Monday 29 August 2016

Cadno asks for answers - this week's Carmarthenshire Herald

Another excellent opinion piece from Cadno, in this week's Carmarthenshire Herald;

Cadno asks for answers 
Time is a great healer, or so the well-meaning lie goes. However, there are some things that the passage of time cannot heal. It is certain that once severed a leg will not regrow, while quite how UKIP and Labour will stitch themselves back together remains beyond Cadno’s confused vulpine mind. 
Even worse, readers, is the perception of injustice. 
Once something appears to be unjust, then there is very little that can be done to dispel the idea that injustice has taken place. It does not matter whether or not the act is unjust in and of itself, it is the appearance that matters. 
‘Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done’ runs the well-known dictum, dating from an otherwise obscure case from 1924. In that case, the Clerk to the Justices did not disclose that he worked for a firm of solicitors involved in a civil suit arising from a road accident for which the Defendant, a Mr McCarthy, stood trial in the criminal courts 
The then Lord Chief Justice said that he accepted that: "the justices came to a conclusion without consulting the clerk, and that the clerk had scrupulously abstained from referring to the case in any way. But while that is so, a long line of cases shows that it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done". 
It was the perception of potential injustice which resulted in Mr McCarthy's conviction being overturned. 
So, readers, the appearance of fairness is of fundamental importance. 
Pop quiz time, then, readers. Let’s exercise the old little grey cells. 
Imagine you are an ever so humble council employee. You rather foolishly publish come indiscreet comments and find yourself being sued for libel. You make an offer to settle the claim against when, spontaneously, your employer decides to indemnify you for defending the suit and funds a counterclaim. 
If your employer had not bankrolled either course of action, you would have apologised and coughed up costs and – in all probability – very modest damages. 
With the backing of your employer’s open cheque book and a very friendly judge, you win the case. 
You have received an award of damages, with the costs incurred the responsibility of your employer to recover. 
Now, readers, Cadno does not want to revisit the dead past. The judge made a decision, an appeal did not succeed. Whether or not one agrees with whether or not the decision was right, it is now final. 
In addition, the question of recovery of damages is, for Cadno, a dead letter. All Cadno can say is that a litigant who is aware, or who should be aware from previous correspondence that has passed between his solicitor and the losing party in litigation, that his opponent has no means to speak of is doing little more than racking up otiose costs by pursuing the matter in the effort to get blood from a stone. And one would hope, of course, that the costs for so doing are being borne by the successful litigant and not by his employer. 
And the same goes for costs, whether they are sought to be recovered by the litigant or the impecunious and unprincipled employer that acted unlawfully in bankrolling its employee, especially when he had offered to settle the case. Those offers to settle would have been done on the basis of what is called ‘the litigation risk’. That calculation is not only based on the likelihood of success in a particular action, but also the costs of proceeding to either prosecute or defend a suit. 
So, readers, we have laid the ground work, with which most of you will be familiar. 
Now, it is one thing for the defendant to feel aggrieved at the outcome of litigation. It is quite another for a successful litigant in a civil case to go running to the Police and make a complaint of harassment when the unsuccessful party draws attention to the way in which he conducts his employer’s business. 
Cadno eschews the suggestion that such a person is motivated by little more than petty vindictiveness and spite. That would unfair, as it would require the almost metaphysical step of peering into the soul of the person concerned. 
But what does it look like, readers? 
Does it look like the use of public authority to pursue a private complain? Does it look like bullying? In fact, readers: does it look like harassment? 
It isn’t, of course. It can’t be. But a reasonable person in possession of all the facts in the public domain could consider (but are not bound to conclude) that is what it looks like.
That is quite bad enough, but when one factors in a version of Lieutenant Columbo’s ‘just one more thing’, it looks far worse. 
Way back when Dyfed Powys Police was charged with investigating allegations of criminality involving direct payments made in lieu of employer’s pension contributions, it recused itself on the basis that it had a close working relationship with the local authority. Another police force investigated. 
How then, in light of that close working relationship, did it feel able to investigate a complaint made by the Chief Executive of that authority against a third party with whom he had been engaged in litigation? 
When that same question has been put – on more than one occasion – to Dyfed Powys Police it has refused to answer. So, Cadno has a challenge for Police Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn: answer the question. And respond to the question below, as well, if you can: 
1. How can the public have confidence in the independence of the Police to act impartially if on the one hand they cannot act when an allegation is made against a public authority and a senior employee, and on the other hand are able to investigate a complaint made by the same senior employee against a third party, the same complaint arising from the third party’s criticism of the performance of that employee’s public duties? 
2. Do you think scarce public resources should have been committed to pursuing what - it could reasonably be suggested - is a private matter? 
Those questions are at the very centre of what it means when it is suggested that justice needs not only to be done but to be seen to be done. 
Over to you, Commissioner.
(Article republished with permission - Carmarthenshire Herald)

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...And in case you missed it last week, here's the latest instalment from the occasional series, 'Council of Despair', by fellow blogger Cneifiwr.

And, from the 18th August, on this blog, The police visit Caebrwyn

Sunday 28 August 2016

Jacqui Thompson - Candidate for the Cilycwm by-election

Just to say that I am standing as a candidate for the Cilycwm seat on Carmarthenshire County Council. The by-election will be held on the 22nd September and if elected I intend to be a very strong voice for the communities within this ward.

It looks like it might be quite a lively campaign, I've already had one political party threaten me with a dirty campaign if I didn't withdraw my nomination by last Thursday's deadline. Charming!


People First- Fighting For The
Gwerin Gyntaf Ymladd
Dros Y Gymuned

More in due course...

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Challenging the police harassment warning

Update 26th September 2016 - Police complaints logged

I would like to make it clear from the start that I have no problem with the police, I respect them for doing a very difficult job with very limited resources. It seems that not everyone takes this view, Mr James dumped his bag of dirty laundry on the doorstep of the chief constable and expected him to do a full Dot Cotton.

However, I have no other option other than to file a complaint. As it happens, this is also one of the only courses of action available to challenge a Police Information Notice.

So further to my earlier post, The police visit Caebrwyn, I have sent the following email, and hard copy, to Dyfed Powys Police to challenge the Police Information Notice (harassment warning) and file a complaint regarding the investigation.
If the response is unsatisfactory, I will take the matter further.
As for this blog, as I said in my previous post, it will be business as usual.

Here's my letter;

"To the Chief Constable
Dyfed Powys Police

Dear Sir,

I wish to make a formal complaint in relation to the Police Information Notice (PIN) issued to me by your force on Thursday 18th August 2016 and I am requesting that the notice is revoked without delay. The PIN reference is ACT/1094/18/04/2016/01/C.

I am also making a formal complaint about the manner in which Dyfed Powys Police conducted the investigation.

The PIN relates to allegations of harassment made via a complaint to the police by Mr Mark James. As I told the police officers who issued this warning notice, I deny categorically that these allegations constitute harassment in any form, the allegations are totally without merit.

I write a blog which is critical of Carmarthenshire County Council, and its decision makers, when I believe those decisions or actions would benefit from further public scrutiny.

I have a legitimate right to comment as a member of the public, and a Community Councillor, on matters which concern public decision making in a local authority.

The PIN is an attempt to stifle public debate and is in breach of my human rights, namely Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

I believe the complainant; Mr Mark James, chief executive of the council, has used the Police to serve what essentially an attempt at a civil injunction which has no right or means of appeal, nor is there, of course, a proper civil judicial procedure where I would have had the right to a defence.

This is an abuse of power by the police and the chief executive and interferes with my Article 6 right to a fair hearing. The fact that the PIN is kept on official police file for 14 months, this further interferes with my Article 6 rights.

With regards to my complaint about the police investigation, Dyfed Powys Police were called up on to investigate Mr Mark James and Carmarthenshire County Council in February 2014 following two Public Interest Reports from the Wales Audit Office. In that case, due to the close working relationship between the two authorities they passed the matter on to Gloucestershire Constabulary. In other words, there was a conflict of interest.

That same conflict of interest was present throughout the time that Dyfed Powys Police were investigating myself, on behalf of the chief executive of that same local authority, this year. The matter should have been transferred to an outside police force, neutral to both parties.

I am also making a complaint concerning the length of time the matter has taken. As I was informed by Mr James, via his solicitor, that I had been reported to the police in early April this year, I was aware of the investigation. This has caused me severe stress when it appears that the documentation relating to both complaints by Mr James were readily available.

Mr James' complaints, both harassment and perverting the course of justice failed in their entirety to meet the evidential test for criminal proceedings, and this is something the police should, and could have identified early on; police time has been wasted.

Please regard this communication as a formal complaint which I expect to be logged and treated as such.

Please acknowledge receipt of this email, which I am also sending as hard copy, and I look forward to your very prompt reply.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Jacqui Thompson"

Monday 22 August 2016

The council and the Rainbow flag - this week's Cadno

This week's Cadno piece in the Carmarthenshire Herald takes a look at the council's continuing reluctance to fly the Rainbow flag; the symbol of equality, solidarity and inclusion for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. During Pride celebrations and LGBT history month the colourful symbol proudly adorns the headquarters of most public bodies across Wales, including the Welsh Assembly.

As we discovered in February 2015, (see No fly zone for the Rainbow Flag), despite the council appearing in the top 100 of Stonewall employers, they refused to fly the flag to celebrate LGBT history month, this just happened to coincide with an unfurling and raising of the Duke of York's flag instead, as a birthday tribute. Wry commentators at the time wondered if this was to increase the odds of additional CBEs, OBEs etc being showered on the great and good of county hall.
It was established at the time that the council actually possessed a carefully folded Rainbow flag, pristine and unused.

Questions were raised by members of the council's own diversity group who were initially told that as the council had sooo many requests to fly flags for various groups, it flew none. Not a problem for the Welsh Assembly or other councils it seems.
A direct appeal to the chief executive met with refusal.

Move forward to February 2016, another mention in the Stonewall rating, and this time it was the Herald which enquired about the absence of the flag during LGBT month. The council 'had a procedure', the newspaper were told. Enquiries to other public bodies as to whether they too had 'procedures' were met with derision.

Cadno noticed that the flag was again absent from the turrets of county hall during recent Pride events held in the county. The Herald asked the council for an explanation last week and received no reply. The newspaper then learned via other sources, that the 'procedure' involved 'applicants' making a formal request twenty eight days beforehand to be considered by the Leader and Chief Executive.

Further enquiries were made, including the question as to why a procedure was necessary at all when other bodies managed without one. Again there was no reply, despite, as Cadno says "the council is well used to defending the indefensible, or at least unlawfully funding the defence of its officers", so he had expected a fairly swift response.

And as Cadno also points out the Council's Rainbow flag made a brief appearance over County Hall following the Orlando massacre, without any procedure at all. This, I noticed at the time, was prompted instead from a plea on Twitter, and presumably the threat of a PR disaster played out on social media.

Cadno then recalls the council's long standing indulgence of another organisation, the Towy Community Church and is reminded, that 'some rum religious types have inveigled their way into County Hall over the years'.

Regular readers of this blog, and Cneifiwr's, will be aware of the considerable support, around £1.4m, in land, loans and grants to the evangelical church bowling alley. One such grant was, as Cadno reminds us, 'almost simultaneous with a cut to the funding of a school for children with special needs' and featured, in March 2015, a visit by the council's executive board to iron out some planning difficulties and express a desire to bless them with a new boiler.

Cadno penned this piece at the time.

The Towy Community Church, as with some other evangelical groups, put their faith in the literal truth, the living word if you will, of the Bible and this includes elements, and links to other organisations which are at odds with the advancement of the inclusive society we cherish today. An additional bonus is that eternal conscious punishment awaits all non-believers.

It was on this basis that the council funded, and 'partnered' with the organisation back in 2011/12, relying on the church's own equalities policy rather than creating their own.
Requests for copies of correspondence between the two organisations were not just refused by county Hall, but resisted with particularly dogged determination.

Cadno concludes the piece by denigrating, naturally, 'any suggestion that those involved with the formulation of a policy in relation to the Rainbow Flag would - in any way - allow their personal beliefs to over come and affect the performance of their public duty...."

Thursday 18 August 2016

The police visit Caebrwyn

(See also later post, 24th August Challenging the police harassment warning)

After four and half months I had a visit from two Dyfed Powys Police CID officers today. I was not arrested nor spoken to under caution. The investigation into perverting the course of justice has been dropped as the evidential test was not met. I am not surprised. As I suspected, this criminal complaint, which was also made by Carmarthenshire Council chief executive Mr James, related to the libel judgement of High Court judge, Justice Tugendhat in March 2013.

The judge, in 2013, made this finding on a balance of probabilities, and in a civil court. That 'balance' was not based on any factual evidence whatsoever and was made simply on the whim of the judge as to who he decided to believe. It was this finding, a total miscarriage of justice, which led to the withdrawal of my legal insurance.
There is further comment, an extract from my closing statement in 2013, on the sidebar of this blog.
I now feel completely vindicated.

In March 2013 a local paper asked the police if they were investigating me for this alleged offence following the judgement, the police said "they were not aware of having to do anything around this".
Clearly, at some point since April 2016, over three years later, the chief executive decided that they did.

As for the complaint of harassment, I was issued with a Police warning notice. This was for alleged harassment of the chief executive, entirely in respect of this blog. It is utter nonsense. The alleged harassment appears to refer, in the main, to my reference to the unlawful payments scandal and wider comment and opinion. This is not harassment.
The warning takes effect from today (18th August 3.15pm).

As this is not a legal notice nor a caution, there is no direct way to appeal it, or defend myself, however, I told the police that I did not accept the allegations, nor agree to any part of their 'warning'.

It will be business as usual.

Monday 15 August 2016

Caebrwyn - In this week's Carmarthenshire Herald

Later post 18th August; The police visit Caebrwyn

As you can see from the front page, this week's Carmarthenshire Herald carries a couple of articles relating to Caebrwyn.
This opinion piece below which considers the current involvement of Dyfed Powys Police, is well worth a read, see also my previous post, Police investigation - where's it heading? which is now updated, and includes comments.

By Matthew Graham Paul
There is also a full report on recent, and not so recent matters relating to Caebrwyn, here;

Reporter; Pat Racher
The council has responded to a couple of questions put to them by the Herald...well, I say responded, a question concerning the (still) ongoing police investigation and whether the council were concerned that they themselves might appear 'excessively hostile to criticism' was quietly ignored.

In what appears to be a novel concept for our senior officials in County Hall, the council informs the Herald that it has a 'responsibility' to the taxpayer to recover the money.
Of course, had my name been Mrs Scarlets Regional Ltd, or Pastor Thompson of the Church of the Literal Word things might have been different. And anyway, as I have mentioned before, an early settlement had been on the cards until the opportunity arose for Mr James to be unlawfully bankrolled to bring the counterclaim.
I can only wonder at the mounting cost to the taxpayer of Mr James' very lengthy involvement of the police. I'm sure they must have better things to do than this...

In the opinion piece above, Matthew Paul quotes the words of the former Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner;
"It was not Jacqui Thompson, but the outgoing Police and Crime Commissioner Chris Salmon who very publicly described Carmarthenshire Council as being “Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors.”"
Oddly there's still not a whisper about recovering the £41,000 unlawful counterclaim costs, yet. Perhaps they're reluctant to raise those scandalous skeletons in court, or at least until a few key players have departed.

They also state that the question of whether or not I have the means to pay £190,390 (plus Mr James' £30k+) will be 'something for the court to consider', despite already placing an interim charge on my home. Perhaps Mr James could pass his newly gleaned information on to his colleagues and let them know that although I have an elderly microwave, I don't have a video player or a dishwasher. Nor £220,000.

Update 17th August
Re previous post;
I have been informed by the chief constable's PA, via email, that I will receive a "full response" to my letter in "six weeks' time".
Obviously the letter from the chief constable (reproduced in my previous post) was not a full response, so what exactly is going to take another six weeks is anyone's guess...
The situation is becoming beyond ridiculous.

Monday 8 August 2016

Police investigation - where's it heading? - Updated

Updates, 13th August and 17th August at the end of this post

As I have mentioned, I was informed, via Mark James' solicitors at the beginning of April this year, that he had made an allegation of harassment against me to the police.

I was further informed, on the 12th July, following enquiries made with the Police Commissioner's office that an additional criminal allegation of perverting the course of justice had also been made against me, at some point, and that "officers are currently carrying out an investigative assessment of the complaint details".

Four and a half months have now passed since April and we are now heading towards the middle of August, and so far the police have made no contact with me at all.

That letter, from April, also informed me of Mr James' intention of taking me back to the High Court alleging a complaint of contempt of court. Again, I have heard nothing, so far.

I do not believe there were, or are, any grounds for criminal complaints, in fact I find it ludicrous and believe that the actions of the complainant(s), and the use of the police in this way amount to nothing more than intimidation. This has gone on long enough.

I have sent the following email, and a hard copy to follow, to the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police this morning;

Simon Prince, Chief Constable
Dyfed-Powys Police

Dear Chief Constable, 
I am writing in connection with Dyfed-Powys Police’s investigation into allegations of harassment and perverting the course of justice, which it is suggested I committed between January 2009 and April 2016.  
Your investigation began in April, and I have received no information as to its progress. I am unaware of the precise nature of the complaints, although I presume they relate to comments made on my blog, ‘Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more’ concerning the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council and of its Chief Executive. 
I do not consider that there are any grounds to investigate me for these alleged offences. It is furthermore my view that the investigation is not being conducted expeditiously.  
I would therefore be grateful if you would provide answers to the following: 
i) Are you actively seeking any further evidence in the investigation? 
ii) If you are seeking further evidence, when do you expect your investigation to be complete? 
iii) Do you intend to send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service? 
iv) If you do intend to send a file to the CPS, when do you expect to do so? 
Your investigation is having a chilling effect on my ability to report the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council. 
If you are in possession of any evidence capable of supporting a case in respect of either of the alleged offences, it should be passed promptly to the CPS so that a decision can be made as to whether it passes the evidential or public interest tests. Otherwise, please inform me without delay that there will be no further action in respect of these complaints. 
Yours Sincerely,
Jacqui Thompson


Update 13th August

Response received today from the Chief Constable;

* * * 
This week's Herald features this opinion piece which is relative to the police investigation, and well worth a read.

Update 17th August
I have been informed by the chief constable's PA, via email, that I will receive a "full response" to my letter in "six weeks' time".
Obviously the letter above was not a full response, so what exactly is going to take another six weeks is anyone's guess.

Friday 5 August 2016

Carmarthenshire County Council seat up for grabs - Cilycwm by-election - updated

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Update 22nd August 2016 - Pleased to confirm that my nomination papers have been accepted and I am now a candidate for this by-election.
Vote for Jacqui Thompson!

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A by-election is on the cards for the County Council seat of Cilycwm. The vacancy has arisen following the death of the sitting councillor and the first Notice has been published to request an election.

The 2012 local election result for Cilycwm was;

Jacqui Thompson - independent - 264
Matthew Graham Paul - Conservative - 136
Tom Theophilus - Independent - 307 (elected)

I will definitely be dropping a line to Mr James to request an election.....

The next local council elections across Wales will be held in May next year.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Wellness centre - or a luxury health spa?

With the summer hibernation descending on County Hall for the month of August, it seems there's no stopping the very, very exciting plans for the 'Llanelli Wellness Village'.  At a single Exec Board Member meeting tomorrow (Friday) the council will by-pass it's Contract Procedure Rules and commission design and engineering consultants Arup Ltd to create another masterplan for the project. This isn't any old masterplan though but a  "feasibly [?] and sustainable project specific master-plan".

Back in February Welsh Government minister Ken Skates provided £1m to develop an initial 'Scoping Report', also by Arup Ltd, with more funding announced at the end of June. This seems to be the funding for the latest masterplan, although the council report doesn't specify who is paying.

The report comments that Arup are well placed to create the latest document, which of course they are, but yet again, public money is spewing forth before a brick, even a wellness brick, is laid. This, unfortunately is par for the course these days, the Welsh government have paid £7m over the past few years to Arup (it could be any company) for various reports and appraisals over the M4 relief road without an inch of tarmac making an appearance.

With the project led by Carmarthenshire Council (which should be concerning in itself, and, as recently reported, can't even conduct a small scale catering tender properly), it was surprising that back in February, the chief executive claimed that it was unlikely that any decisions would be a matter for full council yet the land itself has already been gifted to the project.

A few months back the executive board agreed, behind closed doors, to enter an exclusivity agreement with a private company, Kent Neurosciences Ltd, locking out any other contenders to develop the project. Recent documents also show a £25,000 council contribution to the new project manager's salary.

When there is little in the way of detail, or even data, but merely an endless procession of concepts and visions it is time to take a closer look. A little scrutiny, a few facts and figures, and even a healthy dose of cynicism, can be useful at this stage, rather than waiting for the whole thing to go pop (god forbid), the mysterious investors disappear, the auditors being called in, and the council having to do a cover-up exercise like never before.

The only efforts so far have been from Councillor Caiach who asked Meryl earlier this year how much the council was likely to have to cough up - her question was ignored, and another councillor asked if it might possibly feature a care home for the elderly, the enquiring councillor was treated to a barrage of PR waffle when the simpler response would have been 'no'.

With so many 'partners' involved, including universities and our hard pressed health boards, it is difficult to determine what exactly is in store for the health and wellbeing of Llanelli or even Carmarthenshire. It's even more important that public money is wisely spent.

The council's own Special Planning Guidance for this Delta Lakes site included, unusually for such a document, the potential for private healthcare, and rarely has a project attracted so many press releases, so much visionary waffle, with so little substance.

The total cost has ranged from £60m to £100m. Therapy clinics, conference suites, a Wellness primary school, a Wellness sports and wellbeing centre are just some of the plans mentioned, and no doubt, just to provide the investors with a guaranteed income, 'wellness council offices'.

So who exactly is going to benefit should the project ever materialise? Will it be the residents of Llanelli as Mr Skates said, or will this in fact be a luxury health spa, merely creating low-paid jobs for locals who will ill-afford the facilities on offer? Who's economy is it likely to boost?

Aside from ARCH, the Swansea Bay City Region Board thingy, and indeed Carmarthenshire Council (or, to be specific.Mark and Meryl) there are other, more international organisations involved, notably the Global Wellness Institute which suggests its end use won't be for you and me.

At a 'Global Wellness Summit' held last year the managing director of Lisner Hospitality, specialising in the 'luxury wellness industry', and based in Austria, advised the 'team' early on to concentrate on the 'spa' concept, and the PR company for all things Global is Kyricos & Associates, a 'boutique advisory firm' providing 'strategic guidance to hospitality, tourism and lifestyle companies', based in Maine, USA.

Other 'Wellness' projects in the pipeline include one in China 'targeting the high-end Chinese community', one in Dubai and one in Tampa, Florida.

However, it is not private companies, nor private investment that should concern us, but the use of public money. With local Carmarthenshire health services stretched to their limits, and poverty levels requiring a record use of foodbanks, public cash in and around Llanelli is probably best spent on the basics rather than a speculative luxury spa destination.

Though to be fair, the Council chief executive has yet to make his usual, if inaccurate declaration, that the latest wheeze 'won't cost the taxpayer a penny', probably because it already has. (I am reminded here, amongst other things, of Cadno's poem from last October.... ). Vanity projects, and white elephants, don't come cheap.