Sunday 13 October 2019

A quick update - I'm still here!

After being contacted by numerous people wondering if I'd given up writing the blog I thought I'd better add a quick update and confirm that no, I haven't. The brief lull is due to the highly significant matter of the search warrants executed by the organised crime squad on the 31st July, which included, amongst others, the home of Mark James, recently retired chief executive of Carmarthenshire council.
I am waiting for developments regarding this criminal investigation, and rest assured I will comment in full as soon as I can, whatever the outcome.

Meanwhile, various rumours relating to the investigation are circulating locally, but nothing, so far, has been confirmed by the police, despite my requests for an update.

In fact, no one is saying much about anything. A recent FOI to the council asking what exactly they'd spent £65,000 on with Acuity Law in the first six months of this year (and whatever they spent last year), has yet to be answered.

Despite sending polite chasers, the response is now three weeks late. Acuity Law, you will recall, were the lawyers appointed by Mark James to carry out an 'independent' review of the council's tendering process over the Wellness village, they also happen to be Mark James' personal solicitors.... Essentially they provided him with a publicly funded defence, as it was looking like he might be needing one...

In libel indemnity news, I asked the Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones when, or if, elected members had discussed the letter from the Auditor General for Wales received back in May.

The Auditor General's letter was a sound rejection of Legal Linda's lengthy plea, sent on behalf of Mark James, to reinstate his notorious and unlawful libel clause; to use taxpayers' money to sue the public for defamation. A slush fund if you will. The Auditor General also warned her of his powers to launch a Judicial challenge.

She replied to me last week. No, she said, elected members couldn't discuss it as she was still sending begging letters ("still in dialogue" was the official wording) to the Auditor General to try and change his mind. All quite remarkable. Clearly no councillors are going to get a look-in until he's been swayed.

Whatever else, it shows scant disregard that the council is supposed to be a democratic body, and rides roughshod over the right for elected members to discuss such a significant statement from the head of the independent national audit body for Wales; whether she, and the former chief executive like it or not. It's outrageous.

This is the latest attempt, over the past five years, to change the mind of the Wales Audit Office. From 2015 of course, Mark James and legal Linda have also had the backing of Plaid Cymru's Emlyn Dole, the price he paid for leadership. The Rev Dole also wants to extend the unlawful indemnity to himself and fellow councillors.

Either he, legal Linda and the chief finance officer think that the potential risk of massive losses to the taxpayer, and the threat of Judicial challenge is a great idea. After all, silencing dissent is a much higher priority than a few extra primary school teachers or a social worker or two; Or, Linda and Emlyn are still concerned with protecting the back of a very dodgy, dishonest and disreputable former chief executive and his unlawful payments, and indeed Linda herself with her history of profoundly misleading 'advice' on this matter, and plenty of other matters too.

I have also written to the new chief executive, Wendy Walters asking for her own opinion on the libel indemnity. Maybe, I thought, she has a different view to that of her predecessor. She might have thought it anti-democratic, chilling, illegal, imprudent or immoral, even with her sixteen years at County Hall.
Sadly, three weeks later I've yet to receive an acknowledgement, let alone a reply. Unless she chooses to respond soon I must assume the worst and realise that there's no new broom.

Update 15th October; Ms Walters finally replied yesterday and refused to condemn the indemnity as unlawful and has also ignored the strong words from the Auditor General. However, it is interesting that she considers it a matter for politicians, a message she might wish to pass on to Linda Rees Jones;

"In relation to the matter you raise. I don’t  propose to air any views on this type of indemnity as I regard it as being a matter for the politicians. I am aware there is an on-going debate which will come back to the Constitutional Review Working Group in due course where Members will be able to discuss in full."

It was, of course, discussed in full over five years ago and found to be illegal, at which point both Mark James and legal Linda should have been unceremoniously booted out of office.

But back to the criminal investigation and I hope that the eventual outcome is locked doors and keys throw away. But whatever happens I will, with regards to my own case and the continuing crippling financial nightmare, step up the fight for justice and ensure those responsible, retired or not, are held to account.
I'll do whatever it takes.

Watch this space.