Wednesday 8 August 2018

The unlawful libel indemnity clauses - part two

For part one, please see earlier post; Plaid Cymru seek to reinstate unlawful libel indemnity clauses...really?!

Following the CRWG meeting held at the end of July I asked Jonathan Edwards MP and Adam Price AM to clarify Plaid's stance on the subject. Their reply, which I received on Monday is reproduced below, in full;

EDWARDS, Jonathan <>
6 Aug 9:53AM

Dear Mrs Thompson,

Many thanks for your e-mails. 

I’ve taken a bit of time to try and establish what has happened these past few days.  I respond to you today on both my and my constituency colleague, Adam Price’s behalf.

I’m afraid the information I have is based on informal discussions, rather than anything which has been published.

As I understand it: 

·         There was a suggestion by the Labour group leader at a recent meeting of the council’s CRWG meeting to remove the particular clause from the constitution.

·         The response from a Plaid Councillor was that there remains a grey area as to whether the council is or isn’t allowed to provide an indemnity following recent proceedings relating to Caerphilly Council.

·         The Plaid Councillor proposed writing to the Wales Audit Office for clarity on the matter.

·         This proposal was supported by the Labour group leader.

You’ll appreciate that my understanding is somewhat different to the noises which have been made in the press since the meeting!

 As far as Adam and I are concerned, this is not a matter which has been discussed within the party and we would not personally support the re-introduction of the clause.  Furthermore, we don’t think there is any appetite whatsoever in the Plaid Council Group to re-introduce such a clause. 

 We maintain the position that it is right and proper for a public authority to indemnify officials for proceedings brought against them in the course of their duties, but not the ability to initiate proceedings or for counter-claims.

 If I get any more information I’ll be sure to get in touch, but as far as I’m concerned there are no attempts to re-instate the clause.

 I hope that’s useful for now.



This week's Carmarthen Journal also features an article on the subject which does not yet seem to be online, so here it is;

First of all I'd like to say that I believe Mr Edwards and Mr Price are sincere when they say they would not personally support the reintroduction of the clause. Having read their remarks over the past few years, including in correspondence I can't imagine they would think this was a good idea, to say the least.

Unfortunately, they do not run the council, and neither, for that matter, does Emlyn Dole, or his Independent colleagues.

We know who does.

I would imagine that when the Motion to remove the clauses landed on the chief executive's desk for inclusion on the CRWG agenda there was a rapid flurry of activity.

As we know, a report was written to 'advise' CRWG. That report has not been published and, according to the Journal article the whole Item was 'exempt' and confidential. There is no reason for this at all.

I am fully aware of the historic, and flawed arguments put forward by Mr James that the clauses are, in his opinion, lawful, but there also appears to have been some scratching around to include unspecified proceedings relating to Caerphilly Council. I am not currently aware of such proceedings directly related to this issue.

However, instead of simply agreeing to remove the offending and unlawful clauses, a counter-motion to reinstate was, it seems, put forward. Eventually, a vote was taken whether or not to write to the Wales Audit Office, presumably for legal clarity. I understand that the Labour leader abstained another Labour councillor voted against.
I have asked Linda Rees Jones for a copy of that letter.

As the quote from the Wales Audit Office states, their position remains unchanged.

Mr James, has, for the past four years railed against the findings of the then Appointed Auditor Anthony Barrett and I imagine his correspondence with the auditor was as arrogant and as irritatingly righteous as his correspondence with me. In 2016 he used Mr Dole to question the Wales Audit Office as to whether Mr Barrett was suitably qualified to make his findings. Mr James was sent off with a flea in his ear.
Even in his complaint to the Ombudsman concerning Sian Caiach he challenged, at considerable rambling length, the findings of Mr Barrett.

If the council were run by councillors I have little doubt that these clauses would have been quietly removed. But, as I said back in 2015, our dynamic duo, Mark and Linda, are in something of a dilemma, if they remove the clause completely, then Mrs Thompson would have won a small but significant victory - they would be conceding that it should never have been there in the first place. They would also be agreeing with the Wales Audit Office. Their positions would be untenable.

Hence the continuing prevarication, and undue, and unlawful, influence on councillors.

If they leave it in the book, in its 'withdrawn' state, never to be used, then it looks ridiculous and serves no purpose within the constitution; a permanent reminder of professional incompetence, arrogance and unlawful behaviour.

As I have said, regardless of political nuance or pointing the finger of blame, the clauses remain unique to Carmarthenshire, a memorial to local government idiocy, and in particular, the self-centred idiocy and unbelievable arrogance of Mark James.
Perhaps he's considering raiding the council coffers again, and suing someone...

Please search this blog for further background, of which there is an abundant supply.


caebrwyn said...

Today's Carmarthenshire Herald features further background details, comment and quotes in an article titled 'CEO's libel indemnity haunts council', it's not online but can be seen on my Twitter feed @caebrwyn

My requests for the officer's report to CRWG and the letter to the WAO have been passed on by Ms Rees Jones for FOI treatment, Carmarthenshire style, as the subject 'might or might not have been discussed at a private meeting of councillors'.

The irony is that CRWG was set up to improve the transparency and governance of the council

Due to the chief executive's enthusiasm for excessive and unnecessary secrecy, and his contempt for good governance, this is turning into another absolute farce.

caebrwyn said...

For the record, Emlyn Dole's views were made clear to me last November when I asked him to place the complete removal of the unlawful libel indemnity clause on the CRWG agenda. He refused to do so saying he saw no reason to 'resurrect' the matter; and, despite the completely different view he took when in opposition, he rubbished the actions of the Appointed Auditor and said to me "I cannot agree with you that the libel indemnity clause is "unlawful"'
The email was straight from the desk of the chief executive, written for Emlyn to regurgitate to me. However, his stance is clearly to defend and pamper the iron will of Mark James, for reasons best known to himself...and is seemingly at odds with other Plaid politicians, the WAO, and everyone else who believes this provision to sue, unique to Carmarthenshire, is legally, morally, and financially repugnant.

Meanwhile, over on her blog, Sian Caiach looks at how Mark James CBE was allowed to embark on a private vendetta using public money in the first place, and invites him to respond.

Anonymous said...

You couldn't make this stuff up !!! Do Carmarthenshire County Council & their unelected officials realise how corrupt they are perceived to be ??? How is this situation allowed to continue ? Is there no way that these individuals can be called to account? Where is democracy in Carmarthenshire ??? Hang your heads in shame you bunch of crooks.They are about to pour £250 million of tax payers money into this Wellness Centre in Llanelli in partnership with a firm that has a chequered history to say the least - but has ex Plaid Councillors on the board of directors - Come on WTF is going on ?

Anonymous said...

Noted - the reason I have chosen to remain anonymous is because I - like most people are AFRAID to speak out, this is such a disgrace, and the same individuals seem to be getting away with anything that takes their fancy. Their 'pet projects' litter the county with no regard for what the voters/taxpayers want for their area. Local wishes are totally ignored & opposition to their plans seem futile. It's like living under a dictatorship. These 'empire builders' in Carmarthen need to be exposed for despicable behaviour- I am astonished they can get away with so much & no-one in WAG or any other position of authority can call them out. Is it because they know where the bodies are buried ?? So corrupt - so nauseating !!!

caebrwyn said...

Anon 11:43
Thank you for the comment, I agree entirely.
Just to clarify, the ex-councillor on the board of directors is Meryl Gravell who was leader of the Independent Group on the council. During her notorious reign as council leader she became known as Mark James' 'cash cow', and remains his Number One fan.
Emlyn Dole is dutifully following in her footsteps, Mr James must be delighted.

Teifion said...

I've no idea why dogs and lamp posts come to mind when I read about this whole story, you can make your own minds up about who's the dog and who's the lamp post - I'll just say Saunders Lewis and Gwynfor Evans must be spinning in their graves :( trennu mawr

Sian Caiach said...

I gather, talking to Current County Councillors, that the County will try to fund the Wellness Delta Lakes project by capitalising the public land involved. Apparently the polluted wetlands will, after outline planning permission is granted, be revalued as however many millions worth are required. As this is not "real" money, more a fantasy project, the land may well be gifted to the nice developers so that they have, at least in theory, a valuable financial asset to offset their costs and investment. I'm sure the public will pay for the remedial ground works and pollution clear ups and possibly the drainage and other installations. The Private hospital project, allegedly to help the local health board by treating patients for them, is 2 fingers in the face of Welsh Government's claim to not be privatising the Health Service and I'm sure the cause of much amusement in the Council, where in my day, even the Labour Group did not have much regard for their own devolved administration.
In the case of the Eastgate, gifting the land to the developers now means that Llanelli's new town centre is owned by the FTSE 100 company Standard Life Aberdeen after developer Henry Davidson's Developments[HDD], sold it on. Standard Life Aberdeen made £732 million last year and I doubt Llanelli's contribution to that will ever be invested locally. I wonder which multinational conglomerate will end up in control of Delta Lakes?

Robin Burn said...

Anon 13.18

In October 2010,my daughter was illegally taken from our care by the social Services department of this Council. She is diagnosed with Williams-Beuron Syndrome associated with the lack of verbal Communication. Her carers used by the authority used a method of communication condemned in law to make false allegations against her parents. Eventually returned to the family, successfully awarded compensation for her human rights being abused.
The carers are still working as carers. As a former elected Town Councillor,I am appalled at your admission of your and others fear of speaking out against injustice and abuse of power. I was never afraid to bring to the attention of the electorate, wrongdoings by the authority which made me unpopular in certain areas.The two County Councillors who did support my wife and I were vilified by the powers that be, but did not buckle under the unwanted attention and are still alive and kicking. I understand that you are afraid to speak out and have sympathy for you at doing so anonymously. If you are in a position to speak your mind but refuse to do so because you are afraid, you should not have been placed by others in such a contemptable situation.

Robin Burn I Eng FIMMM

Anonymous said...

Anon 13.18 The reason why the CEO the Leader Cll Dole and Legal Linda get away with 'so much' is due to the fact that no-one questions 'anything'. If questions are ever asked where the answers are clearly untruthful, they are merely accepted by those who asked - never ever challenged. It's that simple. That's how a corrupt system works and how those involved 'get away with it'.

Patricia B said...

This is part of a response from the First Minister "Local authorities are responsible for managing and improving their own performance, and as such, the Welsh Ministers may only intervene as a last resort where a local authority is consistently or repeatedly failing to discharge certain of its broader legal duties effectively, or in cases of emergency".

There is evidence in abundance that the CEO Mark James has acted in a manner likely to be called dishonourable and deceitful for 14 years in my case, and I'm sure other cases as well. Isn't that consistent enough? There is an abundance of evidence to show he has repeatedly failed to discharge his legal duties too - in my case and others too!

Friends and familiarity are not reasons to ignore duties as First Minister.

Anonymous said...

Sadly - the whole setup in Wales is run along tribal lines where co- operation is only achieved by collusion & nepotism.We are being pushed around by cartels who a only interested in the maintainance of power & their ability to access public funds for their 'pet projects'
There is no accountability & no democracy- and as long as the electorate remain apathetic it will stay that way. I am full of admiration for those who speak the truth & are then silenced by intimidation & bullying.Welsh Ministers need to intervene in this as it is unacceptable for the elected & unelected officials of a local council to act like a mafia family.

Anonymous said...

As Jonathan fades away into the distance.

caebrwyn said...

Just to add a bit of context, it was this clause, allowing public money to be illegally funnelled into chilling robust criticism from the press, politicians and public that I called a 'slush fund'. Mark James then used that very clause to countersue over my use of the term 'slush fund'. All a bit ironic. And another reason why he is determined that the clause should remain.
I then had to use the phrase 'libel costs amendment' instead but, tbh, a slush fund is exactly what it is.

Even the term 'indemnity' is deliberately misleading, it wasn't something to be paid in the event of any future loss he may have incurred but was paid out during the case as and when his hefty legal bills rolled in, and, of course, as cuts to frontline services were being made.

If you haven't read Sian Caiach's post yet it's well worth a read, with interesting comments from Martin Milan, author of the Madaxeman blog, and from Sian herself; her observations are spot on.

Wavell said...

I believe that many people will agree that the public bodies in the UK are getting completely out of hand.
The Councils have secret meetings.
The NHS blame the elderly.
Banks blame IT systems.

We really need a system where public bodies are closely monitored by their constituents or customers but our MP's will of course not consider this option. They do sometimes hold discussions and produce results (possibly fictitious and in their favour).

Any suggestions on how the UK can get together on this ?

Keanjo said...

The Chief Executives are so protected that it is well nigh impossible to obtain their dismissal and some CEs have become dictatorial in their security of tenure. Powers of elected members have accordingly diminished to puppet level.
Elected members have to face election and I think the position has been reached where CEs should face public reselection every 5 years to obtain renewal of contract.

caebrwyn said...

You're quite right Keanjo, and where the CEO exerts control through bullying, legal threats and making life difficult for those who challenge his authority, as in Carmarthenshire, you have a dangerous situation. In Carmarthenshire this means the CEO can lie, cheat the taxpayer and use public resources for his own personal vendettas, waste months of officer/police/ombudsman time, all without censure.
Just think, if we had your idea of 5 year contracts in place already, Mr James could have been booted out 10 years ago.

Keanjo said...

Both the MP and AM consider it is wrong for the Council to finance the instigation of legal action or counter claims.

How can the County Council ignore the considered opinions of their elected representatives in Westminster and Cardiff? It is high time that the Council admitted the error and took full responsibility for any consequent injustice.

caebrwyn said...

Absolutely Keanjo.
Mark James acted illegally, and he knows it. The consequent injustice is personally profound, and the fight will go on. And on.
As for this clause, it is a legal and moral travesty, and it will be removed, I'll make sure it is. This is not just a matter of principle in Carmarthenshire, but has legal and democratic significance across the UK.

caebrwyn said...

It should also be noted that another reason why the public funding of officers' claims for defamation was expressly prohibited in legislation is the 'Derbyshire Rule'. This was case law which established the principle that governing bodies, eg a council, cannot sue as an entity. The public funding of an officer to bring a claim is a means by which the council can deliberately circumvent the law by using a proxy.