Tuesday 16 July 2019

The 'potentially defamatory' letter; Mark James threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald

Back in April, as I reported here, the Chair of the then ABMU Health Board Andrew Davies wrote an explosive letter to the Chair of the City Deal Joint Committee concerning the integrity, or lack thereof, of Mark James CBE.

The contents of the letter was considered, by 'the council', as being 'potentially defamatory', and public noises were made about suing Andrew Davies. In reality of course it was Mr James, the royal 'we', who considered the letter to be 'potentially defamatory' of himself.

As councils cannot sue for defamation, this raised some interesting questions as to who 'we' were and brought us full circle back to the issue of unlawful public funding for an individual officer to bring a claim for libel, or, getting round the rule that a council can't sue.

Last month I asked, through FOI, under whose or what authority the threatening legal statement was issued.

The response, which arrived this morning, discloses one brief email thread (extract below) which confirms, if nothing else, that the threat came directly from the council keyboard of Mark James himself and, furthermore, he also threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald, using the press office to deliver the statement below.

It is perhaps quite fitting that the death throes of the Mark James regime were marked by a direct threat to sue and silence a local newspaper.
The only contact with elected members was that Plaid Cymru council leader Emlyn Dole was cc'd into the emails.

The email thread (which can be seen here in full) was in response to a detailed press enquiry by The Herald, which was also disclosed.
The council claimed in their FOI response to me that this email thread was the only relevant information they held.

Being a little cynical that this was the case, I approached The Herald, who were surprised that the email trail which had been disclosed did not include all of the emails passing between the paper and the Council, which included an offer of a right to reply which was refused and which responded robustly to the suggestion that coverage would be 'potentially defamatory'.

So, the information released under FOI was sparse and incomplete, deliberately so. One sincerely hopes that they didn't consult the now retired Mr James over this disclosure...)

It comes as no surprise of course that the temper tantrum displayed over this letter, and the assumption that the council would, potentially, deploy the slush fund and sue, came straight from Mr James. He was too cross to even bother with a spellcheck.

As for being 'potentially defamatory', this would not be the case as the factual content of the letter was substantially true, Mr James is a liar, and as for his failure to adhere to any of the seven Nolan principles, this was opinion, and, for that matter, spot on.

The council have since been stripped of City Deal governance and audit responsibilities and the police are investigating the Wellness scandal.

The email from Mr James also refers to the letter as 'private correspondence'. This is laughable given that it was from the head of one public body to another relating to public governance and expenditure.

He had a somewhat different attitude towards 'leaks' when 'Emlyn Dole's' response to the letter, and for that matter the sham Acuity Law report found their way to the Western Mail....

This is all from someone who stated in May that he stopped reading and bothering with pesky newspapers some years ago...

The key question, which was who the 'we' was, and the point about his interest being as an individual was never answered.  My own correspondence with Linda Rees Jones about the matter saw her reconfirm her nonsense that to use public money to sue, or threaten to sue was perfectly fine, and as we saw with their attempt to reinstate the illegal libel clause last year, this is a tactic fully endorsed by Emlyn Dole, and presumably the Plaid Cymru group he leads, as well.

Even against a local newspaper.

The 'suspended' clause must now be urgently removed as it is clear that the 'suspension' meant nothing to Mr James, nor Legal Linda, nor the Rev Dole. Neither is it a comforting thought that the new CEO Wendy Walters was a passive bystander in the email thread.
Whether the 'council's' legal threat against the newspaper was carried out or not is not important, it's the chilling effect that counts. 


Anonymous said...

Who is now in control of Carmarthen County Council? Is the new CEO under the influence of the Leader or will she be allowed to draw her own conclusions to matters of significance to Carmarthenshire constituents? For too long there has been an autocratic control with little accountability and transparency. Time for change is long overdue.

Redhead said...

My question would be: is the new CEO still under the influence of the old CEO - is she an acolyte or a new start. Does the old CEO still really rule through a surrogate or not.

Anonymous said...

After the "reign of terror" of "Murky Mark", will "Woeful Wendy" follow the same misguided route or will "Wonder Woman Wendy" do the right thing and follow a truly democratic path - something that has been alien to this county for many years? We shall await developments with baited breath - but don't hold your hopes too high!