Monday 30 December 2019

Libel indemnities - Auditor General says NO, again!

As readers will know, the Wales Audit Office, and the Auditor General have said NO! to libel indemnities numerous times. The first occasion being the 2014 Public Interest Report ruling the bankrolling of Mark James counterclaim for libel against me by the unsuspecting taxpayer as unlawful.

After another comprehensive rejection in May 2019, the AG's final response (in full below), a few weeks ago, should be the nail in the coffin.

Here's some background;
The 2014 public report led to the clause in the council's constitution allowing such unlawful funding being suspended, but it was not removed.

The prohibition of these libel indemnities was made crystal clear in the Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006. (3) being the relevant part;

Click to enlarge

Since 2014 various failed attempts to overturn the ruling have been made by Mark James and Linda Rees Jones and whichever puppet leader was in place at the time. Since June 2015 that's been Plaid Cymru's Emlyn Dole. At least one attempt was made to question the qualifications of the then Appointed Auditor to make such a ruling.

The latest round of this saga has been the astonishing attempt by James, Rees-Jones and Dole to reinstate the clause and to extend it to cover councillors. They are, in essence, proposing to expose the taxpayers to massive financial risk, the exorbitant cost of a Judicial Review and sustain the chilling effect on democracy.

This came about at a meeting of the Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) back in July 2018. Plaid Cymru (by now they were three years into their deal with the devil...) were very keen to reinstate the clause and, of course, clear the names of Mark and Legal Linda. It was decided however, and before they did anything rash, that they better seek the opinion of the Auditor General, Adrian Crompton.

Anyhow, nothing moves very quickly in local government, so six months later Linda Rees Jones wrote a lengthy begging letter to the AG, this letter was disclosed to me by the Wales Audit Office.

In May of this year, after seeking external legal advice, the AG replied, soundly rejecting the arguments put forward by Rees-Jones and warning them of his powers to launch judicial review.
That letter can be seen in full here.

Instead of taking the AG's response back to elected members, as promised, Ms Rees-Jones under the instruction of the then employed Mark James, wrote back to the AG in a last ditch attempt to change his mind. This time she added a veiled threat to go back to the Welsh Government with a view to override his opinion. That letter can be seen here.

To bring us bang up to date, the AG responded on the 29th November.

It was another shattering rejection, and this latest letter, disclosed by the Auditor General under FOI, can be read in full here;

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Without going into the finer legal points (all of which are on this blog, here there and everywhere), the AG has succinctly rejected their entire argument, and on multiple occasions.

It now remains to be seen if Ms Rees Jones will admit liability and allow councillors to remove the clause completely or will she carry out her threat (along with Mark James, lurking somewhere) and try and appeal to the Welsh Government to save their skins. At continuing great expense of course.

Interestingly, the AG has also taken the time to have a look at the 2014 Minister's letter referred to by Rees Jones. At the time, many observers, and significantly the Plaid opposition councillors, were amazed by Mark and Linda's deliberately twisted interpretation of the letter. A child could see through it. 
Far from giving them free rein to carry on suing with public money, as the two of them claimed, it did nothing of the sort. The First Minister had confirmed the Welsh Government's stance that the indemnity was unlawful the day before the meeting.

Surely this latest confirmation from the Auditor General marks the end of the road for Carmarthenshire Council and its unique and illegal approach to libel indemnities.

And incidentally, you'll note that Chris Moore, the council's chief finance officer is also a signatory in the correspondence. Under the illegal indemnity clause he also has the delegated power to instigate libel proceedings. However, wearing his finance hat, he has just recommended £5.2m of cuts to services next year and a 4.89% increase in council tax. But, well, I suppose you've got to find some way of funding slush funds, they don't come cheap...

Ms Rees Jones, and indeed Mark James must admit defeat and accept liability for deliberately misleading councillors, the public, and the High Court. They have both lied and cheated the taxpayer, and James' behaviour has been fraudulent, dishonest malicious and criminal. He has not repaid the illegal indemnity nor, for that matter his unlawful tax avoidance payments. Nor has he been held to account. 
Not yet anyway...

Rees-Jones legal advice in general must be called into question as a large proportion of it has been for the sole purpose of covering-up for the misdemeanours of Mr James. From defending his very own slush fund to undeclared interests and lying to his employers. Had she had a shred of honesty, self-respect or professionalism Mr James may not have got away with his shameful, vindictive and illegal behaviour. 
That's without the fact that he managed, almost single-handed, to destabilise and all but destroy the Swansea Bay City Deal. See, for instance, this post from June. 
We still await the outcome of that criminal investigation.
They both should have been sacked years ago. 

As for the Reverend Emlyn Dole, he should resign, hang his head in shame and crawl back to his chapel and beg for forgiveness. As I said earlier this month, the rotten legacy left by Mark James is nothing for Plaid Cymru to be proud of.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Wellness scandal - bribery investigation - four suspects questioned by police

The organised crime squad Tarian, have said, in a statement issued today, that four people have been questioned as suspects in relation to the alleged bribery investigation over the proposed Wellness Village in Llanelli.

This is the police statement;

"Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for southern Wales, is continuing to investigate alleged offences following a complaint by Swansea University in respect of the Llanelli Wellbeing and Life Sciences Village.

"Four people have been interviewed as suspects, all of whom remain under investigation. Further enquiries as part of this complex investigation are ongoing.

"Extensive examination of a significant number of documents and electronic equipment, which were seized earlier this year, also continues."

You will recall that eight addresses were raided by the police at the end of July.

Those addresses included the homes of former CEO Mark James and Meryl Gravell.
County Hall was also raided.

The other addresses were almost certainly those individuals sacked from Swansea University, and the former director of the Council's private 'partner' Sterling Health in Kent.

The investigation relates to alleged bribery and corruption over the tender process for the Wellness Village.

As detailed on this blog, Mark James led and oversaw that very same tender process, which not only involved Sterling but it's previous incarnation as Kent Neurosciences.

The identities of the four suspects who have been questioned so far have not been released. However, as the statement says, the investigation is far from over.

WalesOnline report here

Please search this blog for all the background to the Wellness scandal. Any further updates will appear on this blog.

Monday 2 December 2019

Plaid Cymru, and the rotten legacy of Mark James

My last post included a published comment warning former CEO Mark James that just because it's quiet, it doesn't mean there isn't a train coming. Quite correct, there will be a train coming, regardless of the outcome of the current police investigation. (Brief update on that here)
If necessary, I'll be driving it.

Mark James spent seventeen years at the council and ran it with all the charm of a psychopath, he was no better in Boston where he allegedly tampered with legal documents, lied under oath and bullied staff. In Carmarthenshire he bullied and threatened any staff, councillors, whistleblowers or members of the public who dared challenge his word. He granted favours and promotion to those who flattered his ego. He used council facilities, including the notoriously incompetent and unscrupulous legal department for his own personal vendettas and shady business deals.

He used the police and courts as a weapon to get his own way and to bully and silence critics. He helped out his 'friends' and acted fraudulently, with the full support of the monitoring officer and whichever puppet administration he'd put in 'power'.

The puppet administrations are to blame for allowing this regime to continue for so long. And to have caused so much damage. It was the idiotic Labour/Independent executive board which bankrolled his illegally funded counterclaim. Kevin Madge, the former Labour leader who rubber stamped the decision, with Mark James leaning over his shoulder, cut a pathetic figure attempting to defend the latter throughout the WAO findings, Madge is now Chair of the Council. This is how loyalty is rewarded in Carmarthenshire.
It remains to be seen what the outcome of the police raid on former leader Meryl Gravell will be.

As for the counterclaim, the 'indemnity' was indeed a slush fund, and 'Pinocchio' has always been a very accurate description. Not least of all the whopping lie about paying damages back to the council. He's pocketing the lot.
If I fail to pay Mark James his monthly 'gutter' money, for evermore apparently, he will sell my home, "without further notice".

Plaid Cymru, in opposition, were vocal in their criticism of the regime, and not just regarding the libel case but everything from bizarre planning decisions to cover-ups in social care, and so there was some hope that they would start serving out some justice when they came to 'power' in 2015. Quite the opposite happened and Emlyn and co were taken into the fold. In a deal for the position as leader, Emlyn 'two barns' Dole bowed to Mark James and reneged on his previous opinion that the indemnity had been unlawful.

With the scene set by Labour, Plaid just carried on with the farce. And still do.

One of his first steps as leader was to place a crippling legal charge on my home for hundreds of thousands of pounds for legal costs. A vindictive decision straight from the mouth of Mark James. A sum I will never be able to pay, and a charge which the judge was reluctant to order. Mark James' own charge on my home, from the unlawfully funded counterclaim, is tens of thousands of pounds.

Plaid Cymru are now, under the guidance of monitoring officer, Linda Rees Jones (and Mark James, this latest attempt started a year before he retired) are now trying their best to change the mind of the Auditor General and reinstate the ability to sue the public with taxpayers' money, and extend it to themselves.

It's scandalous.

As former county councillor Sian Caiach points out in her latest blog post, this is a Plaid Cymru policy they're keeping quiet about.

Throughout all this, Plaid politicians Adam Price AM and Jonathan Edwards MP appear to have recognised the blindingly obvious injustices and, in particular, the arrogance and failures of Mark James. They continue to state their opposition to illegal libel indemnities. They called for Mark James to repay his ill-gotten gains some years ago, this was ignored by Labour at the time. I myself asked Emlyn Dole if he would honour his colleagues request and demand repayment before Mark James retired, he refused to even consider asking him.

Despite their apparent sincerity the Plaid politicians outside the council appear to be powerless to influence their colleagues leading Carmarthenshire. Whether this is by fault or design isn't clear. One assumes they prefer not to rock Plaid's Carmarthenshire boat, or is there a complete disconnect between the external politicians and the merry bunch 'running' the council...not that Emlyn seems particularly merry these days.
The Welsh Labour government have failed to hold this rogue council to account and positively intervene over the many issues which have arisen over the years. At the moment it doesn't look like Plaid Cymru would do any better. Promoting a Welsh justice system, with full human rights implications, needs to start with eliminating injustice in this corner of Wales.

The 'legal adviser' to councillors has, for some years, been Linda Rees Jones, instructed, totally, by Mark James. She owes her permanent position as monitoring officer to Mark James himself who bypassed the proper appointment process in a cosy arrangement and a reward for her unswerving loyalty to covering up his illegal and immoral behaviour. Her legal department was famously described as cavalier and incompetent but it's worse than that, she has deliberately mislead councillors to protect Mark James and herself, and to line his pockets.

Whilst these issues, and others, continue to fester in the corridors of County Hall no amount of gloss and spin can eradicate the foul taste. It won't go away. Any councillors with even a vague sense of justice and empathy will take the bull by the horns themselves, along with MPs and AMs and realise that the continuing rotting legacy of Mark James, and his monitoring officer, needs to be halted once and for all.
He will not get away with it.

They need to right the past wrongs, now, reject the misleading advice, and run the council with that justice, fairness and empathy they pray earnestly for, very publicly, each month.


In Wellness scandal news, in true Carmarthenshire council style, not only have they spent a fortune covering their legal backs with Acuity Law but have employed the services of a large PR company to try and put lipstick on the proverbial pig. Heavenly Group Ltd have been commissioned to 'rebrand' the scandal ridden sauna-by-the-swamp.
With undoubtedly 'difficult' budget cuts fast approaching, I have asked just how much has been spent with Heavenly Ltd.
Response due at the end of the month.

For extensive background to the Wellness Village, City Deal, investigations, etc, please search this blog using the searchbox on the right