Friday 26 June 2015

Mark James threatens Cllr Bill Thomas

Today's Llanelli Herald reports on an extraordinary email sent by Mr James to County Councillor Bill Thomas who represents Lliedi ward, Llanelli. What seems to have triggered this latest executive outburst is Cllr Thomas' involvement in a complaint brought by a Llanelli resident, a Mr Clive Edwards.

The complaint dates back many years and has been excellently summarised by the Llanelli Herald (see below). Last year a report turned up under FoI, which had recommended the council take the 'honest solution' and admit full liability over defective building works at a property in Felinfoel, Llanelli, which blighted the home of a neighbour.

The report, written in 1996, was then buried by the council for the next eighteen years. Neither Mr Edwards, nor his neighbour were ever told about it. In total, Mr Edwards has been given an appalling run around by the council, in it's various forms, for an astonishing twenty seven years.

As I said, The Herald provides an excellent summary of the case and we can only hope that this matter is now finally resolved for Mr Edwards.

Regular readers will know that, at full council meetings Cllr Thomas regularly brings up subjects which clearly the chief executive doesn't want bought up, most noticeably his concerns over pollution in the Burry Inlet. At the June meeting Cllr Thomas attempted to bring up the case of Mr Edwards but again Mr James urged the Chair to stop him.

Cllr Thomas also featured recently in the Herald's Parc Howard video, questioning the relationship between Loca Ventures Ltd and the county council and he is undoubtedly, like Cllr Caiach, an asker of awkward questions, a precious and rare beast in County Hall and not something which Mr James can tolerate.

Both Councillors have no truck with council spin and remain determined to hold the authority to account, on behalf of their constituents no matter who is running the show or what obstacles are deliberately put in their way.

A couple of years ago Mr James formally restricted Cllr Caiach's access to officers, and therefore information, because she was 'asking too many questions'.

He also reported her to the ombudsman after the press manager eavesdropped on a conversation Cllr Caiach had with the press and reported back to Mr James. The ombudsman threw out his complaint in its entirety. Cllr Caiach has also had her emails tracked and Cllr Thomas believes he was subject to covert surveillance by the authority.

One tactic employed by Mr James is to accuse 'troublesome' councillors of harassing junior staff when he is very well aware that the focus of the questioning relates entirely to himself or other very senior management. This tactic was apparent over the email snooping episode and seems to have resurfaced in his email to Cllr Thomas.

As you can read from the reference to the email in the article below, Mr James is quite clearly out of control. He is making threats and allegations towards an elected member, Cllr Thomas, despite the findings of the Wales Audit Office.

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation is the suggestions that he has a 'file of documents' to support proceedings against Cllr Thomas in the High Court.

Does Mr James make a habit of collecting files of documents on people?  Who else has he compiled a 'file' on? Hasn't he got better things to do for his £180k+ per year?

I am of the opinion that Cllr Thomas has more honesty and integrity in his little finger than Mr James could ever have.

Here's the article published in this week's Llanelli Herald;

Council rejected 'honest solution' 
A Llanelli man has been fighting for answers from Carmarthenshire County Council regarding building work which took place on a neighbour’s property leaving his own home in what has been stated by numerous experts as in a ‘dangerous state’.  
Clive Edwards of Felinfoel Road has been struggling to get answers to questions regarding a number of issues. For 27 years Mr Edwards has sought answers and has been given the run around by council officers. 
Now, The Herald can expose that a report which recommended that the Council hold its hands up and admit its error in a building dispute was concealed from Mr Edwards and the owner of the neighbouring property for eighteen years. 
Setting out the options to resolve the situation, the report’s author, G.A. Stephens, discounts options likely to be unacceptable to the owners of the neighbouring properties and recommends: 
‘The Council admits to the fact that the wall should not have been approved in that condition and offers a contribution towards the cost of demolishing and rebuilding...’ 
Mr Stephens goes on to observe: ‘This is in my opinion the honest solution it may however make the Council liable in allowing the matter to drag on for 8 years and compensation claims could be made against the Council’. 
Instead of acting upon its recommendations, however, the Council buried it and subsequently changed its position in 2002, claiming that Counsel’s advice, in relation to which it claims legal privilege, suggests that the dispute is nothing to do with the Council at all. 
After burying the report, the Council proceeded to fob off the parties. In 2002, when 12 years had elapsed since the defective works had been signed off, the matter reached the Executive Board. 
The Board was presented with legal advice from an external barrister. That advice ignored Mr Stephens’ ‘honest’ solution and any suggestion that the Council make good on the grossly deficient approval given by a building inspector. 
It is apparent from the content of a letter from Council employee Mark James to Nia Griffith MP dated July 10, 2007 that the Council now claimed that regardless of the failings of the building inspector, it rejected civil liability for their incompetence. 
That letter also reveals that a Police investigation was STILL ongoing into the works, the payment of grant money relating to them to a building company, and the circumstances which led to them being signed off as satisfactory. 
It is not clear whether the Executive Board which approved the new line in 2002 was ever made aware of the report prepared by Mr Stephens some six years before. Even if they had been made aware of it – and if they were, the good faith of those members aware of its existence at that time, if any, is open to reasonable doubt – by 2002 the costs of compensating the property owners would have risen far above whatever they were in 1996. 
While it appears bizarre, however, that the Council was prepared to change its position so dramatically, the owners of 41 and 43 Felinfoel Road were deliberately kept in the dark. 
The 1996 report’s existence only emerged after a Freedom of Information Act request made in 2014. Until then, the Council had not informed the parties of the proposal it contained to settle the matter 18 YEARS before the Freedom of Information Act request was made. 
Mr Edwards maintains that the 1996 report, had it been supplied to all concerned, would have enabled the proper course of action to take place. Instead, he says that the Council undertook huge expenditure in defending a position the 1996 report conceded.  
If that was not bad enough, regardless of the content of the 1996 report, in 1991 the Council had acknowledged its error in signing off the works by issuing an enforcement notice against the developer. The enforcement notice failed because the Council had failed to issue it within the time limits set by statute. 
Councillor William Thomas who represents Mr. Edwards as a County Councillor told the Herald, “I inherited this case in 1995 from the MP Denzil Davies. The case was at the time 7 years old. The reports generated by both public and private experts on planning & building regulations that I read at that time clearly identified serious breaches of planning and building regulations under the 1989 Planning Act and 1984 Building Act.” 
Cllr Thomas continued: “The Police recommended prosecution. I have written to two Welsh Assembly Ministers, the Planning Minister and Local Government Minister. The Ministers recommended speaking to the Ombudsman who is involved, however it is an option to request the Llanelli MP to refer this case to the Attorney General.”
 Cllr Thomas’ involvement in the case has resulted in a furious email from Mark James dated June 15, 2015. In that email, Mr James berates Cllr Thomas for his involvement in the case and – in the spirit of the protocol governing officer members relations – goes on to call Cllr Thomas ‘misguided’, claims he has slandered officers, and suggests that he has ‘a file of documents’ to support proceedings in the High Court against Cllr Thomas. 
The email containing those comments, which are themselves capable of being construed as a barely veiled threat of legal action, accuses Cllr Thomas of trying to bully officers. 
In 2014, the Wales Audit Office determined that the Council’s practice of issuing officers with indemnities for libel claims was unlawful. 
Most strikingly, however, it appears as though Mr James is himself completely oblivious to the content of the 1996 report, as he goes on to claim that the dispute is one into which the council should never have been ‘dragged in’. 
Mr. Edwards, who is terminally ill, told us: “All I want from anyone is for this mess to be sorted out once and for all so I can rest in peace and know that my family will not suffer anymore. 
         (The above article from The Llanelli Herald is not yet online)


Cneifiwr said...

Well, well. All the familiar ingredients - accusations that someone has been bullying junior officers, threats and the classic "nothing to do with us, it's just a neighbourhood dispute" gambit.

It must surely be time for an upgrade of that CBE.

Patricia B said...

I have huge sympathy for Mr. Edwards and understand only too well the emotional drain a dispute with CCC takes on one, especially when dealing with cover up and dishonesty for years and years. Mark James is pivotal in my long running dispute with CCC and also tried to claim 'the council shouldn't be dragged into a neighbour dispute' when he knowing only too well it is has been the council who are responsible for all of the problems we have had to endure. It was never a 'neighbour dispute'. We were abused for years by our neighbour, due to CCC s failures. He suffers from 'hubris ' and it is time for an investigation into his conduct for everyone's sake. He finds it impossible to accept any responsibility. Disgraceful conduct toward a member too but predictable.

Anonymous said...

Firstly, many congratulations to the Llanelli Herald for tackling this issue head-on. How I would have loved to see Mark James 's reaction when he read this piece of subversive insubordination.
Secondly, what could be a clearer illustration of a Chief Executive who shows utter contempt for elected members ? And it's the same old story - cover-up, deny, delay, bluster and bully. It's horrendous to read and if Plaid have confidence in his leadership, God help them!

Anonymous said...

Well done The Herald. Brilliant article, and very well constructed. It has made the FACTS very clear. I hope this gives other people the courage to come forward. There are many, many people in this county who will not be 'fobbed off' by jargon.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading the piece in the Herald. The strain that this council has put Mr Edwards and his family under by their actions even before our present CEO was employed is beyond understanding. I admire any Cllr who actually acts in the public interest as Cllr Thomas has done in supporting his constituent. The Herald has reported this in great depth and if Mark James was truly unaware of the whole story before he wrote that threatening letter to Cllr Thomas he will now have to review his stance and start acting on the (new?) information or be accused of willful blindness. So many members of the public have suffered because of this council's failure to follow policies and procedures, it's inability to put right it's mistakes or even admit to them. It is time the failure of officers and members to work in the public interest was brought out into the public domain by a thorough independent inquiry and if misconduct in public office is found there needs to be police involvement. The Ombudsman's involvement has never made any lasting difference to this council's unwillingness to accept any accountability for wrongful actions as they continue to rely on cover up and refuse to listen to the public's or their employees' complaints and
concerns. This is why the public need an independent media, free speech and freedom of expression without which our public bodies will continue to act with impunity against the public interest. Well done everyone who has blogged and the Herald who has tried to keep us informed and who give a voice to complainants and whistleblowers! Thank you!

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

There is only one group to blame for this and that is our elected councillors. Specificallythe Labour group at Llanelli, in whom anybody with a modicum of interest in local politics must be massively dissapointed.

It is in everybody's interest to have a few nuisance councillors with niche interests. For example, from what I have read, he and councillor Caiach are probably quite right about the pollution issue and it may take a death or two for the matter to be proved.

Unlawful payments, lack of democracy etc etc all of these chickens will come home to roost at some point.

I think it is now time for the leader of the council to test this. Can he demand access to the dodgy dossier ?

Well done to the Llanelli Herald - it really is bringing in the antiseptic of sunlight to the corridors of power but I fear it has some way to go yet.

Anonymous said...

Wasn’t it the threatening of members that lead to the eventual demise of Bryn Parry-Jones?

Anonymous said...

I note that there have been no comments of support for Mark James Meryl Gravell or any other members who have so blindly followed their own flawed agendas.Nothing from anyone even from the Towy church but then how can you defend the indefensible?

Anonymous said...

Where are the other elected members to support Cllr Thomas? It's times like this that show which Cllr's have integrity.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be no end to the arrogance of this man James.Plaid will very soon have to deal with him if they want to be regarded as a credible party.Elected members should be seen to be the protectors of democracy with officers being their employees.I would be very interested to know if anyone can see a shift in that direction.

Anonymous said...

I think most here are overlooking the obvious:

"As you can read from the reference to the email in the article below, Mr James is quite clearly out of control. He is making threats and allegations towards an elected member, Cllr Thomas, despite the findings of the Wales Audit Office."

There is a law against intimidation and threats. Potentially this can also be construed as blackmail, i.e., if you go ahead i will do the following.

Simples really.

Anonymous said...

This is the latest in a long list of examples showing very clearly how the chief executive has brought this council into disrepute.Who is going to rid us of someone who has done so much harm to so many? Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I personally & I know others feel the same, would like to see the police investigating him & other officers (some have already left their posts) for the offence of Misconduct in Public Office! Of course members too may have to be investigated as without their support and protection the officers would not have been able to ignore their responsibilities to the public & their service users for so long. When officers can ignore the very robust CCC policies & procedures with impunity, to the detriment of service users & the public interest, then one cannot discount blame being attached to the Executive. When complainants & whistleblowers are ignored by MEMBERS & their concerns/disclosures are not acted on then this can only be described as "Wilful Blindness". Members ordered by officers & the Executive not to become involved when wrongdoing is reported to them surely have a duty to complain, if not whistleblow, to the PSOW, WAO or WAG what say you all?

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Patricia B said...

I totally agree with Jennifer Brown. Misconduct in Public Office is a criminal offence, and warrants a police investigation. When officers wilfully lie about a member of the public over a period of years in order to wrongfully discredit that person, that is 'misconduct in public office '. When officers afford certain individuals 'special favours' over a period of years, that is also 'misconduct in public office'. Certain people know the evidence is obvious and in my possession - we just need someone with the ethics and the will to address it. Rhodri Glyn Thomas has once called for a Public Inquiry into my case - it is time for the police to take these matters seriously .

Anonymous said...

I am aware of your case via the television programme and am shocked to think nothing was done to address the problem at the time.Cannot the ruling administration now think about
taking this further? It is quite frightening to think elected members have a reluctance to take on senior officers who have brought this council into such disrepute.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a culture within all organisations paid for from the public purse to protect each others interests by not acting on genuine concerns whether from a member of the public or from a whistleblower. They do act sometimes but fail to hold anyone to account which could change things for the long term. They all do their utmost to safeguard their own reputations which to them are more important than looking after the public's interest. The few representatives who do try to act in & support the public interest are rarely listened to. It's difficult to know what will change things; whistleblowing & complaining hasn't worked against these toxic cultures. All the while public bodies can, with impunity, ignore policies & procedures in place to protect the public interest then nothing will change; even statutory complaints policies are not followed & still no comeback. It seems a complainant or whistleblower trying to follow procedure put themselves at a disadvantage as the public body immediately sets about discrediting both (as Patricia B and I have experienced) to anyone who may be contacted at a later stage. Whoever is then contacted are already prejudiced against the complainant or whistleblower & will use spurious excuses not to look into matters. It seems as with Patricia B's issue she was actually arrested! Where is the impartiality of the police who are there to work with the consent of the public, they should not allow another public body to poison their minds into acting against an innocent member of the public. I believe the same kind of poisoning took place before a blogger was arrested.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)