Sunday 24 May 2015

Caerphilly, Carmarthenshire and the unlawful payments

Update 20th October 2015; News reports today confirm that the charges against the three Caerphilly council officials have now been dropped. Might as well get rid of the offence of Misconduct in Public Office and Fraud while they're at it, it doesn't seem to apply in Wales. The charges should never have been dropped and Mark James should have joined them in the dock.


Update 14th July 2015; The Western Mail reports today that the cost of the suspended Caerphilly officers has reached £2.6m)


This blog has followed, for obvious reasons, the unlawful payments scandal which unfolded a couple of years ago in Caerphilly Council. After a damning 2013 Wales Audit Office report and a police investigation, Caerphilly's chief executive, his deputy and the monitoring officer were all charged with Misconduct in Public Office back in January 2014 and bailed.

Some of us have been wondering when the matter would eventually reach trial and it looks like councillors in Caerphilly were wondering the same, particularly as all three senior officers remain suspended on full pay.

Yesterday's Western Mail reports that the trial has been delayed yet again and has now been listed for the 16th November.

What interests us over here in Carmarthenshire of course is the nature of the charges. I have pointed out the similarities before, you could call them parallels. Searching this blog with the word 'Caerphilly' brings up previous posts.

Essentially the three from Caerphilly are charged with 'wilfully' preventing proper scrutiny of a pay rise for senior officers, they;

“wilfully misconducted themselves in relation to securing Caerphilly County Borough Council’s approval of a remuneration package for the said council’s chief officers from which they stood to gain for themselves”. 
“deliberately failed to publish agenda and reports for a meeting of the said Council’s Senior Remuneration Committee in advance of said meeting”. 
“deliberately introduced gratuitous material into one of the reports that was to be considered at said meeting so as to provide an apparent justification for exempting that report from public consideration”. 
“deliberately applying a public interest test notice to the reports that were to be considered at said meeting when none was merited, thereby exempting the reports from public consideration”.

In Carmarthenshire, the circumstances surrounding the unlawful, illegal payments, exposed by the Wales Audit Office last year, were equally shocking, and deliberate. Proper governance was manipulated to avoid the possibility of scrutiny and challenge;

Failing to leave the meeting, or even declaring an interest when directly gaining personally and financially from the decision to approve his libel indemnity. Discussing the report with the 'author' prior to the meeting.

Wording the minutes of a meeting to deliberately mask the true nature of a 'pension arrangement'. The report was authored and presented by a senior officer, the assistant chief executive, with a personal and financial interest in the decision.

Omitting the libel indemnity from the published agenda on the erroneous grounds it was 'urgent' and thereby removing any possibility that it could be questioned.

Failing to publish the pension 'pay supplement' on the executive board agenda, again to avoid scrutiny and challenge.

Misleading the executive board by misrepresenting advice given in a previous legal opinion and so knowingly exposing the authority to the risk of legal challenge and censure.

Insisting that the lawyer representing the chief executive and the council in the libel litigation was a source of 'independent' legal opinion - commissioned to give 'impartial' advice to the executive board.

Misleading the entire council that both the tax avoidance pension scam and libel indemnity were legal when, in principle and and in practice, they were most definitely not. Those involved, particularly the senior officers, knew full well that in both cases the decisions were ultra vires;

So there we are, make of it what you will. I know what I make of it. I can only imagine that the Caerphilly lot must cast occasional envious glances towards Carmarthenshire and wonder how Mark James CBE and Co aren't awaiting trial with them.

My enquiries with Gloucestershire Police who led the criminal investigation in Carmarthenshire revealed, astonishingly, that they had no correspondence with Council, they spoke to no one at County Hall, and there was no involvement at all with the Crown Prosecution Service..

As for the elected members involved in the illegal decision making, Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer, former leader and deputy leader (still) respectively, are still on the Executive Board, only Kevin Madge was eventually consigned to the backbench.

Cllr Sian Caiach, in a letter to this week's Herald remarks on the fact that the Plaid Cymru group called for votes of no confidence in all three last year following the Wales Audit Office reports. As a post script to last week's AGM and the demise of Kevin Madge as leader, she comments;
"...The crocodile tears from other councillors are out of place, especially from Plaid who proposed a vote of no confidence in Kevin last year on these shady payments. The same Plaid motion also condemned leading affiliated Independents Pam Palmer and Meryl Gravell for the same issue. 
Now Plaid is in coalition with these two ladies and their party, their previous wrongdoing appears to be forgiven, everyone in Plaid is now big pals with them. 
Politics is not for the faint hearted. It also encourages a very selective view of recent history..." 
As I have said, this, and many other issues will not go away and whether it upsets their new coalition partners or not, the new Plaid led administration, needs to look back as well as forward, 


Patricia B said...

You can't help but admire Cll. Sian Caiach for her honesty and integrity. I have to say after watching the last council meeting I was left with similar thoughts. Gloucestershire Police should have a rethink on their lack of investigations into Mark James and councillors who supported his taking money that was not his to take. The same man who refuses to pay me the small amount of compensation awarded to me by the Ombudsman. He is a loose cannon and does the reputation of this council a lot of harm.

Anonymous said...

Why are Pam Palmer and Meryl Gravel still on the Executive board.These two ladies are notorious for their total support of Mark James which has enabled him to retain his position as chief executive.No one else likes him or wants him.He must go.

Anonymous said...

Hmm readers, this may be just up Cadnos street ????

Anonymous said...

The only difference appears to be the police response the question is why?

Patricia B said...

If no one is interviewed and no communication has taken place, then there has been no investigation. As I've quoted before, an investigation is 'a systematic formal enquiry into an incident in an attempt to establish the truth'. Taken from a formal police report by Dyfed Powys Police.
Obvious really. Unlawful taking of monies is an incident which warrants an investigation, doesn't matter who it is.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps "catchy catchy Monkey, still has a chance?
Perhaps even police forces need to stand up and be counted?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to trust that Plaid is sensible enough to be aware that not everybody makes good bed fellows.

Redhead said...

Someone needs to investigate Gloucestershire police.

Anonymous said...

Of course Gloucestershire police should be investigated.I have forgotten what was reported of the case at the time but whatever it was the outcome does give rise to suspicion of a cover-up.

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating. Will the Great Unwashed - amongst whom I include myself - be able to attend the hearing?

Anonymous said...

There seems to be no end to the white-washing/cover-up in CCC.Plaid have a responsibility now to end whatever it is that has brought this council into disrepute.