It's so much easier just to attack critics, or turn a blind eye, or sit there twiddling your thumbs when, to give just one example, your chief officer is accepting £mms in bribes from a developer.

Not only were Mark and Linda's professional reputations on the line over this clause but Mark James was awarded £25k+ damages, via his illegally funded counterclaim because I labelled it a slush fund. Which is exactly what it is. 
Hence the reason why they will never admit that they'd acted illegally, or god forbid, agree with the Wales Audit Office.
The amount has since doubled due to interest and enforcement. 

To say that Plaid Cymru have been a disappointment is an understatement. As I said in my previous post, the expectation that they would right the wrongs of the old Labour/Independent lot fizzled out as soon as it became clear that Dole was simply a weak puppet of Mark James and his poisonous, criminal legacy.

One hoped that senior figures in politics, who knew the score, knew what was right, and had their own run ins with the former CEO, may have intervened. 
Any previous attempts, however mild, were blocked by Mark James' legal threats, from defamation to contempt of court or by abusing his power and interfering with the democratic process. He can't do that now though, so there is no excuse not to act. 
Interestingly, he never had a go at Private Eye, despite his numerous appearances, including the crowning accolade of Shit of the Year 2016. He preferred to pick on local politicians and Llanwrda housewives... 

This post, from December 2019 still rings true; Plaid Cymru - and the rotten legacy of Mark James

Thursday, 29 April 2021

The Grillo site, Cwm Environmental, and a short rant

The old Grillo zinc oxide site in Burry Port came up again at Monday's Executive Board meeting. It was not, as you may think, to clear away the heavy metals and toxic chemicals which pervade the ground but to sell the plot to a developer to build around 320 homes. Being the current owners of the site, and the body which passed planning permission for itself, one may think they had a duty to clear it up.
The main purpose of the sale is not to create a vision of the French Riviera in Burry Port but to recoup the £1.5m they've blown on the toxic site.
 
Plaid Cllr Dai Jenkins, trotting out the officer's report in the usual parrot fashion, made no mention of the dangers lurking beneath the land, nor the cost of remediation, estimated between £5m and £10m, nor, for that matter, the predicted rising sea levels, and the surrounding protected waters.

One can only hope that all this pertinent information is somewhere in the small print.

The Grillo site has an interesting and rather controversial history since it's industrial days, and, in recent years featured a shell company, a lot of taxpayers' money, backroom deals a dodgy lord and, naturally, former CEO Mark James....see previous blog post from August 2020, Grillo site - the toxic saga 

****************************************

Also in the news this week is the extensive fire at the council's recycling plant at Nantycaws, Carmarthen. Fortunately no one was hurt and an investigation as to the cause is underway. I say council, but as readers will recall it is managed by Cwm Environmental Ltd, an arms-length company wholly owned by the council. 

Cwm run all three main recycling plants in the county. One, in Llangadog, was privately owned and was closed a couple of years ago. Much to the distress of locals but, as it wasn't run by Cwm, it was of no interest to the council whatsoever.

Cwm Environmental has something of a chequered past itself. A search of this blog will show a reluctance to answer FOI requests, despite being 100% council owned, some massive loans to buy extra little bits of land (the most recent being £800k in February 2020), mismanagement and a propensity to employ people on less than favourable terms, exploiting labourers from eastern Europe.

The council changed the structure in 2018 to a Teckal company which means, basically that they are supposed to have more control over the management and indeed, several senior officers are on the board. 

For those with longer memories former deputy chief executive Dave 'for f***'s sake don't go to the police' Gilbert OBE is also a director, and a director of Cartrefi Croeso, the council's 'wholly owned' housing company. How cosy. 
Incidentally, Delta Wellbeing, the council's call centre company are running eight weeks late submitting their accounts to  Companies House.

However, another strange phenomenon has been Cwm Environmental's reluctance, ie the council's reluctance, to agree a Trade Union Recognition Agreement, for Unison, Unite and GMB at the plant. 
The Carmarthen branch of Unison has concluded that it is the council blocking the agreement, preferring to keep the status quo of poorer pay and conditions, significantly poorer pay and conditions than for those directly employed by the local authority.

*****************************  

Meanwhile, the great and good of Plaid Cymru and Labour are busying themselves, ahead of next week's election of course, attacking Westminster sleaze, dishonesty, corruption etc, and quite right too. Sadly they're choosing to ignore the dishonesty and corruption on their own doorstep. 

Putting the Wellness scandal aside for one moment, it's particularly galling, given that Plaid Cymru had the chance to put things right when they acquired a semblance of power in County Hall in 2015, then chose to jump into bed with Meryl and Mark instead. They even preserved Mark James' slush fund. 

Plaid MP Liz Savile-Roberts was questioning Boris Johnson's integrity in the Commons yesterday, quoting the Nolan Principles and asking what happens when a Prime Minister goes rogue, good questions but ones that should have been asked by her Plaid colleagues about the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire. The only one who did try was the former Chair of the Swansea Bay Health Board over James' dishonest and catastrophic 'leadership' of the City Deal.

What 'happened' in Carmarthenshire was that the taxpayers were robbed, democracy was trashed and peoples lives destroyed. Who is going to put that right? I'm still waiting. One can understand why, sometimes, people take the law into their own hands.

As for the Wellness scandal, if an inquiry can be called to investigate the Prime Minister and his refurbishments, let alone the 'dodgy contracts', then surely a council chief executive who accepted £mms in bribes from a developer, lying to his employers and the taxpayer in the process, (and not for the first time), warrants a very public inquiry. 
It would also be very interesting to know when exactly Emlyn Dole, Linda Rees Jones and Wendy Walters realise there was something seriously wrong? They're either idiots, liars or crooks. Or all three.

The truth will out.

Friday, 9 April 2021

CPS decision - open email to Police Commissioner

 

After having had some time to digest the CPS response to the investigation I am finding it more an more incredulous that no charges were brought. And, for that matter, why our politicians aren't raising a stink.

The revised police statement was crucial. There was evidence that these people were due to pocket millions of pounds in bribes from a development funded by public money. What is there not to understand. If a benefit claimant pockets an extra £60 in housing benefit that they know they shouldn't have, they're hauled before the magistrates or at least named and shamed on a council website, who are, apparently, 'protecting the public purse'.

There's been precious little of that at County Hall.

For a serious crime such as large scale fraud, which this was, it should make no difference if one of them is unfit to stand trial, as long as the evidence is there to implicate the rest of them. Which it was. 

Including the former CEO of the council, Mark James.

However, I'm clearly in no position to influence the CPS, but senior politicians are, or are able, at the very least, to call for a public inquiry.

Mark James, whilst CEO, spent roughly three years arranging a personal deal to receive millions of pounds in bribes from a company he was appointing, directly, through an obviously rigged tender.

As I said, this crooked, criminal arrangement went on from 2016 and influenced every aspect of the development, and the City Deal until it broke down, and until James hurriedly left the council in June 2019. It was signed, sealed and just about to be delivered, and maybe some of it already had.

The 'arrangement' was for the loot to be funnelled into offshore blind trusts.

So, do we sweep all this under the carpet? Do we wait until Clement and co decide to go to employment tribunals and for the evidence to trickle out? Given that they're all doing very well thank you elsewhere, I don't think they'll bother, it would be damaging. We'll see. 

Of course, Mark James, who is currently conning the residents of Century Wharf, appears to have got off scot free. Again.

If we choose to believe that no one else in the council was aware of what was going on, and James certainly had a knack of silencing anyone who got a little curious, then now is the time to act. It's time he's finally exposed as the crook he is.

He has form. From Boston, to the curious case of the £5000 in the envelope, to his bung to a private company, to tax avoidance, pilfering the public purse, to silencing whistleblowers, to lying to the council and the courts, using council staff and resources for his own private use, failing to declare his interests etc etc. And that is just what we know about.

All this went on for seventeen years, but pales into insignificance to the con he had planned for the Wellness village and the City Deal. We also know what many of the other key City Deal figures thought about him.

Going back seventeen years is clearly impractical, but for the three or for years before he left the authority it would be a relatively simple matter. 

As has been set out on this blog, and from this criminal investigation the truth has again been revealed, James is a liar and a crook. But, without support from politicians and Welsh Government, those he has wronged, or conned, including the taxpayer, will be left with a very grim legacy.

I have emailed the councillors of Carmarthenshire to make sure they know exactly what went on.

I have also emailed the current police commissioner, Plaid Cymru's Dafydd Llywelyn, as reproduced in full below;

To; Police and Crime Commissioner, Dyfed Powys Police

Dear Mr Llywelyn

I am sure you are aware of the recent decision by the CPS not to charge several suspects following the Wellness village bribery investigation by Tarian, the regional organised crime unit.

You may also be aware that the police revised their own statement shortly afterwards which said that there had been evidence of potential criminal acts.

I am sure that it is in your remit, as the current PCC, to ask the CPS to review their decision and indeed charge the suspects, one of which is the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James.

Whatever the reasoning behind the CPS decision it cannot be right that the individuals involved had accepted, and stood to personally gain bribes of millions of pounds in public cash and equity from the developers of the project. This was fraud, and had been years in the planning.

The tender for the project, the central issue in the investigation, was, to put it bluntly, rigged by Mark James. Not only did he stand to gain a substantial amount himself, he jeopardised the integrity of the council and the entire City Deal.

The fact that this is a Plaid run council and you are a Plaid Cymru PCC should, I trust, not be an issue.
I look forward to you early reply to this email, and details of how this matter can be taken forward with urgency by either yourself or your successor.

Your sincerely

Jacqui Thompson

It's perhaps worth remembering what the previous Police Commissioner, Christopher Salmon said about the County Hall regime in 2016. He didn't name names, but everyone knew who he was talking about.  
"Carmarthenshire County Council. Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hoards property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."


2018 - The fraudulent deal is done. Mark James and Marc Clement laughing all the way to the bank.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Mark James - off the hook again?...Updated with revised statement from the police, and one from Swansea University

Update 9th March

Statement issued today from Swansea University on the internal investigation and police inquiry. 

Here's an extract, with my emphasis. And as we know, the "number of others" includes Mark James.

"Marc Clement was dismissed for having a serious conflict of interest which he failed to declare to the university. Along with a number of others, Marc Clement personally stood to receive significant amounts of money through a substantial equity share in the Sterling Health company, which would have part-owned the Wellness Village venture, as well as employment in the company. The share Marc Clement expected to receive was substantially larger than the university – his employer - was due to receive as a partner in the venture. Marc Clement admitted to expecting to receive this substantial equity share during the investigation. 

The university was satisfied at the time that the correct course of action was to dismiss Marc Clement for this significant undeclared financial interest, which he had admitted to, and is still entirely satisfied this was the correct course of action. Whilst the CPS may have decided it is not in the public interest to prosecute this case, the evidence compiled by the university will obviously come out during the employment tribunal, which will take place in the public domain, should the individuals still wish to proceed."

Link to press release here


Update 8th March

The police have issued a revised statement this afternoon;

There was evidence of potential criminal offending identified and secured against individuals and companies subject to this enquiry and this was submitted as part of the file of evidence to the CPS who subsequently made their decision that it was not in the public interest to proceed with any prosecutions"

That's a big change in tone, it's very significant, and as I said below, I believe the police had plenty of evidence. We know exactly who the 'individuals' are, and we know the 'companies' were Sterling Health and it's assorted sister outfits.

In light of the revised police statement the BBC have asked the CPS if their decision not to proceed was because of a lack of sufficient evidence or on different grounds.

Whatever happens now, it'll all come out, eventually.

*****

The fraud and bribery investigation into the Wellness Village seems to be over. 
The CPS have reviewed the file submitted by Tarian, the organised crime squad, and have said that there was insufficient evidence of criminal conduct and concluded that it was not in the public interest to proceed with the case. A case, it has to be said, which would have taken several years. 

They found that the "correct procurement guidelines were followed and overseen by specialist law firms". 
More on one of those specialist law firms further on.

I have of course written numerous blogpost about all this, and followed every development since 2016. 

I have also come to a very different conclusion to the CPS. 

I also understand that the police did too.

For all the details, please take a look at some recent blog posts including Wellness Scandal - How did it happen?, Tangled webs, Wellness scandal - Swansea Uni sticking to its guns.

The investigation centred around the council’s tender for the Wellness Village development in Llanelli, which became a City Deal project. The suspects in the case were in line to gain millions from the deal.

You’ll recall that former CEO Mark James was particularly insistent that Kent based company Sterling Health were signed up to develop the £200m project. This was despite the company having no proven track record, £137k in debt and a previous development which required a £30m bail out. 

He was so keen he signed them up twice, once in their earlier incarnation as Kent Neurosciences.
By 2017 he was telling them what to put in their tender submission.


As the whole shady deal began to fall apart, Swansea University pulled out as partners, eventually sacking Professor Marc Clement and vice-chancellor Richard Davies, amongst others, for gross misconduct over their involvement in the Wellness Village. It was at the point when the Uni staff were suspended that James made his move to 'retire' from the council. 

Details and allegations began to emerge that Frank Dickmann, the Director of Sterling Health, had been offering jobs, homes and shares to various individuals.

As I said, Mr James was, inexplicably, very determined to appoint Mr Dickmann.

It also emerged, late in 2019, that James, Clement, Davies and Dickmann were planning to develop a private medical school in Kuwait. This arrangement was also referred to the police. James was a trustee, and never declared it to the council.

With the police investigation underway, Sterling now ditched, and the shit heading for the fan, Mark James brought in a law firm to ‘review’ the council’s (his) role in the Wellness tender, in other words, to provide himself with some sort of defence, paid for by the council, should things take a nasty turn. This is the law firm I mentioned earlier in this post.
To ensure he got the result he needed he brought in Acuity Law who, remarkably, just happened to be his very own personal solicitors. It was staggering that no one at the council dared to even try stopping him.

Meanwhile, the arrogant and dishonest manner in which Mark James was running the Swansea Bay City Deal was giving grave cause for concern, in fact, he nearly collapsed the whole £1.3bn deal. Two damning reports were published, Mark James’ role was 'deleted' (he’d hastily announced his retirement by then), Carmarthenshire Council was stripped of key roles and Linda Rees Jones was removed as City Deal Monitoring Officer.

James left the council in June 2019, pocketing his cash from his previous rap sheet of illegal legal costs and a pension tax avoidance scam, for which he’d also been investigated by the police in 2014. 

Then, like now, he got away with being caught with his hand in the till.

                                                     
                                                                       Mark James

A few weeks later, in July 2019 the news broke that eight addresses had been raided by the police and computers seized. The addresses included the home of Mark James, former leader Meryl Gravell, and deleted data was seized from County Hall. An address in Kent was also raided.

A treasure trove of evidence was seized.

Early in 2020 eight suspects were interviewed by the police, including Mark James who was arrested, but not charged. 

Which, in this long sorry saga brings us up to today’s announcement by the CPS. 

As I have said, and exposed throughout this blog, Mark James is a thoroughly arrogant and dishonest individual and capable of anything to further his own interests, including criminal behaviour. 
The case might have been dropped, but he knows he's guilty, which is something.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

The budget, libel indemnities and pantomimes

Budget - with updates and the school closure consultation row

Update 3rd March - Budget meeting - Another Plaid U-turn with the council tax rise capped at 3.45%. The Labour alternative budget proposed that £500k be taken from the £1.5m contingency fund, savings made on employee travel expenses and £100k cut from consultancy costs. This was to prevent some damaging cuts to social care, more spend on roads and to cap the council tax rise to 2.9%. After the usual squabbling, the predictable outcome (in that it happens every year) was that the alternative budget was rejected by Plaid and the Independent group.

Update 1st March - After facing the potential for legal challenge (not because they 'listened' to anyone's concerns), Plaid have u-turned and extended the school consultations (see below) until the end of the summer term.

Update 18th Feb - as predicted, by deferring and dodging, the council bean counters have managed to find nearly a million quid down the back of the corporate sofa for Exec Board members to play with at next Monday's meeting...
Useful no doubt for Plaid given that Exec Board member Cefin Campbell just happens to be standing for the Senedd in the May elections. 
The public consultation only ran for two and a half weeks as opposed to the usual six and attracted a paltry 75 responses, including such remarks as "A complete joke", and "Way too complicated to understand. Maybe that's what you want!".
Anyway, we'll see what happens on Monday....

.....and the result was...Update 22nd Feburary...a reduction in the council tax rise from 4.5% to 3.95%, some cash to clean gulleys and roads (in view of recent flooding), some cash for education, and £75k for trading standards. 

Bear in mind though that the council have had nearly ALL their covid expenditure/losses reimbursed by Welsh Government AND a very healthy increase in the money they receive from government every year.
 
It's also worth noting that Emlyn Dole, CEO Wendy Walters, Director of Finance Chris Moore, head of legal Linda Rees Jones are still happy risk millions of pounds of your money should a member of the public speak out of turn and, erm, need to be sued...by preserving the Mark James Slush Fund in the Council's Constitution. (see main post below)

The final budget figures will be decided by full council on the 3rd March and includes pressing ahead, at enormous expense, with the sauna-in-the-swamp, the Wellness Village, or Pentre Awel as it's now known, currently the subject of a complex police investigation.

It is also worth noting that the council intends to borrow another £100m by 2023/24, this will take the current level of debt from a staggering £433m to an eye-watering £533m, over half a billion quid, and an equally unaffordable increase in the level of interest payments, currently around £19m per year.

The Exec Board also decided to extend the school consultations referred to below until at least next week, claiming it was down to a change in Welsh Government guidance. It was, no doubt, actually down to the public backlash and the potential for legal challenge regarding the holding of a consultation during a pandemic.

Update 13th February;
As you can see from the updates below, Labour’s attempt at the council meeting on Wednesday to pause the Mynyddygarreg and Blaenau school closure consultations were defeated by the Plaid/Independent ruling majority.

Plaid councillors ignored impassioned pleas from parents to halt the process during the pandemic. The messages were relayed by Labour members who argued that families had enough to deal with at the moment without having to fight to try and keep their village schools, often the heart of a local community.

The Plaid amendment, as I said below, was designed to give the impression that they were following orders and official policy from Welsh Government.

It now seems that this wasn’t entirely true.

This blog has seen an email from Welsh Government which confirms that local authorities have the power to pause/suspend/extend public consultations for months, if they wish, and if circumstances dictate to maximise the ability to respond. 
A global pandemic is a very strong circumstance.

Elsewhere in the UK similar calls to halt consultations during the pandemic are being reported, from LDPs to budgets.

Councils could face legal challenge if they fail to take into account how the restrictions caused by the pandemic have impacted the publics' ability to have their say. Particularly on a clearly emotive and controversial subject such as this.

It looks to me that Plaid are certainly following in the footsteps of the notorious Meryl Gravell and are refusing to listen to their communities, for fear of appearing 'weak'. Helped along, as ever, by some highly questionable, and deliberately misleading, internal legal advice.

Update 10th Feb;
Rather predictably Plaid Cymru put an amendment forward which pretty much negated Rob James' motion to halt the consultations. 
This isn't allowed...but it went forward anyway, and the amendment was, basically, passing the buck and insisting they were merely following orders from Welsh Government. 
After much discussion, including powerful and emotional messages from parents and those affected by closures, the Plaid/Independent coalition ignored the pleas and approved the amendment to carry on with the consultation, regardless of the pandemic. 43 voted for, 14 against, and 6 abstentions.
Cllr Lenny's question, later in the agenda was withdrawn.

On another note, during a discussion about reducing excessive noise levels, and random use of fireworks, which cause anxiety and distress to animals and people, veteran Plaid Cymru councillor Colin Evans spoke in support of the motion. At one point he wandered around his living room revealing a large shotgun hanging on his wall. Boom.

Update 8th Feb;
The question over school closures will feature in Wednesday's (10th) full council meeting. Labour leader Cllr Rob James is calling for a halt to the consultations, until the start of the September term, whilst we are in the midst of the pandemic. He is also calling for clarity over the future plans for school closures. There will be a vote on this Motion.

Not to be outdone, Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny is asking Plaid Exec Member for schools, Glynog Davies whether or not he believes there is a future for small rural schools in the county, and, the clincher, how many were closed between 2004 and 2015, when the new Plaid administration took over.

There are a couple of points worth noting in this loaded question. I'm sure Cllr Davies will believe there is certainly a future, but, he will say, it needs to be rationalised, right-sized and reviewed, blah blah. Secondly, many small schools were closed between 2004 and 2015, I can't remember how many and with pre-2015 agendas and minutes now removed from the council website it's difficult to know. 

However, despite Labour being in and out of coalition in this period, it was the independents, under Meryl Gravell who pushed the closures forward, at one point admonishing councillors as 'weak' for daring to listen to campaigners, parents and the like. 
It was all part of an unhealthy regime no one wants to return to, apart from Plaid Cymru perhaps...

* * *

The council’s latest budget consultation is currently circulating in cyberspace with the response deadline for next Tuesday. This time it’s all been a bit rushed, the fault of the Welsh Labour government, or the UK government, or pandemics and brexit, anything other than Carmarthenshire Council of course. 

They did have time, however, to put a couple of patronising videos together, including one explaining the difference between the revenue and the capital budget, though not one to explain why they were in £432m in debt, costing £20m a year in interest, due to rise exponentially as Emlyn Dole ploughs on relentlessly with the Wellness Fantasy.

Filling in the survey requires extensive deciphering of the proposals, sifting through the mystifying assortment of rationalisations, remodelling, right-sizing and reviewing, collectively known as 'cuts'. Then you are asked to give your view, on all of it....or none of it, because you’ve probably given up by now.

Budgets are always an opportunity to score a few points, from both sides of the divide. Previously, keen observers and bloggers could spot the few, obviously unpopular red herrings popped into the ‘proposals’ which would be miraculously, and loudly dropped by the Exec Board in a press release a week before the Council approved the budget. 

Pretending they were going to close the respite centres for profoundly disabled children came up a few years running, a particularly cruel game. They could then claim to have ‘listened’, despite the obvious fact that it was all staged.

This year’s syrupy nonsense was the 'massive' reduction in the council tax rise of slightly less than half a percent, from 4.9 to 4.48. This magnanimous proposal was stage managed for Emlyn who then proceeded to say, in the inevitable press release,  "The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked personal and financial havoc on our county, and the good people of Carmarthenshire have paid a huge price...I propose reducing the proposed Council Tax increase to 4.48 per cent to give the people of Carmarthenshire the support that they so rightly deserve"
Big help Emlyn. 

In Rhondda Cynon Taf the increase is 2.65%, Bridgend 3.9% and Neath Port Talbot 3.75%.
As for Covid related costs, the Welsh Government has reimbursed this council £18m, around 96%, so far.
Meanwhile, Carmarthenshire's council/social housing rents will increase by 1.5%.

Of course Emlyn 'two barns' Dole has experienced less in the way of financial havoc, boosting his monthly £4120.83 with penny pinching claims for fuel, and hosting punters from across a Covid riddled UK to bathe in his luxury hot tub. Ewww.
Emlyn’s involvement in the Mark James Wellness scandal has yet to be determined. And the roles of James' seconds in command, Wendy Walters and Linda Rees Jones come to that.
Such a tangled web.

Incidentally, calls from the Llanelli Chamber of Commerce for local firms to be given the chance to operate the site, rather than one big company have been deflected by Dole who said the tender process is about to start (he means 'start again' given that the last tender process is still being investigated by the organised crime squad) and commercial confidentiality must be observed. In other words, sod off. 

Despite £12.5m of proposed cuts on the horizon for the next couple of years, over a million quid is being spent sprucing up County Hall, including new carpets, (they did get very lumpy during the James regime) and a new ‘head of regeneration’ is being appointed at £96k per annum. This unnecessary example of a non-job for the boys/girls is just about covered by slashing a proposed £100k from the children and educational psychology service.

The Labour opposition are busy needling Emlyn and co over the million quid to be ‘saved’, vaguely, from schools. Many of which are struggling with finances. As I mentioned back in November, two are up for closure, including Mynyddygarreg near Kidwelly, a proposal which is drawing considerable opposition, and calls to extend the consultation period. It's seen as little unfair to consult when people are somewhat distracted by a global pandemic. More cash is set to be ‘saved’, and jobs lost, by, for instance, centralising school kitchens.

One problem is the language of smoke and mirrors adopted so seamlessly by Plaid, and officers alike. It was sad and pathetic to see Plaid Executive Member Dai Jenkins tell Labour Leader Rob James, unconvincingly, that no they weren’t closing schools, they were, erm, ‘rationalising’ them. What nonsense.
The Director of Education, Gareth Morgans, took the award for ridiculous corporate crapspeak though by admitting they were looking at the ‘primary school footprint’ and ‘investing in a system that’s probably more sustainable in the future’. Cuts and closures are fine as long as you can shoe horn in the word ‘sustainable’. And ‘footprint’. At £130,000 a year, he should be an expert at that.

Anyway the annual budget saga will run its course over the next few weeks.


Unlawful libel indemnities

One huge potential price for the good people of Carmarthenshire which bothers neither Emlyn nor the Director of Corporate Services, Chris Moore is preserving the ability to sue the public if they say something out of turn. As I mentioned here, last October the unlawful clause was merely shifted from one part of the constitution to another.

As I have also mentioned Mark James (currently under police investigation), Legal Linda, and Emlyn Dole have insisted that this power was not only lawful but quite necessary. Desperate to defend the indefensible. Ms Rees Jones had told me this repeatedly and pleaded with the Auditor General to give his blessing to reinstatement. Emlyn even wanted the provision to be extended to cover himself. The Auditor General was having none of it. Neither was I.

The Executive now has the power to use public money, unlawfully, to sue on behalf of a senior officer. Interestingly the ‘new clause’ mentions the libel indemnity provision without specifying if it is for making a claim or defending one. The latter is allowed under certain circumstances, the former is not. Anyone can sue, of course, but with their own money, not the taxpayers'.
The 2014 Audit Wales Public Interest Report which found the indemnity for Mark James' counterclaim unlawful can be found here.

I wrote to the Audit Office back in November about this shifting, sinister clause, and had a reply earlier this week, reproduced in full below (with my emphasis). 
Despite the very careful wording it is clear that the AG has not changed his view. Far from it. If the council interpret the clause as a green light to sue (which is the intention), there will be trouble.

Whether any of them would be daft enough to sue, Mark James style, again, is doubtful and it’s remarkable that head of legal Linda Rees Jones, who has been spouting deliberately misleading and illegal ‘advice’, to councillors and courts for years, is still in post. Mark James left her to it, of course, and ran off with the loot.

Dear Mrs Thompson,

The Auditor General, Adrian Crompton, has asked me to thank you for your email of 10 November 2020 concerning Carmarthenshire Council’s inclusion of provision in its constitution in respect of indemnities for libel actions. We appreciate you drawing this to our attention.

We have given this situation careful consideration and note that the new provision in 3.1 of the constitution does not explicitly concern indemnities for officers making claims or counterclaims for libel. While, in isolation, the provision could be read as enabling the indemnification of an officer making such a claim or counterclaim (as opposed to indemnification for defence of libel claims), such an interpretation would, in our view, not be correct. We consider that the Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006 still renders providing indemnity for making a claim or counterclaim for libel unlawful.

Please note that it is not within our functions to provide you with legal advice. The views above do not constitute legal advice, and you should not seek to rely on them as such advice.

The Auditor General has already written to the Council requesting that it informs him of any intention to indemnify an officer making a claim or counterclaim for libel. He has reminded the Council of his power to apply for judicial review in respect of a decision which could reasonably be believed to have an effect on the accounts of the Council. I and other members of the audit team are also keeping the situation under review.

Yours sincerely,

Ann-Marie Harkin

Cyfarwyddwr || Director

          Audit Wales 

 

Pantomime

I was amused to see that the council are asking for views over a name change for The Miners Theatre in Ammanford. With little else, clearly, to occupy their minds they want it to be one word, like the other two theatres, the Lyric, or Ffwrnes so are suggesting 'Glowyr', which means miners.

My amusement was not with that, but because it reminded me of a public vote some years back to pick a name (out of a shortlist) for Ffwrnes. It emerged, after the new name was announced, that it was not the actual vote winner but, in fact, the one preferred by county hall.

As a diligent blogger I recounted this silly farce, suggesting that the Council top brass should put on a pantomime at the said theatre. I politely suggested that Meryl Gravell would make an ideal Widow Twanky, and Mark James would be perfect as Pinocchio, and hoped, as Returning Officer he would take the results of a vote a little more seriously.

Moving forward a year or so and Mark James was suddenly offended, and dear old Pinocchio appeared in his libel counterclaim.

His lawyers claimed that my remark had the innuendo meaning that he was untrustworthy in his role as election Retuning Officer and couldn’t be trusted to give out the correct result.

Unfortunately that blogpost had to be consigned to legally enforced oblivion.

Although I can’t comment, legally, on his integrity as returning officer, I can vouch for the fact he’s a dishonest crook and a born liar.