Thursday 9 November 2017

Chief Executive threatens pensioner with legal action

The long running case concerning the dispute between pensioner Patricia Breckman and the council has been well documented. In a nutshell, the council chose to either turn a blind eye to her neighbour's developments at Blaenpant Farm or approved planning applications with no agricultural justification. The developments, which include massive sheds, the quarrying of rock, the formation of hardstand, and the running of an unauthorised haulage business have destroyed Mrs Breckman's life, her retirement and the peaceful enjoyment of the cottage which she shares with her partner Eddie Roberts.

Mrs Breckman has, over the past fifteen years or so, provided the council with evidence, which, on occasion, they themselves had asked for, that not only were the developments unjustified in planning terms but that some of their officers were simply ignoring what was going on. This was all backed up by a now-retired planning inspector on ITV's Week in Week Out who accused officers of turning a blind eye. Ombudsman findings have been mixed and the latest findings, which found in favour of the council, are downright bizarre and recognised as such by senior politicians who are challenging the report. The independence of our one and only public service watchdog in Wales is also being brought into question.

As the police had become involved and subjected Mrs Breckman to arrest, despite the fact that her neighbours were the aggravating party, the former Police Commissioner Christopher Salmon issued Mrs Breckman with a full and unreserved apology on behalf of the police in 2015.

Last year Mrs Breckman sought a similar apology from the council chief executive Mark James for the actions of the council, and particularly the planning department. An audience was finally arranged with that master of manipulation, Mr James, who led Mrs Breckman to believe he was not only sympathetic but would also support a claim for compensation.

Mrs Breckman duly put in a claim only to receive a letter, some months later, from the insurer's solicitor that there would be no pay out, she had no claim and if she tried to go to court they would immediately apply to strike out her claim. The basis for this abrupt decision was that council officers' were protected as their decisions were discretionary and could override statutory duties. Or some such b******s.
In other words, far from being sympathetic, the chief executive had made sure there'd be no claim, and no apology.

To give just one example amongst the numerous questionable issues was the hardstand created by the neighbour which became the subject of an enforcement notice. This eventually went to court. Mrs Breckman later discovered that the proceedings had been dropped by the then head of planning as the hardstand had now been removed. It hadn't, and this misinformation had been conveyed to the court.

Mrs Breckman has continued to push for the truth and believes that County Hall continue to cover-up serious breaches of conduct, and at the very least expects the chief executive and head of legal to recognise that the actions of planning officers, including the former head of planning, Eifion Bowen, fell short of what was expected of them.

The Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones has a Statutory duty to prepare a report where evidence of malpractice, negligence or misconduct in public office is apparent. In this case - and I have had sight of all of the evidence, and the correspondence between Mrs Breckman and the Monitoring Officer - it's as plain as the nose on your face, and even in terms of local government games of smoke and mirrors it warrants independent investigation. Something definitely wasn't right, to put it mildly.

The latest twist to the whole affair comes in the form of a legal threat to Mrs Breckman from Mr James. "I now place you on notice that continuation may well invite legal action". The 'continuation' being Mrs Breckman's pursuit of straight answers through correspondence which has always been factual,  dignified and well argued, and one of which relates to the supposed independence of the Monitoring Officer.

The role of the Monitoring Officer is supposed to be impartial and not to cosset, and blindly take instructions from, the chief executive. In Carmarthenshire this is something of a long running joke, the libel indemnity being a case in point and even Ms Rees Jones permanent appointment as Monitoring Officer was a decision made by the chief executive alone - that should never have happened, and she depends on him for her job. We are stuck with a chief officer who, by fear or favour, exerts insidious and overwhelming control, even to the point where he controls the Monitoring Officer.

In Mrs Breckman's case the council have rendered her home unsaleable and destroyed her life, at best through negligence and incompetance and at worst through misconduct, and she continues to search for some honesty, integrity and accountability from those who are attempting to silence her - from my own experience let alone Mrs Breckman's, those three qualities are not part of Mr James' personality, let alone his vocabulary.
Legal threats are, as we know however, his speciality and quite what this one will consist of is anyone's guess. One thing is certain, he's out of control.

11th November;
Good to see this story on the front page of Friday's Carmarthenshire Herald, and an excellent article (print only) which concludes "The resort to law in a bid to silence critics and criticism is, however, nothing new in Carmarthenshire"

12th November;
For further comment and detail on this case see Y Cneifiwr's excellent post published today - Natural Justice 


Alice Wonderland said...

Excellent coverage by your regional newspaper today too. We arent fortunate here (RCT)to have such a good source of news and help for people in desperate plights.Maybe they might like to consider covering this and other arreas too. I had the 'we are sorry submit a claim then attack antics' here too. Also a written apology that had veiled insults too. Bit of a coincidence that isnt it? In my case the Monitoring Officer / Chief Solicitor along with his rogue sidekick from the Grants Dept from day one (now conveniently promoted to the top) are the main culprits. The MO has never ever forumised matters and totally by passed all duties, procedures, laws you name it. Abusing the public by abusing powers and abusing public resources seems to be a serious problem doesnt it? My kind regards to Trish and Eddie lovely couple I met many years back and visited their home so I know all about their case having seen it for myself. I am so saddened and angry about all this. Wales is becoming widely known as a bad place for it too. Maybe we should all write a combined book on How Not To Do it. Dont even get me started about ongoing disgusting antics in the Bay of Flying Pigs. Sorry for being a bit ranty I am so cross.

Anonymous said...

I assume Cllr. Cefin Campbell continues with his support of Mrs Breckman in this matter and will be demanding answers from Messrs James and Rees-Jones on her behalf.

Anonymous said...

"I now place you on notice that continuation may well invite legal action".

That does not state legal action is guaranteed so if I were the Breckmans I would continue. If then, at a later date our lightweight chief manager (he's no executive) decided to hide behind another legal battle at the cost of the tax payer it can only serve to cause him more harm leading to his demise.

Cant think of anything better for the bitter and twisted little man.

Keanjo said...

Can't understand why Mark James has not sued Private Eye .Does anyone have an explanations?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10-11 2017 16:38
Councillor Cefin Campbell is VERY supportive of Mrs. Breckman and her long running problems with Carmarthen Council. It is regrettable that so MANY other Councillors do not wish to show some backbone and demand a full and independent enquiry into this sorry state of affairs that has been ignored for far too long. Serious questions need also to be asked as to the Role of The Monitoring Officer and of course the CEO.The Senned ha also shown a distinct lack of will to investigate the many concerns as expressed by the public at the behaviour of this Council in so many matters.

Anonymous said...

It is everyone's human right to complain if something is wrong and to continue to complain if it is not put right. This is a democratic society not a dictatorship or so we all thought.

Anonymous said...

Why not petition the Welsh assembly and make it a proper whitewash?

Martin Milan said...

Having read the letter that Mr James sent to Trisha Breckman, I think it does raise a number of serious concerns. The most important thing to realise is that, if indeed some form of corruption does lie at the foundation of Mrs. Breckman’s experience, then Mr. James is now complicit with it. We do however have to bear in mind that this is a very important “If”.

One of three scenarios has to be the truth.

* Mrs. Breckman’s position has merit
* Mrs. Breckman’s positon has no merit
* There are facts about the case that we are unware of.

Given the comments of the ombudsman and the ITV documentary I certainly know which I believe to be the case, but let’s keep an open mind.

Mr James however, as the Chief Executive, has a responsibility to defend council’s reputation. So, if her case lacked merit, he should be openly stating the same. What he shouldn’t be doing is meeting with Mrs Breckman, claiming to be on her side, and delaying matters and then waiting for a legal timeout…

Next comes the matter of the legal threats against Mrs Breckman. Jacqui’s case saw the WAO rather disappointingly placated with the suspension of the famous libel clause in Carmarthenshire County Council’s Constitution. One wonders if that suspension is to worth anything, if Mr. James is now threatening action against Mrs. Breckman. Perhaps the WAO need to revisit that.

Mr. James himself however would be well advised to think very carefully about any legal moves against Mrs. Breckman. First of all this wouldn’t be a matter of counteraction as a tactic in defending a legal claim - but rather initiating proceedings. I think he’ll find the Derbyshire Agreement and related law is crystal clear on that. He might also want to consider that he has, in his warning, made it clear he would be acting on behalf of the local authority.

We should not tolerate attempts like this to shut down perfectly proper questioning, nor should be ignore the fact that Mrs. Breckman enjoys the support of an elected member of the council. There is a hell of lot of smoke here, and someone suitably skilled in dealing with it should now be opening up this case and checking for fire.

Unknown said...

Emlyn Dole and Plaid Cymru have now been in charge of the council for approximately two years if not more.. I cannot understand why councillors under his leadership has not been able to put Mr James in his place. Who runs the council? The elected members or the CEO?This type of Mal administration goes on and on in Carmarthenshire but no one has the backbone to sort it out. When Plaid Cymru came to power I thought this is a chance to have a clean sweep and take the good name of Sir Gar out of the papers and Private eye. But this has not happened and week by week we here of the misdemeanour of the CEO and his team in the dirty business that has been associated with Carmarthenshire