Sunday 29 July 2018

Mark James' complaints against Sian Caiach - the Ombudsman's conclusion

After eighteen long months, the Ombudsman, Nick Bennett, has concluded his investigation into a series of complaints made by chief executive Mark James against former county councillor Sian Caiach. In short, the Ombudsman has decided that no further action is required and the file is now closed.

Nick Bennett, Public Service Ombudsman for Wales
Mr James' complaints against Cllr Caiach run to sixty-one rambling paragraphs, with numerous repetetive sub-paragraphs and a file of evidence weighing the equivalent of a large turkey. He complained that Cllr Caiach breached various parts of the council's Code of Conduct through blog posts, emails, the 'pound of flesh' protest and a letter published by the Western Mail.

In essence, it all related to the support Cllr Caiach has shown to me over the past couple of years, particularly when Mr James was trying to force sale of my home. You may recall a similar reaction to others who tried to intervene and of course his complaints to the police.

The Ombudsman concluded that Cllr Caiach was entitled to do, and say, what she did, it was political comment from an opposition councillor concerning the actions of the council and its chief executive. There was no breach found, and none of it was considered by the Ombudsman to be serious. There was one minor issue that the Ombudsman thought Cllr Caiach should reflect on, but, again, no further action was required.

The Ombudsman applied Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, and the Calver judgement in respect of the extra protection afforded to political expression and concluded that in Cllr Caiach's case freedom of expression included the right of political expression through public protest, she was also perfectly entitled to criticise council policy and show support for a cause or individual.

He added that he expected a chief executive to have a 'thicker-skin' when under general criticism.

Cllr Sian Caiach, currently Chair of Llanelli Rural Council

My personal view

There are a few points arising from this investigation which are worth making.

Mark James became personally embittered and outraged when Cllr Caiach acted as a witness for me, against him and the council, at the libel trial in 2013. It later transpired that he had tracked her emails.

Cllr Caiach, as followers of this blog will know, continued to question the legality of the libel indemnity and to criticise the council's pursuit of costs and Mr James' pursuit of damages.
However, she did not challenge the legal outcome of the trial, just the moral compass of Carmarthenshire Council.

Whether or not Mr James has a personal vendetta against Cllr Caiach is not known, but, as with me, the volume of 'evidence' and the detailed complaints also give rise to another concern. It appears that Mr James has either spent an awful lot of time (when not controlling his property empire in Cardiff) tracking quotes and comments from blogs, including this blog, and Cneifiwr's, scrutinizing emails, memorising chunks from Tugenhat's judgement, and god knows what else, or he instructed other council staff to do this laborious and repeated task.
Not once did he discuss his complaints with Cllr Caiach before going to the Ombudsman.

Incidentally, my police custody record from the 2011 #daftarrest incident was included in the 'evidence', I can't think of any reason why this was sent to the Ombudsman, its inclusion was completely irrelevant.

It seems to me that, yet again, Mr James' personal mission has not only cost the council an arm and a leg in staff time and resources but clearly an eighteen month Ombudsman investigation, including the taking of statements, interviewing witnesses, etc doesn't come cheap. This money would have better spent addressing concerns of dissatisfied hospital patients rather than the inflated ego of Mr James.

Mr James is the Head of Paid Service and his remit does not include assembling dossiers, by whatever means, on backbench councillors. Or bloggers or members of the public for that matter. It begs the question as to whether he has a similar obsessive compulsion with the musings, and the data, of any other councillors....

Interestingly, this is not the first Ombudsman to suggest that Mr James grows a thicker skin. He has previous. Back in 2012 he made another set of complaints against Cllr Caiach to the former Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, and he, Mr Tyndall, threw them all out.
Maybe Mr James should be registered somewhere as a vexatious complainant.

Come to think of it, Mr James hasn't had much success elsewhere either, his complaints to the police against me were thrown out by the CPS, and the judge who has dealt with the various civil enforcement proceedings was, shall we say, surprised at some of Mr James' actions, he was also as fair to me as he could be under the constraints of the circumstances.

As for the Code of Conduct, there's another one for Officers. As I have mentioned before, Mr James has taken payments and a pay rise which were deemed unlawful, he has used council resources and staff for his own purposes and breached an undertaking to his employers to pay the damages to the council. And more.

I think that this time, the Ombudsman got it pretty much right, although personally I wonder if he's been investigating entirely the wrong person.

Mr James doorstepped by reporters during the pension and libel indemnity scandals, 2014


Anonymous said...

This is another damning implication of the Chief Executive. Two things come to mind. Why do elected councillors put up with a situation whereby the CE is infamous in the locality for all the wrong reasons. Who is conducting these so called intetnal investigations. Are the best people doing them, and have they experience in local authority matters or are they hired in. It sounds to me like a shoddy investigation which has been packed out to seem more impressive and a general shit scaredness to tell the "Chief" that the evidence ain't there and to grow up. When the CE is the story it's time to get rid I think.

Anonymous said...

Pity that swanky hospital in the swamp hasn't been completed yet, he could book himself in for some therapy to get over this impact to his delicate ego.

Anonymous said...

It’s rather appropriate to look at the ombudsman’s 2012 report especially in the light of the Delta Lakes private healthcare project and Meryl Gravell’s recent appointment to the board of Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd.

Here’s a snippet from WalesOnline reporting on Mr Tyndall’s findings –

“One of the complaints related to an email in which Ms Caiach referred to former council leader Meryl Gravell as Mr James’ “cash cow”. Mr James told the Ombudsman that both he and Mrs Gravell found the term personally offensive.

In his ruling, Mr Tyndall said: “Coun Gravell was asked for her understanding of the term ‘cash cow’. She took the view that: ‘A cash cow in political terms is a source of funds, often associated with generous spending for little return’.

Asked why she had used the term, Ms Caiach told the Ombudsman: “Coun Gravell has been criticised by myself, other councillors and members of the public for her financial judgement {in} approving large salary increases for our chief executive ... and committing a great deal of public funding to large projects with, as I see it, poor value for money benefit to Carmarthenshire in general.

“Mrs Gravell, in her position as council leader, secured the votes of her ruling coalition for funding these projects and approval for large salary increases. In this respect she was, I believe, [Mr James’] ‘cash cow’.”

Patricia B said...

Below are the words of the first Minister in a response to me......................

"I think it is vital that people in public services at all levels are clear about the standards they are expected to adhere to. So, for example, I and my Ministerial colleagues are subject to the Ministerial Code of Conduct and I regularly reinforce to them the importance of adhering to this code. More broadly, the Welsh Government ensures that the principles of public life (the Nolan Principles) are a basic expectation of everyone appointed to a public body which we fund".

I have questioned the Leader/Minister Dole, as to what part of this and indeed his own Code of Conduct does he not understand. The same is hugely pertinent to Mark James, as to deceive and cover up criminal offences for certain individuals is to condone such conduct and become complicit in those criminal offences. Such conduct most certainly insults the taxpayer who rely on public servants to always act with honesty and integrity. As I have pointed out to Minister Dole - not to have honesty is to have no morals at all, as all other morals rely upon this most fundamental one! Both Mark James and leader Dole have indicated that they may take action against me at some point. I'm not aware of any case being brought against someone for simply exposing the truth. I'm sure they would like to silence my ongoing criticism of them both but they cannot all the while I am still here. They both have a lot to answer for!

caebrwyn said...

Sian Caiach has written a blog post, the first in a series I understand, commenting on the Ombudsman invesitgation;

The 'Deep state' of Carmarthenshire

caebrwyn said...

Good press coverage in this week's Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Heralds with an article titled 'Ombudsman advises sensitive chief executive', it's not online but can be seen on my Twitter feed @caebrwyn, well worth a read.