Tuesday, 2 June 2020

News in brief...and remote meetings underway

The council finally managed to organise a remote Executive Board meeting which was held yesterday, and a full council meeting looks set for the 10th June. Despite the calibre of the attendees, yesterday's gathering appeared to go relatively smoothly.

The agenda included a brief list of officer decisions from the last few weeks and a short report from the Director of Social Care.
The meeting lasted about half an hour and according to the chief executive, decisions will now be taken democratically rather than by officers alone..or what passes for democracy here anyway...
Despite two months of lockdown and such a radical change to everyone's life there were no questions tabled from non-executive nor opposition councillors  - one doesn't expect robust debate at this time, nor unhelpful political posturing but mild curiosity as to present and future plans may have been in order, for the benefit of residents. Maybe next week.

Incidentally I noticed the viewing figures hovered around 25, if you discount me and a couple of reporters, and all those present, on and offline, it doesn't leave many more. So unless there is a different way of observing the meeting (and I'm happy to be corrected) it's unclear whether any of the remaining 65 or so councillors bothered tuning in.

There was the obligatory thanks to the management, once Emlyn Dole had remembered, and of course well-deserved thank you to frontline council staff, although an offer of a decent pay rise would be a little more helpful.

Unless the council is guilty of some sort of glaring cock-up over its response to the ongoing pandemic, which we don't know about yet, and given that they're acting largely from government directives, this blog is, of course, concerned with other matters. However, the top brass of local authorities will come under the spotlight of scrutiny at some point; as we have seen with the valiant and often fruitless attempts by the press to hold Welsh and UK governments to account on a daily basis. This is a very difficult, and fast moving time but local decisions are equally important, as is full transparency.

With regards to track and trace, which started on 1st June, it is understood that as of the 28th May only the Infection Control Manager has been appointed, the council has yet to arrange the redeployment of 100 staff to track and trace. The council have also refused, so far, to offer face masks to highways staff who are concerned about the risk of infection in, for example, the cab of a lorry.

Despite the financial impact to the council due to the virus, £11.4m in extra costs and lost income and rising, I did note that they'd managed to spend £150k on surveys for 'Pentre Awel City Deal', this presumably refers to the scandal ridden Wellness Village, the surveys perhaps relate to the families of otters inconveniently residing on this 'prime location', or the depths of the toxic contamination, something like that, there was little detail.
Incidentally the 'Mixed market/social housing' plan for the project has now been replaced with 'Executive housing development with an element of affordable housing', an interesting shift of emphasis.

What no one needs right now, or in the years to come, apart perhaps from the council's friends and favourite consultancy firms, is a speculative project mired in controversy hoping to tap into global wellness tourism and private healthcare on the Llanelli Riviera.

I have said much about this vanity project and the associated scandal on this blog and indeed, the criminal investigation continues following the search warrants executed last year.
You may recall that due to the 'negative' (ie 'honest) coverage of the project a £25k 'rebrand' was commissioned in the hope that potential investors would be muddled into thinking this was an entirely different thing. It needs a rethink not a rebrand.
I asked the City Deal twitter account if any new 'partners' had actually signed up to the Wellness Village yet. There was no reply.

Back in April the former Vice Chancellor of Swansea University Richard Davies had his appeal against dismissal for gross misconduct rejected. Professor Marc Clement's appeal was rejected earlier this year. Employment tribunals have been stayed until after the police investigation.
This all relates to the City Deal Wellness Village scandal in Llanelli, and the private hospital scandal in Kuwait, and all involve the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council.
There is extensive background on this blog, going back a number of years, and my most recent significant post on the subject was in February, here.

Whether Hywel Dda Health Board are still as enthusiastic about 'partnering' the scheme seems unlikely, they were never keen about ploughing money into it in the first place. Not that they had any, and neither does the council.

The Health Board has a very different set of priorities now and so should the council, the latter already owes £413m without the requirement to borrow more £mms upfront for this bizarre scheme, or counting the cost of the pandemic which will play out for years to come. Years of borrowing to fund Mark James' various vanity projects are already costing the taxpayer £20m a year in interest.

In other news, Jonathan Edwards MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr may was arrested at his home for suspicion of assault a couple of weeks ago. He has been suspended from Plaid Cymru pending the outcome of the investigation, but will still sit as an independent. The BBC reported the incident here.

Towards the end of April the thorny issue of libel indemnities was due to be discussed by 'CRWG'. I have to assume that this meeting was cancelled. Why it's even being discussed and not knocked out of the field is staggering. But in order to carry on protecting the former chief executive and his chief legal defender, Linda Rees Jones, the charade continues; it's continued for six years now ever since the offending clause was 'suspended' after the WAO declared Mark James' taxpayer funded indemnity unlawful.
I will of course be returning to that entire issue in due course.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Homelessness grant failure, and CRWG to discuss the unlawful libel clause

As this blog has reported over the years the council's management of grants has often left a lot to be desired. Back in 2015, internal audit exposed a catalogue of failure in delivering the Supporting People grant and despite lessons apparently having been learnt, it seems that things have hardly improved.

An internal audit report for next Friday's Audit committee shows a similar catalogues of failure in administering and delivering the Homelessness Prevention Grant. The grant for 2018/19 was for £170,000.

Out of the samples tested (which suggest the true picture could well be worse) documentation was incomplete or missing, there were no document 'checklists' and signed claim forms were non-existent and, furthermore, the accounts didn't add up properly.
The ordering of goods was sometimes deemed inappropriate and non-compliant with the council's Financial Procedure Rules

A 'fundamental weakness' was identified (again this was only through sampling of two invoices ) where a total of £18,000 had been spent on carpets and furniture through the 'Home Ready Furniture Scheme'.
The clients name, the description of items, the details of actual goods delivered were all missing from the invoices and no one had any idea what had been delivered to what address.
No one could even verify whether the purchases were within the eligibility period.

Additionally, there was a failure to comply with the council's Contract Procurement Rules as there was no evidence that suppliers had been through the proper evaluation and award process (value for money).

A 'fundamental weakness' in general audit terms indicates a 'high risk of fraud and negligence', so we can only hope that the right people ended up with £18,000 worth of new furniture and carpets...

Naturally, the Audit Committee are being told that everything is now fine, urgent action was taken, and lessons have been learned....until the next time anyway.


In the long running saga of unlawful libel indemnity clauses, the head of legal/Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones informs me that the next meeting of CRWG (Constitutional Review Working Group) will be on the 23rd April, (virus permitting).

I have been enquiring as to when she was going to allow elected members to discuss the Auditor General's rejection of the attempts by Mark James, Emlyn Dole and herself, to reinstate the offending clause almost two years ago. 
As regular readers will know, the illegal clause has been 'suspended' for the past six years but, dangerously, not removed completely.
I am presuming that the 23rd April will be the date of discussion.

As CRWG is not a constituted committee its meetings are, conveniently, held behind closed doors and the agendas and reports are not published. It makes 'recommendations' to the Executive Board. 

I have asked Ms Rees Jones (a big fan of libel indemnities and an even bigger fan of disgraced former CEO Mark James) for copies of the papers in advance of the meeting. I somehow doubt that such transparency will be forthcoming.

Either they will finally see sense and remove the provision to sue completely, or leave it in its ridiculous state of suspension, or reinstate. 
The latter would require a decision of full council so unless they have the stomach for illegally diverting funds from public services to silence critics again, I doubt that would happen. Though you never know...Ms Rees Jones seems to think a slush fund is great idea, as of course did Mr James...

This saga follows on from the illegal libel indemnity pocketed by Mr James in 2012. The more recent developments (aside from Emlyn Dole's refusal to ask James to repay the money, and the tax avoidance cash before he retired) follow on from the CRWG meeting held in July 2018;

August 2018 Unlawful libel indemnity clause - part two
February 2019 CRWG minutes - let's sue everyone
August 2019 Libel indemnities - Auditor General says NO
December 2019 Libel indemnities - Auditor General says NO again

PS. The organised crime squad investigation into alleged bribery surrounding the Wellness scandal continues and the police are still examining the documents and equipment seized on the 31st July. Given that the homes of Mark James, Meryl Gravell and County Hall were included in the search warrants I will update this blog as soon as I hear more. And provide comment, whatever the outcome.

Update 18th March; All council meetings have been suspended for the foreseeable future apart from the Executive Board.
As there will be no scrutiny meetings and therefore no scrutiny of executive/officer decisions, we'll have to trust that nothing untoward slips under the democratic radar.
There was precious little scrutiny to start with.

All schools will close on Friday 20th March.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Inappropriate comments and musical Chairs

The crass and insensitive remarks made by Labour Cllr Kevin Madge over an application for a care home to house three vulnerable children serves as a reminder of the calibre of some of our elected members.

According to Cllr Madge, who opposed the application, "They are not normal children so there will be a lot of screaming going on"

Kevin Madge

The inevitable outcry ensued followed by an 'apology'; "It was poor choice of words, which I regret however I have genuine concerns which is what I wanted to get across at the meeting. I will not be making any further comment on this matter.", a statement concocted for poor Kev by the County Hall Department for Non-Apologies.

He made the remarks as a member of the Planning Committee and clearly Cllr Madge's understanding of what constitutes a material planning consideration leaves much to be desired, let alone his attitude towards vulnerable children.
If this wasn't bad enough, it is also Cllr Madge's turn to be Chair of Carmarthenshire Council.

He graced this week's meeting of full council by sharing the sad news that one of his favourite hens had died that morning. It was all the rain, he said, something to do with climate change, he thought.

Still, at least he cares about his vulnerable hens.

It was my observations at council meetings, of the sometimes bizarre and often ignorant comments from some elected members which prompted me to campaign for webcasting and filming. Sometimes I wish I hadn't, I almost feel embarrassed for them sometimes...

The Chair of the Council is a position which is supposed to command respect. It is not a political role, unlike the Leader, and the Chair spends his or her year visiting school events, 100th birthdays, a charity bash or two, and generally being ferried around in a chauffeur driven car, fully chained, being the 'Face of the Council'.

You would think that it would be sensible to ensure that the Chair has some sort of ability for the role and is selected, and, more importantly, elected, by the full council. Unfortunately this isn't the case. Each political group takes it in turns each to propose the Chair, and the Vice Chair, with a superfluous show of hands. The latter, as night follows day, always becomes Chair the following year.

Ability for the role doesn't come into it, some are better than others but this is simply by chance rather than design, as is so apparent in this instance. This particular idiot saw the honour as the pinnacle of his political career. Probably a bit higher up the greasy pole than his lengthy and catastrophic involvement in Mark James' unlawful payments fiasco mind you.
As the then Labour Leader of the Council, it was an unedifying spectacle watching Madge try and justify Mr James' tax avoidance scam, let alone the plundering of public cash to sue, which he endorsed.

Kevin Madge 2014
In all seriousness there are several flaws with this archaic arrangement. For one, an unaffiliated independent councillor (not part of the 'Independent Group') would never become Chair, however adept they might be.

Secondly, it is seen as a reward for good behaviour. Councillors from any group who choose to rock the County Hall boat are unlikely ever to be sporting the polished Chains of Office.

Thirdly, it gives the chief executive full control over full council meetings, prompting and 'advising' the chair to such a degree you can almost see the former's hand moving the latter's mouth. A particular problem when the chief executive happens to be a psychotic control freak.

This was painfully evident of course during the tenure of the former chief executive. A read back through the council reports on this blog will highlight some fine examples. Painful might also be the operative word and it is said that one former Chair recalled Mr James kicking her shins when a more outspoken councillor had the floor, and patting her leg when she had successfully silenced the dissenting voice to his satisfaction.

Not sure if the male Chairs enjoyed such attention, or whether new CEO Wendy Walters deploys the same tactic on the legs of Kevin Madge...

As we are now in the 21st century and the council is supposed to be at the cutting edge of modern democracy is it now time to end this merry-go-round of musical Chairs? Select and elect candidates on ability and merit? Or even scrap the ceremonial role, with it's chauffeur driven trips to Civic Teas and Services the length and breadth of Wales, completely?

WalesOnline; Councillor apologises after calling care home kids 'not normal' 

Friday, 7 February 2020

Wellness scandal - Swansea University statement - sticking to its guns

Swansea University have released a little more detail and background to the sackings and disciplinary proceedings relating to the Wellness village/Kuwait scandal.

As the police investigation into alleged bribery and corruption is ongoing, and employment tribunals are on the horizon there is still little flesh on the bones. However, despite the continued denials by some of those involved, the university remains steadfast in its position and no doubt the full story will emerge eventually.

As for the police investigation, the regional organised crime squad, Tarian, have issued the following statement via South Wales Police;
"Eight people have been interviewed as suspects, all of whom remain under investigation. Further enquiries as part of this complex investigation are ongoing. Extensive examination of a significant number of seized documents and electronic equipment also continues."

You will recall that documents and electronic equipment were not just seized from the university staff, and a certain address in Kent, but also from the homes of former CEO Mark James and former council leader Meryl Gravell, and from the server room at County Hall.

Here's the University's statement, from a report by WalesOnline;

"As there have previously been inaccurate reports regarding these serious matters, the university is issuing this brief statement.

"In September 2018, the university investigated a payment that had been made to Raymond Ciborowski (the university’s former registrar) upon the termination of his employment.

"This investigation found that the agreement governing the termination of Raymond Ciborowski’s employment as registrar contained irregular and inappropriate provisions.

"After these findings were presented to Raymond Ciborowski on 27 September 2018, he resigned from his part-time position with the University as a special adviser.

"Following his resignation, further evidence was discovered that indicated Raymond Ciborowski and other employees of the university had significant undeclared interests and stood to make financial gains in a personal capacity from the university’s participation in commercial projects with which they were involved as university employees.

"These gains included salaries from future appointments and equity potentially worth millions of pounds. The evidence suggested that there were material and serious interests that should have been declared under the university’s policies and procedures.

"As a result of these discoveries, the university informed its auditors and instructed expert external legal advisers to carry out an investigation.

"A leading employment law barrister, with no previous connection to the university, was appointed as investigation manager to conduct a disciplinary investigation.

"Following a thorough investigation, which included multiple interviews with the suspended individuals and the review of a substantial number of documents, the investigation manager delivered a report to the university in May 2019 recommending that there was evidence of gross misconduct."

To add a little more background, an earlier WalesOnline article, dated January 2019 (and covered on this blog) reported that Mr Ciborowski had been offered employment, discounted homes and shares by Kent-based Mr Franz Dickmann. This allegation of, shall we say, inducements, appears to have been made by the now sacked vice-chancellor Richard Davies in a 'leaked' grievance letter.

Obviously, my interest in all this, and the extensive coverage on this blog over the past few years, centres around the involvement in this scandal of former CEO Mark James, or should I say his curious determination to appoint the Dickmann clan. Also of interest is the involvement of the leadership of the Council, and not forgetting the role of the council's notorious legal department led by Linda Rees Jones.

She was stripped of the role of City Deal Monitoring Officer following the damning internal audit last year and of course Mark James hastily retired just as the s**t was beginning to hit the fan. The position of City Deal Lead was subsequently deleted, a convenient and cheaper alternative than sacking him. Carmarthenshire, unsurprisingly, lost the audit and democratic responsibility within the City Deal.
It remains to be seen who else at the council knew more than they've been letting on.

Prior to his retirement Mr James had, without a shred of conscience nor a whisper of a declaration of interest, brought in his own personal solicitors Acuity Law to give the council a 'clean bill of health' over the tender process for the Wellness Village. Everything that had been, shall we say, shady, was, of course perfectly fine, just a little, erm, 'unusual'.
A FOI response last November revealed that their advice over the initial procurement cast further doubt on their claim to have been 'independent'.
However, Mr James' true motive in commissioning Acuity Law was to give himself a pre-emptive defence.

Also prior to his departure was the damning letter from the former City Deal colleague and Chair of the Swansea Bay Health Board, Andrew Davies who accused Mark James of having flagrant disregard to any of the seven Nolan Principles of public life and being, in so many words, a compulsive liar. Though I have to say this wasn't a revelation for many of us...
Mark James's career ended with a flurry of legal threats which, it seems, came to nothing as he'd have had to pay for it out of his own pocket this time, rather than yours.

One of the key characters in this fiasco, along with Mark and Marc, was Franz Dickmann.
It was Dickmann's company, Kent Neurosciences who landed the council's initial, behind-closed-doors 'exclusivity agreement' to develop the Wellness village, clearly on the recommendation, instruction and insistence of Mark James and Marc Clement. This was despite the company having no track record other than the development of a private hospital in Kent which, before the Dickmann's scarpered, required a £20m bail-out.

Kent Neurosciences went pop within a year with a deficit of £128k and the 'agreement' wasn't renewed. However, after an 'robust and extensive' tendering exercise to find a new developer, lo and behold, Sterling Health were appointed, who, surprise surprise, consisted of the Dickmann clan again, this time with Meryl Gravell on the Board.

They were the only bidder and, at the time, were £137k in the red. Not only were they going to develop the site, apparently, but family members in the various companies were lined up to run other aspects of the project, including the management consultancy (Dickmann Jnr) and a private creche.

What was, and remains interesting, was the determination by Mark James to appoint Franz Dickmann's and his companies (all now dissolved) in this key role, not once but twice, despite the obvious lack of evidence that they could deliver. Almost as if he didn't care about that bit, and indeed, some senior council officers were beginning to doubt the viability of Sterling before the University, inconveniently for Mr James, exposed the allegations currently being investigated.

Early last year Mr Dickmann popped up in yet another murky scandal along with our Mr James and his friends at the Uni with the revelations over the proposed private hospital in Kuwait, (see Mark of Arabia here - worth a read for even more background). To keep it all in the family, Mr James had been made a trustee, something he failed to register in his official declaration of interests. Rather like his business empire in Cardiff.
The Kuwait venture was subsequently referred to the authorities, by the University, as part of this whole investigation.

The full details will hopefully emerge in the weeks and months to come, whatever the outcome of the complex police investigation.

L to R; Mrs Dickmann, Mark James, ex V-C Richard Davies,
Emlyn Dole, Franz Dickmann, Marc Clement

PS. Nearly forgot to add that the Rev Dole will be jetting off in March for a four day jolly to the annual MIPIM property show in Cannes. Swansea Council leader Rob Stewart and various City Deal high-rollers are also destined for the French Riviera with the City Deal budget coughing up £10,000.
However, Emlyn's hotel and flights will be paid for by the long suffering taxpayers of Carmarthenshire.
And given this splendid account of the event from a few years back, the Wellness scandal and the ongoing police investigation might just fit right in!

PPS Apparently the MIPIM beano has been postponed due to the coronavirus thing, such a shame Emlyn won't be going just yet...

Aside from the links in this post there is extensive background information on all this, the City Deal and the wellness scandal on this blog, if you wish to search.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Rotten Boroughs Awards 2019 - Order of the Brown Nose!

Despite his timely and hurried retirement it is pleasing to see that Mark James once again graces the pages of Private Eye. 
The eagerly awaited Rotten Boroughs New Year Honours in the latest edition gives the prestigious Order of the Brown Nose to former council press officer Ron Cant for his oozing tribute to the 'visionary man of steel'...

Private Eye issue 1513, Jan 2020

This potential nomination for Mr Cant first emerged back in April and was posted on this blog, along with a handy list of the numerous accolades and Honours bestowed on Mr James and his rotten borough by the Eye over recent years.

Another contender for the OBN Honour was surely Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole whose obsequious, fawning tribute to the retiring chief executive in May surpassed even Mr Cant's efforts to elevate Mr James to sainthood. Observers of that council meeting, who managed to hold back the nausea, even detected tears in the Reverend Dole's eyes...
The Herald's columnist Cadno was one of those observers...

Surpassing both, of course, was Mr James own extraordinary tribute to himself; a speech resplendent in grotesque self-praise, narcissism and toe-curling conceit, which ended with an attack on the press and those pesky bloggers. It was an attack to which I replied...

I had already posted my own tribute to Mr James when he announced his retirement back in January...and again in April...a little more accurate than Mr Cant's version...

Meanwhile, as the Eye reminds us, we await the outcome of the police investigation, and whatever the future might hold for the Shit of the Year 2016...

Monday, 30 December 2019

Libel indemnities - Auditor General says NO, again!

As readers will know, the Wales Audit Office, and the Auditor General have said NO! to libel indemnities numerous times. The first occasion being the 2014 Public Interest Report ruling the bankrolling of Mark James counterclaim for libel against me by the unsuspecting taxpayer as unlawful.

After another comprehensive rejection in May 2019, the AG's final response (in full below), a few weeks ago, should be the nail in the coffin.

Here's some background;
The 2014 public report led to the clause in the council's constitution allowing such unlawful funding being suspended, but it was not removed.

The prohibition of these libel indemnities was made crystal clear in the Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006. (3) being the relevant part;

Click to enlarge

Since 2014 various failed attempts to overturn the ruling have been made by Mark James and Linda Rees Jones and whichever puppet leader was in place at the time. Since June 2015 that's been Plaid Cymru's Emlyn Dole. At least one attempt was made to question the qualifications of the then Appointed Auditor to make such a ruling.

The latest round of this saga has been the astonishing attempt by James, Rees-Jones and Dole to reinstate the clause and to extend it to cover councillors. They are, in essence, proposing to expose the taxpayers to massive financial risk, the exorbitant cost of a Judicial Review and sustain the chilling effect on democracy.

This came about at a meeting of the Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) back in July 2018. Plaid Cymru (by now they were three years into their deal with the devil...) were very keen to reinstate the clause and, of course, clear the names of Mark and Legal Linda. It was decided however, and before they did anything rash, that they better seek the opinion of the Auditor General, Adrian Crompton.

Anyhow, nothing moves very quickly in local government, so six months later Linda Rees Jones wrote a lengthy begging letter to the AG, this letter was disclosed to me by the Wales Audit Office.

In May of this year, after seeking external legal advice, the AG replied, soundly rejecting the arguments put forward by Rees-Jones and warning them of his powers to launch judicial review.
That letter can be seen in full here.

Instead of taking the AG's response back to elected members, as promised, Ms Rees-Jones under the instruction of the then employed Mark James, wrote back to the AG in a last ditch attempt to change his mind. This time she added a veiled threat to go back to the Welsh Government with a view to override his opinion. That letter can be seen here.

To bring us bang up to date, the AG responded on the 29th November.

It was another shattering rejection, and this latest letter, disclosed by the Auditor General under FOI, can be read in full here;

click to enlarge
Without going into the finer legal points (all of which are on this blog, here there and everywhere), the AG has succinctly rejected their entire argument, and on multiple occasions.

It now remains to be seen if Ms Rees Jones will admit liability and allow councillors to remove the clause completely or will she carry out her threat (along with Mark James, lurking somewhere) and try and appeal to the Welsh Government to save their skins. At continuing great expense of course.

Interestingly, the AG has also taken the time to have a look at the 2014 Minister's letter referred to by Rees Jones. At the time, many observers, and significantly the Plaid opposition councillors, were amazed by Mark and Linda's deliberately twisted interpretation of the letter. A child could see through it. 
Far from giving them free rein to carry on suing with public money, as the two of them claimed, it did nothing of the sort. The First Minister had confirmed the Welsh Government's stance that the indemnity was unlawful the day before the meeting.

Surely this latest confirmation from the Auditor General marks the end of the road for Carmarthenshire Council and its unique and illegal approach to libel indemnities.

And incidentally, you'll note that Chris Moore, the council's chief finance officer is also a signatory in the correspondence. Under the illegal indemnity clause he also has the delegated power to instigate libel proceedings. However, wearing his finance hat, he has just recommended £5.2m of cuts to services next year and a 4.89% increase in council tax. But, well, I suppose you've got to find some way of funding slush funds, they don't come cheap...

Ms Rees Jones, and indeed Mark James must admit defeat and accept liability for deliberately misleading councillors, the public, and the High Court. They have both lied and cheated the taxpayer, and James' behaviour has been fraudulent, dishonest malicious and criminal. He has not repaid the illegal indemnity nor, for that matter his unlawful tax avoidance payments. Nor has he been held to account. 
Not yet anyway...

Rees-Jones legal advice in general must be called into question as a large proportion of it has been for the sole purpose of covering-up for the misdemeanours of Mr James. From defending his very own slush fund to undeclared interests and lying to his employers. Had she had a shred of honesty, self-respect or professionalism Mr James may not have got away with his shameful, vindictive and illegal behaviour. 
That's without the fact that he managed, almost single-handed, to destabilise and all but destroy the Swansea Bay City Deal. See, for instance, this post from June. 
We still await the outcome of that criminal investigation.
They both should have been sacked years ago. 

As for the Reverend Emlyn Dole, he should resign, hang his head in shame and crawl back to his chapel and beg for forgiveness. As I said earlier this month, the rotten legacy left by Mark James is nothing for Plaid Cymru to be proud of.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Wellness scandal - bribery investigation - four suspects questioned by police

The organised crime squad Tarian, have said, in a statement issued today, that four people have been questioned as suspects in relation to the alleged bribery investigation over the proposed Wellness Village in Llanelli.

This is the police statement;

"Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for southern Wales, is continuing to investigate alleged offences following a complaint by Swansea University in respect of the Llanelli Wellbeing and Life Sciences Village.

"Four people have been interviewed as suspects, all of whom remain under investigation. Further enquiries as part of this complex investigation are ongoing.

"Extensive examination of a significant number of documents and electronic equipment, which were seized earlier this year, also continues."

You will recall that eight addresses were raided by the police at the end of July.

Those addresses included the homes of former CEO Mark James and Meryl Gravell.
County Hall was also raided.

The other addresses were almost certainly those individuals sacked from Swansea University, and the former director of the Council's private 'partner' Sterling Health in Kent.

The investigation relates to alleged bribery and corruption over the tender process for the Wellness Village.

As detailed on this blog, Mark James led and oversaw that very same tender process, which not only involved Sterling but it's previous incarnation as Kent Neurosciences.

The identities of the four suspects who have been questioned so far have not been released. However, as the statement says, the investigation is far from over.

WalesOnline report here

Please search this blog for all the background to the Wellness scandal. Any further updates will appear on this blog.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Plaid Cymru, and the rotten legacy of Mark James

My last post included a published comment warning former CEO Mark James that just because it's quiet, it doesn't mean there isn't a train coming. Quite correct, there will be a train coming, regardless of the outcome of the current police investigation. (Brief update on that here)
If necessary, I'll be driving it.

Mark James spent seventeen years at the council and ran it with all the charm of a psychopath, he was no better in Boston where he allegedly tampered with legal documents, lied under oath and bullied staff. In Carmarthenshire he bullied and threatened any staff, councillors, whistleblowers or members of the public who dared challenge his word. He granted favours and promotion to those who flattered his ego. He used council facilities, including the notoriously incompetent and unscrupulous legal department for his own personal vendettas and shady business deals.

He used the police and courts as a weapon to get his own way and to bully and silence critics. He helped out his 'friends' and acted fraudulently, with the full support of the monitoring officer and whichever puppet administration he'd put in 'power'.

The puppet administrations are to blame for allowing this regime to continue for so long. And to have caused so much damage. It was the idiotic Labour/Independent executive board which bankrolled his illegally funded counterclaim. Kevin Madge, the former Labour leader who rubber stamped the decision, with Mark James leaning over his shoulder, cut a pathetic figure attempting to defend the latter throughout the WAO findings, Madge is now Chair of the Council. This is how loyalty is rewarded in Carmarthenshire.
It remains to be seen what the outcome of the police raid on former leader Meryl Gravell will be.

As for the counterclaim, the 'indemnity' was indeed a slush fund, and 'Pinocchio' has always been a very accurate description. Not least of all the whopping lie about paying damages back to the council. He's pocketing the lot.
If I fail to pay Mark James his monthly 'gutter' money, for evermore apparently, he will sell my home, "without further notice".

Plaid Cymru, in opposition, were vocal in their criticism of the regime, and not just regarding the libel case but everything from bizarre planning decisions to cover-ups in social care, and so there was some hope that they would start serving out some justice when they came to 'power' in 2015. Quite the opposite happened and Emlyn and co were taken into the fold. In a deal for the position as leader, Emlyn 'two barns' Dole bowed to Mark James and reneged on his previous opinion that the indemnity had been unlawful.

With the scene set by Labour, Plaid just carried on with the farce. And still do.

One of his first steps as leader was to place a crippling legal charge on my home for hundreds of thousands of pounds for legal costs. A vindictive decision straight from the mouth of Mark James. A sum I will never be able to pay, and a charge which the judge was reluctant to order. Mark James' own charge on my home, from the unlawfully funded counterclaim, is tens of thousands of pounds.

Plaid Cymru are now, under the guidance of monitoring officer, Linda Rees Jones (and Mark James, this latest attempt started a year before he retired) are now trying their best to change the mind of the Auditor General and reinstate the ability to sue the public with taxpayers' money, and extend it to themselves.

It's scandalous.

As former county councillor Sian Caiach points out in her latest blog post, this is a Plaid Cymru policy they're keeping quiet about.

Throughout all this, Plaid politicians Adam Price AM and Jonathan Edwards MP appear to have recognised the blindingly obvious injustices and, in particular, the arrogance and failures of Mark James. They continue to state their opposition to illegal libel indemnities. They called for Mark James to repay his ill-gotten gains some years ago, this was ignored by Labour at the time. I myself asked Emlyn Dole if he would honour his colleagues request and demand repayment before Mark James retired, he refused to even consider asking him.

Despite their apparent sincerity the Plaid politicians outside the council appear to be powerless to influence their colleagues leading Carmarthenshire. Whether this is by fault or design isn't clear. One assumes they prefer not to rock Plaid's Carmarthenshire boat, or is there a complete disconnect between the external politicians and the merry bunch 'running' the council...not that Emlyn seems particularly merry these days.
The Welsh Labour government have failed to hold this rogue council to account and positively intervene over the many issues which have arisen over the years. At the moment it doesn't look like Plaid Cymru would do any better. Promoting a Welsh justice system, with full human rights implications, needs to start with eliminating injustice in this corner of Wales.

The 'legal adviser' to councillors has, for some years, been Linda Rees Jones, instructed, totally, by Mark James. She owes her permanent position as monitoring officer to Mark James himself who bypassed the proper appointment process in a cosy arrangement and a reward for her unswerving loyalty to covering up his illegal and immoral behaviour. Her legal department was famously described as cavalier and incompetent but it's worse than that, she has deliberately mislead councillors to protect Mark James and herself, and to line his pockets.

Whilst these issues, and others, continue to fester in the corridors of County Hall no amount of gloss and spin can eradicate the foul taste. It won't go away. Any councillors with even a vague sense of justice and empathy will take the bull by the horns themselves, along with MPs and AMs and realise that the continuing rotting legacy of Mark James, and his monitoring officer, needs to be halted once and for all.
He will not get away with it.

They need to right the past wrongs, now, reject the misleading advice, and run the council with that justice, fairness and empathy they pray earnestly for, very publicly, each month.


In Wellness scandal news, in true Carmarthenshire council style, not only have they spent a fortune covering their legal backs with Acuity Law but have employed the services of a large PR company to try and put lipstick on the proverbial pig. Heavenly Group Ltd have been commissioned to 'rebrand' the scandal ridden sauna-by-the-swamp.
With undoubtedly 'difficult' budget cuts fast approaching, I have asked just how much has been spent with Heavenly Ltd.
Response due at the end of the month.

For extensive background to the Wellness Village, City Deal, investigations, etc, please search this blog using the searchbox on the right

Sunday, 10 November 2019

The Council and that 'independent' Acuity Law report...continued

Acuity Law, readers will recall, were the law firm which carried out the council's 'independent' review of procurement and governance around the Wellness Village. Their report, which was published in February 2019, was commissioned by the council to give themselves, and more particularly the then chief executive Mark James a 'clean bill of health,' and in fact it was mysteriously leaked to the Western Mail (I'll give you three guesses who was responsible for that).
I wrote about the report here.

It was trumpeted by the council as a wholly 'independent legal review' which 'assessed robustness and compliance around the procurement and governance processes.'

However, the 'independence' of the review was soon questioned given that Acuity Law also represent Mr James on a personal basis, and had done since January 2017.
Acuity Law then made legal threats for defamation against certain 'elected members'.

The governments' Actica review and the damning internal audit review then laid bare the dire state of governance under the leadership of Mark James. This was accompanied by the scathing and entirely accurate letter, directly attacking Mr James' honesty and integrity, from the then Chair of the ABMU health board.

After a flurry of County Hall legal threats, Carmarthenshire was then stripped of the responsibility of democratic governance and audit. Mark James was, it turned out, hurriedly retiring, and Legal Linda was no longer the City Deal monitoring officer.

Along side all this is the bribery and corruption investigations into the Wellness tender with the sackings at Swansea University, the Kuwait scandal and the raids on eight properties on the 31st July by the organised crime squad. Including Mr James' home.

The criminal investigation is still ongoing.

Anyway, as per my previous post, after yet another lengthy wrangle a recent FOI response has revealed another reason to challenge the 'independence' of the Acuity Legal report.

The February 2019 report not only suggests that their involvement was relatively recent, ie late 2018, but also stated;

"Acuity did not advise on the procurement process or on the preparation of the Collaboration Agreement which form the bulk of the subject matter of the review" (my emphasis)

However, an invoice disclosed in the response dates from early 2017 and lists the work undertaken by Acuity for the council.

It includes (my emphasis);

Preparation of a note on procurement timescales;
Preparation of email for discussion regarding procurement;
Reviewing and commenting on a procurement update;
Further email advice on procurement issues, timescales and prior information notices.
Review of background information including the Kent Neurosciences lockout agreement.

Further to this, this particular invoice they either met with, or telephone conferenced, senior council officers seven times, on the 20th, 24th and 31st January 2017 and the 3rd, 7th, 18th and 27th February 2017.
By a remarkable coincidence, the 20th January was the exact same date Acuity Law started representing Mark James against me to force the sale of my home. Hopefully the council didn't muddle up any invoices...

It could certainly be argued that the phrase 'did not advise on the procurement process' is open to interpretation but for the council to claim that this was an 'independent' review is stretching the truth, that's my interpretation anyway.
As I've said before, in my view the report was commissioned by Mr James to provide him with a potential pre-emptive criminal defence. He knew what was coming.
It reminds me of another example of 'independent' legal advice which was the 'independent' advice to the Exec Board in 2012 to unlawfully indemnify Mark James, that happened to come from the council funded lawyer representing Mr James in the libel case.
He has form.

Full response to the Acuity Law FOI here.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

A quick update - I'm still here!

After being contacted by numerous people wondering if I'd given up writing the blog I thought I'd better add a quick update and confirm that no, I haven't. The brief lull is due to the highly significant matter of the search warrants executed by the organised crime squad on the 31st July, which included, amongst others, the home of Mark James, recently retired chief executive of Carmarthenshire council.
I am waiting for developments regarding this criminal investigation, and rest assured I will comment in full as soon as I can, whatever the outcome.

Meanwhile, various rumours relating to the investigation are circulating locally, but nothing, so far, has been confirmed by the police, despite my requests for an update.

In fact, no one is saying much about anything. A recent FOI to the council asking what exactly they'd spent £65,000 on with Acuity Law in the first six months of this year (and whatever they spent last year), has yet to be answered.

Despite sending polite chasers, the response is now three weeks late. Acuity Law, you will recall, were the lawyers appointed by Mark James to carry out an 'independent' review of the council's tendering process over the Wellness village, they also happen to be Mark James' personal solicitors.... Essentially they provided him with a publicly funded defence, as it was looking like he might be needing one...

In libel indemnity news, I asked the Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones when, or if, elected members had discussed the letter from the Auditor General for Wales received back in May.

The Auditor General's letter was a sound rejection of Legal Linda's lengthy plea, sent on behalf of Mark James, to reinstate his notorious and unlawful libel clause; to use taxpayers' money to sue the public for defamation. A slush fund if you will. The Auditor General also warned her of his powers to launch a Judicial challenge.

She replied to me last week. No, she said, elected members couldn't discuss it as she was still sending begging letters ("still in dialogue" was the official wording) to the Auditor General to try and change his mind. All quite remarkable. Clearly no councillors are going to get a look-in until he's been swayed.

Whatever else, it shows scant disregard that the council is supposed to be a democratic body, and rides roughshod over the right for elected members to discuss such a significant statement from the head of the independent national audit body for Wales; whether she, and the former chief executive like it or not. It's outrageous.

This is the latest attempt, over the past five years, to change the mind of the Wales Audit Office. From 2015 of course, Mark James and legal Linda have also had the backing of Plaid Cymru's Emlyn Dole, the price he paid for leadership. The Rev Dole also wants to extend the unlawful indemnity to himself and fellow councillors.

Either he, legal Linda and the chief finance officer think that the potential risk of massive losses to the taxpayer, and the threat of Judicial challenge is a great idea. After all, silencing dissent is a much higher priority than a few extra primary school teachers or a social worker or two; Or, Linda and Emlyn are still concerned with protecting the back of a very dodgy, dishonest and disreputable former chief executive and his unlawful payments, and indeed Linda herself with her history of profoundly misleading 'advice' on this matter, and plenty of other matters too.

I have also written to the new chief executive, Wendy Walters asking for her own opinion on the libel indemnity. Maybe, I thought, she has a different view to that of her predecessor. She might have thought it anti-democratic, chilling, illegal, imprudent or immoral, even with her sixteen years at County Hall.
Sadly, three weeks later I've yet to receive an acknowledgement, let alone a reply. Unless she chooses to respond soon I must assume the worst and realise that there's no new broom.

Update 15th October; Ms Walters finally replied yesterday and refused to condemn the indemnity as unlawful and has also ignored the strong words from the Auditor General. However, it is interesting that she considers it a matter for politicians, a message she might wish to pass on to Linda Rees Jones;

"In relation to the matter you raise. I don’t  propose to air any views on this type of indemnity as I regard it as being a matter for the politicians. I am aware there is an on-going debate which will come back to the Constitutional Review Working Group in due course where Members will be able to discuss in full."

It was, of course, discussed in full over five years ago and found to be illegal, at which point both Mark James and legal Linda should have been unceremoniously booted out of office.

But back to the criminal investigation and I hope that the eventual outcome is locked doors and keys throw away. But whatever happens I will, with regards to my own case and the continuing crippling financial nightmare, step up the fight for justice and ensure those responsible, retired or not, are held to account.
I'll do whatever it takes.

Watch this space.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Mark James' home searched in police raid

Carmarthenshire is a large county, but when it comes to news that the police have raided certain addresses in a bribery investigation it becomes remarkably small. By midweek it seemed that the details were countywide.

Anyway, we now know that a search warrant was executed at the Carmarthen home of former council chief executive Mark James early last Wednesday (31st July) by the organised crime squad. 

Mark James - police raid

County Hall, Carmarthen, was raided at the same time. 

A search warrant was also executed at the home of another key figure in the scandal, former Council leader Meryl Gravell

Meryl Gravell - police raid

The searches were part of the investigation into alleged bribery and corruption relating to the proposed Wellness Village at Delta Lakes, Llanelli.

As the police have stated, search warrants were also executed in Swansea and Kent, and they also confirmed that no arrests were made last week. Followers of this blog will be well aware of the Kent connection.

However, documents, computer equipment and, in the case of County Hall, email trails and deleted data were seized.

And not before time, in my opinion.

As regular readers will know, I have tried to unravel the tangled web behind the Wellness scandal for over three years and have set out the facts as I've found them. 

It's all on this blog.

This investigation concerns a public tender, public money and public officials, past and present, therefore, the public have a vested interest and a right to know.

I welcome what is, I hope, a thorough investigation and I'm sure we all await the outcome with interest and anticipation...

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Wellness scandal - Mark James back in Private Eye

Further to my previous post on the University sackings, Mark James, and the police raids, here's the Rotten Boroughs column in this week's Private Eye....top of the bill no less...

As usual, for more info and background to the Wellness scandal, and for Mr James' numerous previous appearances in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column, please search this blog.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Libel indemnities? Auditor General says NO!

Meanwhile, whilst I continue to make my own enquiries and we await more news on Mr James, the police and the unfolding Wellness scandal, another long running scandal has taken an interesting turn.

Regular readers will know what I mean by the unlawful libel indemnity clause. Without going into years of detail, it was Mark James' little plan to to sue people into silence and chill the press, not with his own money though, but with your hard earned cash.

The Wales Audit Office ruled the clause, and the public funding of his counterclaim against me, unlawful in the 2014 Public Interest Report and the clause was 'suspended' but, as you may imagine, the council, namely Mark James and Linda Rees Jones have disagreed with this ever since. Mark James never repaid the money.

The unlawfulness of the clause, and it's use in 2012, has grave implications for Mr James and Ms Rees Jones so they have blindly defended their actions ever since. To have imparted misleading advice, and to gain financially and personally from it, is, arguably, fraud.

You will recall that most of Mr James' counterclaim involved my description of this clause (several months before he sued) as a slush fund. That was before the WAO's ruling.
You may also recall that his written undertaking to pay damages over to the council turned out to be a lie. He ignored political calls to 'do the honourable thing'.

The ban on funding libel claims is enshrined in The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006.

Emlyn Dole, once a vociferous opponent of the clause when in opposition, had a miraculous change of heart when Mr James made him Leader in 2015....

As I said above, the clause was 'suspended' in 2014 but at a meeting of the Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) held on 27th July 2018 an attempt was made by the leader of the Labour group to remove it completely.

At the meeting, quite the reverse happened and the majority Plaid Cymru group, led by Emlyn Dole, with Mr James right behind him, tried to reinstate the offending clause into the constitution.

It was resolved, however, to write to the WAO for their opinion and hope for the rubber stamp.

Incidentally, when the substance of this secretive CRWG meeting was made public (though not the documents), Mark James Emlyn Dole punished the opposition by denying them access to 'sensitive' documents. Including documents relating to the Wellness scandal...

Seven months later (no idea why there was such a delay), on the 28th March 2019, a six page begging letter was sent to the Auditor General from Linda Rees Jones and Chris Moore (Director of Resources) trying to persuade the WAO to change their minds, allow them to reinstate the clause and sue people whenever they wished.
There were no 'new' arguments in the letter.
Mark James of course had a direct interest so left it to trusty Linda to sign his letter...

As you may imagine, I've been trying to get all this information, the Officer's Report to CRWG, Minutes and letters, through FOI, for twelve long months.

The considered response from the Auditor General to the council's letter, which was disclosed to me last week by the WAO, was dated the 10th May and is short and sweet.

He basically tells them to sod off, and goes one step further, warning them that if they attempt to try it again, he has the power to launch a Judicial Review..

This must have been a bit of a blow to Mr James, who had yet to retire, and Legal Linda, let alone poor Emlyn who was even hoping to extend the 'libel on the rates' wheeze to himself and fellow councillors.

It has to be said that Plaid politicians Adam Price and Jonathan Edwards MP have expressed a different view to that of their litigious colleagues in County Hall. Let's hope they now have a word with them?

The AG's letter also must have dashed Mark James' hopes of dipping into the meagre council coffers and sue not only the Chair of the health board but the Herald as well. We hope so anyway.

So, what will they do now?

At another CRWG meeting on the 8th May, just before the AG responded, an opposition councillor suggested (again) that the clause be removed completely, and that they should not even bother to wait for the AG's reply as it was felt that the Authority, even on moral grounds "should not support legal action by officers against members of the public at the expense of the taxpayer".

Emlyn and co again opposed this move and insisted they wait for the Auditor General, hoping he'd pave the way for reinstatement.

Legal Linda jumped in and told them, again that it was all perfectly lawful and that the council could still fund an officer even with the clause suspended...This was a remarkable statement, she is some piece of work and should have been sacked long ago, along with Mr James. This is governance, Carmarthenshire style.

With the clear rejection from the Auditor General, again, let's hope Wendy Walters, the new CEO, expresses support for it's removal forthwith. If she doesn't, she's as bad as her predecessor.

See also this week's Carmarthenshire Herald for an excellent article on the WAO's response. "...In a letter dated May 10, the Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton, effectively tells the Council to go do one."

Wider significance

County Councils currently have the power, under certain conditions, to fund an officer's defence against an action for libel, but not to bring an action. An individual officer can of course sue who he or she likes with their own money.

Councils cannot, under the Derbyshire Rule, sue as a body.

The ban on indemnities arose due to concerns that a governing body could get around this rule by funding an individual to take a case forward. However, the main concern was that this power would stifle legitimate, robust, democratic debate and have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.

Neither is it considered to be a sensible and prudent use of scarce council resources.

Hence there is wider public interest, and the significance of Carmarthenshire's actions had, and still have, implications for councils across the UK.

Later post December 2019; Libel indemnities - Auditor general say NO! again 

Friday, 26 July 2019

Wellness scandal; University pair sacked for gross misconduct - updated - Police raids

Later post 10th August;

Mark James' home raided by police 

Update 1st August; 

Police have confirmed this morning that their bribery and fraud investigation centres around the tendering process carried out in respect of the proposed Wellness Village. No real surprise.

So there we are. With the locations of the raids being in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent it it all fell together, and we all know which former CEO was behind that tendering process...if you could call it that (see main post below).

The police will not yet confirm which addresses have been raided, but we know that three of them were in Carmarthenshire...

Update 31st July;

Wales Online reports that police officers from Tarian, the regional organised crime unit, have searched eight addresses this morning in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent in relation to the bribery investigation. Four of the premises searched were in the South Wales Police force area, three were in Dyfed-Powys and one was in Kent. They've issued this statement;

"Officers from Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for southern Wales, have this morning executed a number of warrants as part of investigation into alleged bribery offences.

"Seven addresses in Swansea, Carmarthenshire, and Kent are being searched with the assistance of colleagues from South Wales, Dyfed Powys and Kent police forces.

"The enforcement action was carried out in relation to a complaint made by Swansea University to the Serious Fraud Office in late 2018, which was subsequently referred to police.

"No arrests have been made during the searches, however a number of documents and electronic equipment have been seized.  The investigation is complex and remains ongoing."

I sincerely hope they've been knocking at a certain ex-CEO's door in Wellfield Road, Carmarthen. If not then it should be their very next stop.

* * *

WalesOnline report today that Swansea University's suspended Vice-Chancellor Richard Davies and Prof Marc Clement have both been sacked with immediate effect for gross misconduct. This follows several months of internal investigations relating to the Wellness and Kuwait scandals.

"It is understood that their suspensions were linked to the proposed £200m Life Science and Wellness Village project at Llanelli, the first business case and funding model for which was seeking £40m in backing from the £1.3bn City Deal for the Swansea Bay City Region...

The architects for that project were Prof Clement and Mark James, who last month stood down as chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council.

A further part of the investigation that lead to their suspensions and now dismissals was a proposed £600m joint venture for a new university and private hospital in Kuwait, involving Swansea University.

That project, in which Prof Clement was identified as being vice chancellor of the university element, was never disclosed to the university’s governing body in its council. Prof Richard B Davies and the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council were listed as trustees of the project’s academic board" (Wales Online)

As I said here, the police, and the organised crime squad are also investigating.

As I've said, more than once, the above-mentioned Mark James is also deeply involved. He has lied and blagged his way through this whole sorry scandal.

He oversaw the appointment of Franz Dickmann's Sterling Health, the sole bidder and a company with no track record and £137k in the red, to develop the project. The same outfit he'd already given a secret 'exclusivity agreement' to the year before when they were known as Kent Neurosciences (KNS). Marc Clement had been a director of Kent Neurosciences until a few months before Marky signed them up. As KNS, they had been involved in developing a private hospital in Kent which required a £20m bail out before they scarpered.

L to R; Mrs Dickmann, Mark James, Richard Davies, Emlyn Dole, Franz Dickmann, Marc Clement. Another key player in this scandal from the start was Mark James' number one fan, former council leader Meryl Gravell, who was, curiously, made a director of Sterling until just before they were ditched.

Mark James then becomes involved in the Kuwait scandal as a 'trustee'. This never appeared as a declaration of interest despite the potential involvement of the council. Nor did he ever bother, for that matter, to declare his own extensive property and business interests.

When the s***t began to hit the fan Mark James not only decided to retire but ordered a 'review of the council's procurement process'. And who did he bring in to carry out this little task? A firm of solicitors called Acuity Law who also just happened to be his own personal lawyers. They were, quite simply, providing him with a pre-emptive defence funded by the council.

The City Deal internal governance report was less sympathetic and, thanks to the behaviour of Mark James, Carmarthenshire was stripped of responsibility for governance and audit. The chair of the health board went one further and called him out for what he really was, a compulsive liar without a shred of integrity.

I have been researching and writing about all this for over three years, so as usual, there is plenty of background on the blog if you wish to search. Remember as well that Mr James was also involved in his own tax avoidance scandal, let alone the illegal libel indemnity. Tens of thousands he never paid back. He's used council resources for his own personal interests, and breached a serious undertaking to the council, his employers, over the indemnity, all without a care in the world. When it comes to personal enrichment, he's capable of anything.
He's carried on like this since Boston.

He was, and no doubt still is, a malicious and vindictive bully, a liar, and a thoroughly disreputable character, but for the purposes of the current scandal he should be subject to a full criminal investigation and forensic examination of his affairs. He has been involved from the very beginning.

He can't be sacked or suspended now, he's made sure of that...but he can most definitely be bundled into the back of a police car and hauled off for questioning. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The 'potentially defamatory' letter; Mark James threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald

Back in April, as I reported here, the Chair of the then ABMU Health Board Andrew Davies wrote an explosive letter to the Chair of the City Deal Joint Committee concerning the integrity, or lack thereof, of Mark James CBE.

The contents of the letter was considered, by 'the council', as being 'potentially defamatory', and public noises were made about suing Andrew Davies. In reality of course it was Mr James, the royal 'we', who considered the letter to be 'potentially defamatory' of himself.

As councils cannot sue for defamation, this raised some interesting questions as to who 'we' were and brought us full circle back to the issue of unlawful public funding for an individual officer to bring a claim for libel, or, getting round the rule that a council can't sue.

Last month I asked, through FOI, under whose or what authority the threatening legal statement was issued.

The response, which arrived this morning, discloses one brief email thread (extract below) which confirms, if nothing else, that the threat came directly from the council keyboard of Mark James himself and, furthermore, he also threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald, using the press office to deliver the statement below.

It is perhaps quite fitting that the death throes of the Mark James regime were marked by a direct threat to sue and silence a local newspaper.
The only contact with elected members was that Plaid Cymru council leader Emlyn Dole was cc'd into the emails.

The email thread (which can be seen here in full) was in response to a detailed press enquiry by The Herald, which was also disclosed.
The council claimed in their FOI response to me that this email thread was the only relevant information they held.

Being a little cynical that this was the case, I approached The Herald, who were surprised that the email trail which had been disclosed did not include all of the emails passing between the paper and the Council, which included an offer of a right to reply which was refused and which responded robustly to the suggestion that coverage would be 'potentially defamatory'.

So, the information released under FOI was sparse and incomplete, deliberately so. One sincerely hopes that they didn't consult the now retired Mr James over this disclosure...)

It comes as no surprise of course that the temper tantrum displayed over this letter, and the assumption that the council would, potentially, deploy the slush fund and sue, came straight from Mr James. He was too cross to even bother with a spellcheck.

As for being 'potentially defamatory', this would not be the case as the factual content of the letter was substantially true, Mr James is a liar, and as for his failure to adhere to any of the seven Nolan principles, this was opinion, and, for that matter, spot on.

The council have since been stripped of City Deal governance and audit responsibilities and the police are investigating the Wellness scandal.

The email from Mr James also refers to the letter as 'private correspondence'. This is laughable given that it was from the head of one public body to another relating to public governance and expenditure.

He had a somewhat different attitude towards 'leaks' when 'Emlyn Dole's' response to the letter, and for that matter the sham Acuity Law report found their way to the Western Mail....

This is all from someone who stated in May that he stopped reading and bothering with pesky newspapers some years ago...

The key question, which was who the 'we' was, and the point about his interest being as an individual was never answered.  My own correspondence with Linda Rees Jones about the matter saw her reconfirm her nonsense that to use public money to sue, or threaten to sue was perfectly fine, and as we saw with their attempt to reinstate the illegal libel clause last year, this is a tactic fully endorsed by Emlyn Dole, and presumably the Plaid Cymru group he leads, as well.

Even against a local newspaper.

The 'suspended' clause must now be urgently removed as it is clear that the 'suspension' meant nothing to Mr James, nor Legal Linda, nor the Rev Dole. Neither is it a comforting thought that the new CEO Wendy Walters was a passive bystander in the email thread.
Whether the 'council's' legal threat against the newspaper was carried out or not is not important, it's the chilling effect that counts.