Friday 4 December 2020

The leaked £191,000 costs report - redacted, five years on

I've been quietly battling, since February, to get the Executive Board report, now nearly five years old, which recommended that the council pursue me for £191,000 in legal defence costs from the libel case. 

The report also considered pursuing me for the unlawful indemnity counterclaim costs which they decided, at the time, to leave well alone. I wonder why... 

At a subsequent court hearing the council got a charge on my home for the full £191,000. The judge was surprised that they were pursuing it and said he applied it 'reluctantly'.

Mark James was already in the process of getting a legal charge, instalments, and a suspended order for sale for his damages and enforcement costs, totalling around £46,000. You may recall his comments about stuffing the money in the gutter. And the judge's shock that he'd lied to the council about handing over any damages.

My FOI request for this elderly report earlier this year followed a meeting with Plaid Cymru's Adam Price AS in January. Mr Price promised to write to Plaid leader Emlyn Dole asking him to consider removing the charge as the threat of it hanging over us was crippling, financially and emotionally. 

Cllr Dole flatly and belligerently refused and reminded Mr Price that they could come after me for the money 'at any time'. Charming. I asked Mr Price to write again to Mr Dole but heard no more. Perhaps he doesn't want to rock election boats...

They knew damn well at the time, in 2016, that I definitely had no means, nor assets to ever pay it. 
This was never about getting money back, it was purely vindictive, and all about punishment, and led by Mark James.

Anyway back to this report. 

I was eventually sent a copy. Confusingly it had been refused under FOI but disclosed under data protection. The problem was that as it had been considered in private, in 2016, (despite my calls at the time for it to be heard in public and for me to be able to make representations) it was heavily redacted. The whole thread of the FOI, and the redacted report can be seen on the What Do They Know site.

Unsurprisingly the only bits left, pretty much, was the damning nonsense said about me and a few choice quotes from Tugenhat's judgement. Even from the remnants left in, it was easy to tell this wasn't an 'objective' report. Not surprising given the influence of Mark James and his legal disciple, and report author Linda Rees Jones.

Under data protection they had not only removed Mark James' name (unnecessary, but understood), but the internal and legal advice which they'd included in the report. I didn't know they could use the legal privilege exemption under data protection but apparently they can.

I duly took the matter to the Information Commissioner (ICO). My argument for the redaction to be removed from all of it (apart from Mr James' precious name) was that the report was reaching its fifth birthday, the matter had already been decided by a County Court judgement and, more to the point, the full document had been leaked to the press after it was discussed in 2016.

The first I heard that they had decided to go after me for £191,000 was via a phone call from a reporter from the Carmarthen Journal who had a copy in front of him. It was a few days after the 2016 meeting. I was in shock. 

He read out a couple of bits but I didn't see the full document, nor, given the awful news, did I quite absorb all he was saying. I also found out that Emlyn Dole had already had a little chat with him and issued a statement, before I even knew what had happened. 
I had been told to wait until all 74 councillors had been informed and the minutes published. No councillors were informed, and the minutes not published until a few days later.

Emlyn Dole was the leaker, on orders from Mark James, who went on to win Private Eye's Shit of the Year award for 2016.

The Information Commissioner got back to me a few weeks ago. They had decided that the council had to 'revisit' the way they handled the request. Not exactly pushing the boat out.

Yesterday I had a response from the council (my emphasis).
"I write with regard to your complaint to the Information Commissioner in respect of this matter which was received from the ICO on the 10th November.

In light of your complaint the content of the report you have requested has been compared to information published by the Council  to ascertain if, as you suggest it’s contents are already in the public domain.  We are satisfied that the content of the report has not been published by the
Council in another document or another form.

Your complaint however states that the Council ‘leaked’ the report at the time it was considered. We can find no evidence that this was the case. Please can you confirm when precisely it was ‘leaked’ and to whom. If the report (or its contents) have already appeared in the public domain, then
please confirm where and when.

The decision to redact some of the report in response to your request will then be revisited in light of the information that you provide."

Of course this is all game playing. Interesting that they could find 'no evidence' of a leak. After the Journal reported on the decision, with the document to hand, so did the BBC, and the Carmarthenshire Herald, it even made the front page. The Herald article examined the leak in detail. 

I also wrote about it on my blog. Given that Mark James was, at the time, using taxpayers' resources to rummage through my blog for his failed complaint to the police, it's surprising he missed it...

Carmarthenshire Herald April 2016

Of course, as the council already know, no one actually published the full report, only the Journal published figures which can only have come from the document. I will point this out to the council, as this ridiculous game, and play on words, continues. 

Interestingly their latest response makes no mention of the rationale behind withholding an old report on a matter which has already been decided in court, which was also part of my complaint to the ICO. It was in fact, Robert Edgecombe, the council's solicitor who applied all the redactions, and who represented the council in court. 
You might conclude that not only are they taking the p***, but they also have something to hide.

One thing is certain, I'll not drop any of this. And with former CEO Mark James; liar, thief and all round crook still under police investigation, the fight will go, regardless.


Redhead said...

And today, by sheer councidence:

Anonymous said...

Anybody who has followed the despicable behaviour by Carmarthen County Council over a significant period of time (at the behest of the former CEO M.V.James initially) can be left in NO doubt about the vindictive behaviour of the Council. We have the Leader of Plaid who one would expect would be only too keen to ensure that he would try to represent the interests of his constituents in such a case as that of Jacqui Thompson. This is someone who is more than happy to appear on The National Media on a nearly daily basis demanding this and that be done etc!. When The The Leader of Plaid shows little enthusiasm to question the Plaid leader of Carmarthen County Council to justify his own actions one has to wonder why.Mark James has a lot to answer for and hopefully in time he will be held to account. Meanwhile Emlyn Dole has taken on the mantle of non accountability in the mould of his ex.master M.V.James.It was a fervent wish of many that with a new CEO in post that there would be a change of governance with the Council. Sadly this does not seem to be the case and we can expect more lives to be ruined and those intrusted to bring about change are found to be sadly wanting!

caebrwyn said...

Anon 16:52
I guarantee that all those responsible, retired or not, will be held accountable. By whatever means possible. I've got nothing left to lose.

Anonymous said...

Anon 16.52
All these politicians and officers are financed out of the public purse. They are Public Servants and need to realise that their duty is to act in the best interests of that public, NOT to, at every opportunity endeavour to enhance their own political and in some cases, personal gains!!

Anonymous said...

If these so called public servants were NOT 'all in it together', the culture that now exists would be very different. We would Have accountability as our politicians WOULD be publicly exposing misconduct, thereby sending a clear message to employees of councils, they have a duty of care, regulations, Nolan Principles, Wednesbury rule, and Human Rights Act, to name but a few, to follow. All of these are in place to protect the public. However as none of these are abided by, the public are at great risk from any form of misconduct in public office which affects them, as CCC WILL launch a vengeful and malicious campaign toward anyone who dare question wrongdoing. We have seen much evidence of it!!! Our politicians let us down.

caebrwyn said...

I replied to Mr Edgecombe, (its on the WDTK site) suggesting he may be being a little disingenuous, but enlightened him of the leak, which of course he already knew about. I politely suggested he read this blog to jog his memory, and the links to the Carmarthenshire Herald.

He got back to me with unseemly haste to deny ever reading either....such a shame, perhaps he should...someone certainly does..

Anyway I also reminded him of my other part of the complaint, ie the document is nearly five years old and the matter has already been decided in court.
I said that as he was now fully aware of the situation could he send me the unredacted report forthwith.
No response yet. The haste has dissipated...

Incidentally, for a very good background piece, written in April 2016 at the time of the 'leak', see Cneifiwr's post, A tangled web

Anon 11:01
As I said in my earlier comment, I'll make sure justice is served, one way or another. I have no other option, and nothing left to worry about.