Tuesday 28 June 2016

Enforcement of damages - questions in court - updated

Update 29th July - The hearing

Well, I'm not sure what that exercise set out to achieve, other than another means to apply unnecessary pressure.

Mr James' solicitors had drafted numerous reasons why it was imperative I was questioned before a judge, rather than the usual court officer. I've no idea why. In the event I basically swore on oath that I am of limited means, something Mr James has been very aware of for three years. His solicitor read from a standard form of questions which, I'm guessing, were complied at some point in the mid-1980s. Aside from the usual financial basics, I was asked, for instance, if I had a hi-fi, a video player or a camcorder.

I made a token offer of £1 per week. Not quite sure how that's going to go down. Mr James has rejected all previous offers (despite trying to claim I had not made any) and I have told him repeatedly I have no money. He already has a Charge on my home. The council now have an interim charge for £190,390

*  *  *

The latest development in the recent flurry of legal activity hovering over Caebrwyn concerns the damages awarded to the chief executive, Mr James, following his counterclaim for libel. This now stands at over £30,000.

An 'Order to attend court for questioning', regarding my finances, was served on Friday evening. The court in question is in Carmarthen, having been transferred from London due, according to the paperwork, to my previous assertions of limited means...

The hearing is on the 29th July and I will be questioned under oath and as, apparently, there are 'exceptional circumstance' it will be before a judge.

Mr James currently has a Restriction on my home and this latest move appears to follow the unsuccessful attendance of High Court bailiffs a few months back.
Mr James has been aware of my financial situation for three years.

As I have said before, I disagree with the judge's findings against me, from the libel, case in their entirety and my position has never changed.
Also, I probably don't need to remind anyone that the counterclaim was unlawfully funded.

For the 'recent flurry' of ongoing legal activity, including involvement of the police which began three months ago...and the threat of Contempt of Court proceedings, please see here, here and here. I have yet to hear about any of that.

I will be seeking (yet more) legal advice and for reasons which I hope are obvious, I will not be publishing comments on this blog post.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Constitutional contortions from County Hall

Back in April 2015 I mentioned the fact that the word 'Acting' had recently vanished from the job title of the Council's Head of Law and Monitoring Officer, Ms Linda Rees Jones. Ms Rees Jones had been 'acting' since the retirement of the previous postholder in the summer of 2011 and was, of course a key player in the libel indemnity and pensions scandals.

As I pointed out in that 2015 blogpost, the Council's Constitution, Part 4 (8) Officer Employment Procedure Rules, states that if the position is to be permanent, and whether or not the candidates are external or not, the appointment must be made by 'Appointment Committee B'.

Finding no trace of any relevant minutes from 'Appointment Committee B' or any other letter of the alphabet there was some speculation that the seamless move from acting to permanent was based on the acquisition of sufficient Mark James Loyalty Card points.

The mystery continued and I felt sure, given the terms of the Constitution, that I must have overlooked some council minutes somewhere that showed the involvement of councillors in the permanent appointment, particularly as the role of Monitoring Officer is a statutory post.
Last month I made a Freedom of Information request for any relevant minutes.

I received the response on Friday, and well...Who knew?

Here's the, erm, explanation;

Part 3(8) of the Constitution is the 'Scheme of Delegation' section which confers decision making powers to senior officers, including the chief executive.

The section contains a rather wide ranging clause authorising senior officers 'to make arrangements for the proper administration of the functions falling within their responsibility' on the proviso that it fits in with legislation, council policy etc or at least can be made to look that way. (This section also happens to contain the 'suspended' unlawful libel indemnity clauses, but that, of course, is another story).

Anyway, the FOI response informs me that, under this catch-all clause, a delegated officer decision was made (undoubtedly by the chief executive), via the 'Organisational Change Policy'.
So, in fact, Part 4(8) and Appointment Committee B were by-passed completely.

The 'Organisational Change Policy' was approved in 2013 in a single Executive Board Member meeting, held behind closed doors and in the pre-WLGA Governance Review days when the agenda for these meetings were not published until well after the event and did not include any published documents.

Within this policy, I am told, is the stipulation that 'employees who have been seconded for more than 2 years within a post may be eligible to be confirmed in post'. (my underline)

So there you have it! Nothing's ever quite as it seems when it comes to County Hall's 'Rule book' and it can be 'adapted', and open doors, even back ones, according to the whim of this officer-led council ....so perhaps I was a little closer to the truth the first time...

Recently, the Wales Audit Office recommended that, like other councils, and for the purpose of transparency and scrutiny, Carmarthenshire council publishes a register of delegated decisions by individual officers. Sounds like a very good idea to me...

The Freedom of Information request and response can be seen here.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

School questions...and a new low for Meryl

Carmarthenshire Council's recent foray into public question time at meetings has, to put it politely, been a bit hit and miss. Until a year or so ago it was unheard of for the great unwashed to enter the sanctity of the Chamber, let alone have the whole thing broadcast to the nation. Yesterday's meeting of the Executive Board was no exception.

The agenda included a raft of questions concerning the council's proposal to change the language category of Llangennech schools to Welsh medium. Members of the public from both sides of the argument were present. The issues have been well publicised in the local press and, it has been suggested, have become somewhat politicised and locally divisive. For the record, I'm taking no sides with this one, merely commenting on the process.

The questions, which are all on the agenda as they have to be submitted well in advance, were all addressed of course to the executive board member for education, Cllr Gareth Jones (Plaid).

The meeting started with the announcement that Cllr Jones was not there.

According to the Chair, Cllr Dole, this absence had been arranged some time ago. It's not clear when the questioners were told but they had taken time off work to attend and were given to understand (they'd checked the constitution) they would be able to ask the all important supplementary question.

However, it just so happened that the Director of Education, Mr Rob Sully was present with pre-prepared responses and as the executive board councillor was absent, the Chair decided that he would not subject the Director to any supplementary questions from the public.

The Chair has this discretion of course and given the strength of feeling, and the political aspect, perhaps it was fair enough (mind you, on a salary of £135k per annum you'd think the Director would be up to batting around a few questions from the hoi polloi).

This arrangement, prompted by the absence of the councillor, gave casual observer the impression of the usual stage-management.

Eventually, after the usual dithering about, and ever-conscious of the webcams and press interest, it was decided that the only option was to postpone the questions until Cllr Jones could be there to respond (and to respond to supplementary questions), probably next month.

It was also agreed that those who wished to ask questions there and then could, but in the event it was only those who agreed with the council's plans who chose to do so.

In light of this, the actual decision to change the language status of the school also had to be deferred until the next meeting.

As I have said, I take no sides but whatever your view of the subject matter, if this was an attempt by County Hall to prevent proper public engagement, it failed miserably and the whole exercise is now due to be repeated in a few weeks time.

Aside from the revised email policy, see here, which was nodded through without so much as a whisper, another item worth mentioning from the meeting was the total agreement by all present, councillors and chief executive included, that the National Procurement Service set up by Welsh Government was a total disaster as it took away the ability of local authorities to make their own procurement arrangements and support local businesses.

I was left a little confused, forgive me if I'm wrong but didn't the council just decide against awarding the tender for catering at Pembrey Park to a local company which had run it for five years, in favour of a company from Bradford? Whilst on the subject of Country Parks wasn't one of the serious allegations currently being (internally) investigated a 'failure to comply with the council's procurement procedures'?

Lastly, I must mention the remarks made by Cllr Meryl Gravell who, towards the end of the meeting, decided to offer her condolences and comment on the awful murder of Jo Cox MP.

Meryl remarked that 'lots' of councillors had to put up with 'lots of nonsense' from the 'press and blogs', 'lots of lies were, and are still being said'.

What was she implying? Was she suggesting that this death of an MP, in all its appalling circumstances, was somehow comparable to valid criticism, and calls for transparency, levelled at the council by the press and blogs?
It was a disgraceful cheap shot to infer that facts, opinions and critical comments on blogs or in the press in Carmarthenshire should be mentioned in the same breath as the appalling events last week.

If Jo Cox MP epitomised democracy, tolerance and justice, then Ms Gravell and her chums, sit squarely at the other end of the scale. 

Monday 13 June 2016

Cadno's special case - This week's Herald

Readers of the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Heralds will be familiar with columnist Cadno's excellent turn of phrase, and this week's piece was no exception;

Cadno’s special case

May it please the Court: 
I appear on behalf of the Defence in this matter. My learned friend Mr Polecat appears for the Claimant, Mr Fatcat, and he is in turn instructed by Messrs Rook and Weasel. 
Mr Fatcat’s claim is as follows: he alleges that my client has not only grossly impugned his character occasioning a serious libel, but, furthermore, has continued to point out that – in the manner of the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved tale – not only has no clothes but glories in his nakedness. 
The libel case was decided by Mr Justice Owl-Botherer, who concluded that Mr Fatcat had been the subject of a libel made by my client and was eligible for the receipt of damages and costs set at a level that any sane person would have known was both unaffordable and irrecoverable. Needless to say, Mr Fatcat has taken steps to enforce the judgement in his favour. 
It is, however, now alleged by Mr Fatcat that, in breach of undertakings given previously to the Court, my client has published certain information which places her in contempt of Court. 
Since the alleged breach has taken place recently, let us examine what that breach might be. 
The Herald reported and was able to verify earlier this year that when Mr Fatcat said that offers to settle my client’s liability to him had not been made, he was in fact being economical with the truth. 
Indeed, they were able to publish evidence that showed that Mr Fatcat’s words – given on the record to several news outlets without qualification – were not only untrue but untrue with knobs on. 
Offers to settle had been made. It matters not one jot whether those offers were acceptable to Mr Fatcat or not, contrary to the bald assertions either made by him or made on his behalf, they did exist. 
Now, even if it was the case that the disclosure of the offers to settle the liability breached an undertaking to the Court, I would remind the Court that they who come to equity must do so with clean hands. 
If exposing Mr Fatcat’s calumny regarding the offers made to settle my client’s liability to him breached an undertaking of the Court, I would suggest such a breach was rendered inevitable and in the interests of natural justice by the conduct of Mr Fatcat. 
So, let us look at a further possibility. 
Was the existence of offers to settle the alleged libel case made by Mr Fatcat before his employers decided to bankroll his countersuit against my client a breach of an undertaking given to the Court? 
This is far more likely. 
But even if that disclosure represented a breach of such an undertaking, let us consider the position. It is trite law that inter parties communications usually attract privilege, particularly where and when they relate to offers to settle made both pre-action and during litigation’s course. However, that there is an intrinsic public interest in the existence of the costs indemnity and the circumstances that gave rise to it being granted is demonstrated by the decision of the Wales Audit Office to issue a report in the Public Interest determining that Mr Fatcat’s employer’s grant of such a costs indemnity was unlawful. 
Mr Fatcat’s assistant, the Right Reverend Vole, has recently appeared on the TV – yes, M’lud, a popular device of televisual entertainment akin to a magic lantern – to say that the WAO were very naughty indeed in ruling Mr Fatcat’s employer’s actions unlawful. It remains a fact, however, that the Right-on Reverend Vole held precisely the reverse view in opposition. An impartial observer might conclude, M’Lud, that the Right Reverend’s protestant protestations should be taken with a massive pinch of salt. Certainly, M’Lud, that is what the Head of the WAO decided when he bashed that benighted bishop in print. 
Yes M’Lud, ‘naked opportunism’ is such an ugly phrase. 
Moreover, Mr Fatcat’s employer has never once challenged the decision of the WAO or tested it in Court. And that decision, M’lud, cannot be because they are afraid of incurring further costs in Mr Fatcat’s favour at cost to the public. No, M’Lud, they have not challenged it in case they lose. For if they lose, rather than sulkily pretend the ruling did not exist, then Mr Fatcat’s chums across the length and breadth of the land would curse him softly before they went to sleep each night. 
So, it appears as though the Court is in fact being asked to pop a genie back in a bottle. 
The truth about Mr Fatcat’s search to settle the action in my client’s favour is out there, as is the truth about the Right Reverend Vole’s moral outrage both in opposition and in power. 
Both are matters plainly in the public interest. Mr Fatcat’s determination to fight this case to the ends of the earth is powered by the inability of his employers to say ‘no’ to him or to stop spending money on his behalf. 
Yes, M’Lud, there is indeed an investigation ongoing by Dyfed Powys Police. That allegation is that by publishing material about Mr Fatcat, for example the existence of the offers to settle his claim against her, the existence of offers to settle, trying to establish precisely what Mr Fatcat’s employers think they are doing with public money, that this is in some way harassing Mr Fatcat. 
Yes M’Lud, you might well ask how publishing material in the public interest can harass Mr Fatcat. He cannot feel aggrieved at having his erroneous memory as to the existence of those offers to settle his claim being corrected; neither can he be aggrieved that the existence of offers he made to settle the action were drawn to the attention of the Right Reverend Vole and his Church of Latter Day Saints when they would otherwise have been unaware of their existence; neither can he be aggrieved at the suggestion that scarce public resources would be better expended elsewhere. 
Yes, M’Lud, I entirely agree.
‘What are these people doing with public money?’
I am grateful to the Court for that indication.
Yes M’Lud: it really is too good for them.
 From the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Heralds, republished with kind permission

Cadno, the fox

Thursday 9 June 2016

June meeting

Given my current circumstances I was particularly aware yesterday that it was five years to the day since the #daftarrest incident at County Hall. Quite a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but at least we can now watch proceedings from the comfort of home rather than endure the aroma of boiled cabbage and political repression. You can, of course go along and film a meeting now, as long as it is also being webcast of course, in that control freakery kind of way.

One thing that raised eyebrows across the nation in the early days of webcasting was the call to 'be upstanding' not only for the entry of the Chair and vice-Chair, which you might expect, but also for 'the chief executive', this has now been replaced with the less embarrassing call just to 'be upstanding', without the mention of titles.
The prayer, as ever, fell on deaf ears as those taking part hoped to be blessed with tolerance and wisdom.

The new Chair, Cllr Eryl Morgan, (it was Labour's turn this year, they take it in turns, and it works on loyalty points and obedience), seems a little mystified about the whole business but fortunately the chief executive will always be on hand to guide him through every step of the way. This will be even more useful should anything controversial crop up of course, there will be no bruised shins for Cllr Morgan and we know who will be in control.

The Chair and chief executive went through the usual blurb about webcasting and fire drills (if there's a fire any intrepid members of the public in the gallery must stay where they are and wait to be rescued) and as, apparently, there were no Chair's Announcements, the meeting moved on.

Next up was a 200 signature petition for the council to make safe and do something about an 'Ugly building on Penygroes Square' either through compulsory purchase or legal action against the owner. The petition was presented, by Cllr Sian Thomas (Plaid), on behalf of a member of the public, to Cllr Jim 'dog dirt' Jones (Ind) the executive board member for all things environmental and, it seems, ugly buildings. As Cllr Bill Thomas rose to speak in support, a reminder was given that no discussion was allowed, good grief no.

A petition is handed over in the crucible of democracy...
While I'm on the subject of petitions you may remember that one of the recommendations of the WLGA governance review was for the council to have a dedicated online petition facility on its website within three months. That was over eighteen months ago and there's still no sign of it.

But back to the meeting and it was at this point that a councillor enquired whether they were going to pay tribute to a former councillor who had recently passed away. Oops said the Chair, er, there were some Announcements and rummaged through his script and reeled them off. Oh dear.

Next up was the Wales Audit Office Annual Improvement Report which, believe it or not, is within the remit of Cllr Pam Palmer. She waffled on about improved governance and public satisfaction and generally how good they all were, she managed to stop short of recommending a pay rise for herself.

Cllr Palmer and the rest of the Stepford Wives
There was a WAO recommendation that scrutiny needed improving, indeed, there was not one Councillor Question at the meeting. With committee reports now consigned to the end and just for 'noting', the plan was for councillors to place formal questions on full council agendas having read these reports, unfortunately, for whatever reason, hardly any scrutiny minutes have been published since early March and when they do eventually appear, whatever was discussed will be lost in the mists of time.

Once again the opportunity arose for the chief executive to criticise the WAO, a body he holds nearly as dear as he does bloggers, and the last spat with the organisation must have made things worse. Damn their meddling auditing ways. Unable, under polite circumstances and the dratted webcams to say what he really thought, his comments had to be confined to challenging the WAO to find anyone else who did things better than Carmarthenshire Council...

Much was made of the need for affordable housing which was also a feature of the WAO report and Cllr Lemon pointed out that a recent planning application, by the council itself, for six homes only included 20% affordable, why weren't they all affordable? A missed opportunity surely? Cllr Linda Evans, the Plaid executive board member for housing reminded everyone of her recently announced Affordable Homes 'Journey' and how it would 'deliver', well, sometime soon anyway.

With a light agenda the meeting moved on to the approval of executive board meeting reports which had included several exempt items. Questions were asked about the botanical gardens and how the Welsh Government Task and Finish Group, chaired by Meryl, would make a difference to the garden's struggling finances. Meryl was on hand to remind everyone of her importance and to say that wonderful ideas were currently being incubated. No one was told what these might actually be.

Cllr Caiach enquired about the 'wellness centre' and wondered when full council would be treated to a presentation from the 'partners' as the executive board had enjoyed, behind closed doors? And, crucially, how much money were they actually going to fork out for this project?

Meryl, again an important mover and shaker in the whole project, announced that this wouldn't be quite the right thing at the moment, and ignored the question about the cash. They were, however, most fortunate to have the private sector so involved...hmm. Council (and the taxpayers) shouldn't worry their pretty heads with the details, this project would TRANSFORM Llanelli and indeed Carmarthenshire!

Cllr Meryl Gravell...our Wellness guru
So with another Meryl and Mark vanity project looming ominously on the horizon the meeting drew to a close. All that was left was to pay tribute to various officers for a series of successful dismissals, a very difficult business, said the chief executive. These seemed to relate to earlier reports of alleged misdemeanours in the refuse collection department, data protection laws prohibiting the release of details.
Sadly there were still no dismissals to announce from within the Presidential Suite...

Oh, and just in case you don't peruse the Public Notices section of the council website on a regular basis (surely everyone does?) the annual statutory public inspection of the council's accounts runs from the 5th July until the 1st August. You are legally entitled, by appointment, to pop along and inspect the books if you so desire. I went once, quite some time ago.

(webcast here)

12th June; For more on the 'Wellness centre' mysteries read Cneifiwr's latest blogpost;
Merylmania and the Return of the Undead

Saturday 4 June 2016

The police 'investigation' continues...

July 15th; Following my own enquiries with the police commissioner's office I've been informed that the police are still carrying out the investigative assessment of the complaints, so this is still ongoing.

*  *  *

As eight weeks have now passed since I was informed by the chief executive's solicitors that he had reported me to the police, and as I have heard nothing since my enquiries with the police three weeks ago, I am understandably concerned and so asked them for a further update.

Clearly I am not really supposed to do this as I am not supposed to know that I am under investigation and the officer repeated his disquiet about 'the council' having told me.

Anyway, I do know, and although the officer in charge was tight-lipped I was informed that the matter is still ongoing. The police are again waiting for more 'documents' from 'the council'. Or at least that was what I was told.

This time I was told that the complaint relates to the 'ongoing' civil court action. This seems bizarre, was Mr James' (or 'the council's') original complaint too feeble for the police to take any action, so they're asking him to 'beef it up'? Or is Mr James himself drawing out the whole thing, and misusing the police, in a purely vexatious attempt to bolster his threatened High Court proceedings to his advantage?

Is the complaint so intertwined with the civil case that it is inseparable and is in fact a civil matter, not a police matter? Someone is having difficulties with this somewhere and it remains to be seen whether it will go anywhere.

As I have said, all this relates to the blog and I will, if I have to, vigorously defend all allegations, in a criminal or civil court, or both if it becomes necessary.

One other point I'd like to mention is that back in 2014, when Mr James went on gardening leave during the criminal investigation into the pension and libel indemnity scandals, Dyfed Powys Police decided that as they had a 'close working relationship' it would be proper to hand the investigation over to an outside force. Does that also apply in this case? How exactly does that 'close working relationship' come into play in this case? (Update 8th June; I understand questions have been put to Dyfed Powys Police regarding this point)

Incidentally, I am aware that six weeks ago this blog (three years worth of it) was printed out from a council computer, during working hours, clearly in relation to all this and not for a little light reading. So I hope the council don't try saying that this is a private matter as yet again council facilities and scarce resources are being deployed for highly questionable purposes.

As soon as I have any more information, it will be on the blog. 

Thursday 2 June 2016

Email snooping...policy 'amended', three years later - updated

Update 14th June; In the final draft of the email protocol which is before the Exec Board on Monday June 20th the authorisation for tracking councillors emails has been extended to include 'and/or the chief executive', so in fact the monitoring officer can be by-passed completely. What possessed the Scrutiny committee to suggest this is beyond me. I think we're back to square one.


Readers may recall that back in 2013 it transpired that Cllr Caiach's emails had been snooped upon by the chief executive. The incident had occurred in 2011 and related to the libel case, Cllr Caiach then went on to act as a witness against Mr James and the council during the trial.
She was unaware that her emails had been tracked until mid-2013.

It was never established if this snooping was habitual and/or ranged further afield. Concerns from opposition councillors were raised in full council in 2013, but, true to form, these were swiftly and sourly silenced with the chief executive claiming that the 'snoop' had been on the order of the High Court, this was entirely wrong and highly misleading. After successfully kicking the subject into the long grass, it resurfaced at a scrutiny meeting in March 2014.

The 'review of the email usage and monitoring policy' found even longer grass this time and languished in the meadow for over two years.
The 'amended' policy finally reappears on the agenda for next week's Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee.

Much of the policy is standard stuff but a section has now been added which states that if a councillor's email is to be snooped, tracked or monitored in some way, presumably covertly, any request must be 'signed off' by the Monitoring Officer who is then supposed to 'inform' the Standards Committee.

In an ideal world, and for future generations, this may provide some sort of balance against abuse, but at the moment, with the toxic culture of Carmarthenshire Council's top brass alive and well, it's not worth the paper it's written on.