THE LEADER of Carmarthenshire County Council has come under fire, after it was revealed that he leaked the outcome of a private meeting to the local press before the party concerned was informed.
Blogger Jacqui Thompson will be made to repay £190,000 following a 2013 libel case, according to a statement the council leader gave to a local paper.
Speaking to the Carmarthen Journal, Councillor Emlyn Dole said: “The executive board’s decision was to pursue the full costs awarded to the council by the High Court, in the interests of the public purse.”
The matter was discussed behind closed doors at an Executive Board Meeting on March 21. No details concerning the content of what was discussed, and what conclusions were reached, was made available to the media, and the webcast recording was terminated prior to the discussion.
However, apparently, the Board was asked to decide whether Ms Thompson – who writes the Carmarthenshire Planning Problems blog – should repay the council’s insurance excess of £127,625, or the full £190,390 which includes £62,765 to be repaid to the insurers.
The claim dates back to 2011. In June that year, Ms Thompson was arrested for trying to film a council meeting.
Later that year, Council Chief Executive Mark James posted comments on the Mad Axeman blog page, which Ms Thompson considered libellous.
She sued Mr James, but in March 2013 a High Court Judge dismissed her claim and honoured a counter-claim for libel from the council Chief Executive.
Ms Thompson was ordered to pay £25,000 in damages, as well as costs. An appeal in 2014 was unsuccessful.
However, while Ms Thompson was aware that this matter was being discussed by the Executive Board, she discovered the outcome of the meeting after she was phoned by a journalist, who told her what Cllr Dole had said.
Interestingly, this was a day before the minutes of the Executive Board Meeting were released. As previously mentioned, the meeting took place behind closed doors and, in the words of the minutes, ‘all officers, with the exception of the Director of Corporate Services, the Head of Administration and Law and the Democratic Services Officer left the meeting for this item.’
Ms Thompson had previously asked the Head of Legal Services Linda Rees Jones to be told the meeting’s outcome. She received the following response: “I cannot inform you of the outcome of this item before our own members, but I will notify you when members are notified.”
However, The Herald has learned that a number of County Councillors were unaware of the Executive Board’s decision.
Labour Councillor Anthony Jones said he was ‘rather surprised as I didn’t know anything about it.’
When informed about the comments made by the Council Leader, Cllr Jones added: “If that is the state of affairs, I wouldn’t have thought it appropriate to make such comments, and would have expected a briefing note.”
People First Councillor Siân Caiach had also not received any notification from the council. However, as she pointed out “we have never been informed about anything regarding the libel action before.”
“It has been a long saga, and I find it absolutely disgusting that the majority of my colleagues have gone along with this,” she added.
It has also been suggested by a source that the figures featured in the article ‘could only have come from the exempt report,’ which implies that a local newspaper was given access to a document which remains unavailable to the public.
The reason for this document, and the privacy surrounding the meeting, were given as follows in the executive Board minutes:
The report and subsequent discussion were said to contain ‘information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information).’
In a statement made by Ms Thompson to the media, which she has given us permission to use, she said:” I am astonished and horrified by this decision, which incidentally I had to learn from the press rather than the council.
“As I’ve made clear in the past, and currently to Mr James’ bailiffs, I have nothing. This is ridiculous, they will never get this and now seem prepared to spend more good money going after bad. Part of these costs were unlawful and it’s about time the Welsh Government stepped in.”
The Herald asked Carmarthenshire County Council if it could provide a copy of the leader’s statement and a further comment from the head of legal on her assessment of the prospects for recovery of the monies mentioned.
We also asked ‘whether the Council thinks it appropriate for a member or officer to make a public statement on the topic without informing the other party to litigation of its substance.’
We also asked to confirm if ‘all councillors were notified before Cllr Dole’s leak of a confidential decision reached in private session to an employee of a newspaper group for which he is a columnist. We asked for confirmation of how councillors were notified. We asked for confirmation that Councillor Dole’s comments were more than a case of him enthusiastically jumping the gun in a casual conversation’.
Instead every single one of those queries, including the direct question of when and how the Council’s legal department had informed Mrs Thompson of the Executive Board’s decision, was ignored.
We received the following response:
‘Leader of the council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “The Executive Board’s decision was to pursue the full costs awarded to the council by the High Court, in the interests of the public purse.”
‘No further information will be provided’. Some straight questions, it seems, are incapable of being met with straight answers.
Llanelli High Street shortlisted for prize
LLANELLI HIGH STREET has been shortlisted in the Government’s Great British High Street Awards, in proud partnership with Visa, putting them in the running for up to £15,000.
After a rigorous selection process led by a panel of independent judges, the high street has been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, which celebrates high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify.
The bid by Ymlaen Llanelli follows research commissioned by Visa in April 2019 demonstrating the positive impact that the local high street has on communities. The research found that nearly three quarters of consumers (71%) in Wales say that shopping locally makes them feel happy, with nearly half (45%) citing supporting local shops and knowing where their money is going as the main reason. Spending time with friends and family (25%) and offering a sense of community (18%) were other reasons cited for why high streets make people feel happier. The research also reveals that half of consumers (50%) feel that their high street gives them a sense of pride in their local community.
High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “Congratulations to Llanelli for being shortlisted for the Rising Star Award for this year’s Great British High Street Awards.
“Llanelli high street is a hive of activity, with food festivals, childrens’ days and community get-togethers all part of the local calendar. A great example of how high streets can bring a renewed energy to communities.
“People are happier when they can see their hard-earned cash support local businesses. That is why we are celebrating those that go above and beyond to keep their high streets thriving for generations to come.”
Sundeep Kaur, Head of UK & Ireland Merchant Services at Visa, added: “We’ve seen some fantastic entries for this year’s Great British High Street Awards across both the Champion High Street and Rising Star categories. In particular, the desire to innovate stands out amongst this year’s entries, with high streets adapting to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing retail environment to find ways to thrive at a local level.
“As our research shows, high streets play a vital role at the heart of communities, so this is a great opportunity for those communities with shortlisted high streets to show their support by placing their votes on the Great British High Street website.”
Llanelli High Street is one of the 28 high streets that have been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, identifying high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify. 12 high streets have been shortlisted in the Champion High Street category, which recognises the UK’s best high streets. All 40 high streets are now in the running to win a prize of up to £15,000 to be dedicated to a local high street initiative.
Head Teacher at Primary school in Llanelli suspended
THE HEAD TEACHER of a Welsh primary school has been suspended, it has been confirmed.
Catherine Lloyd-Jenkins, who is head at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes in Llanelli, has been suspended from her duties at the school with immediate effect.
Governors at the school have been unavailable for comment, but Carmarthenshire Council confirmed the news this morning.
It is understood that the chair of the governing body is currently out of the country, and the council would not comment further on the circumstances surrounding the suspension.
The council’s director of education, Gareth Morgans, said: “School staffing is a matter for the Governing Body, however, we can confirm the headteacher of Ysgol Ffwrnes has been suspended.
“It is not appropriate to comment further.”
Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has worked at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes for 23 years, taking up a post at the school in 1996.
She has been the headteacher there for almost 20 years, taking over the role in 2000. She has also worked as a peer inspector at Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales confirmed.
According to one local councillor, ‘serious concerns’ have been raised about the school in recent months.
“Local residents and parents have approached us raising serious concerns about the school in question,” said Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James.
“We are in dialogue with senior council officers to assert whether the allegations are credible and what action the council and governors have taken in response to these allegations.”
Dyfed-Powys Police numbers at record low, say Labour
POLICE officers based across the Dyfed-Powys area are now at their lowest levels in the last decade, with over 300 officers being lost across the region, claim Carmarthenshire Labour.
According to a freedom of information request by Carmarthenshire Labour, police officers based across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion are down 42% and are at record lows in both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.
The figures published by Dyfed-Powys Police show that Carmarthenshire has lost 160 officers in the last ten years, Pembrokeshire is down 107 officers and Ceredigion has lost 56 bobbies on the beat.
These figures come off the back of a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that shows the force has gone backwards in the last year, with crime also on the increase.
HMIC’s recent PEEL (Police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) report noted concerns about Dyfed-Powys Police’s performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime and specifically warned of failures to assess all incidents of domestic abuse.
Carmarthenshire Labour Leader Cllr Rob James claims that the figures show that the current Police and Crime Commissioner is now performing worse than their predecessor.
Rob James stated: “These figures that show a dramatic decrease in police numbers are extremely worrying and reinforce what communities are saying across Dyfed Powys – there are simply not enough police officers in our areas.
“The fact that we now have lower police numbers in the three counties compared to the end of the last Police and Crime Commissioner’s term with crime now on the rise illustrates that the Plaid Cymru Commissioner is failing in his duty to protect our communities.
“We need urgent action to make our communities safe once more, as there is a clear link between the loss of youth provision and cuts to officer numbers, and the rise of crime in our communities.
“There is little evidence that our Commissioner has grasped the nettle over the last three years in tackling this important issue.”
These claims however, have been slapped down by Police and Crime Comissioner, Dafydd Llewellyn. He said that said that Cllr James had misunderstood or misrepresented the information provided to him.
The Carmarthen data have a significant rider attached to them.
The explanatory note reads: ‘It should be noted that the figures for Carmarthenshire police division between 2008 and 2018 are not comparable as the structure of Carmarthenshire division in 2018 has altered to that of 2008 which has impacted upon the figures provided’.
That explanation is expanded upon concerning the Ceredigion data. Regarding them, an explanatory note warns that: ‘[T]he structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded divisionally now come under the HQ remit, e.g. the Road Policing Unit, CID, etc.’.
Dafydd Llewelyn pointed out that note in his response to The Herald: “As outlined in the response to the Freedom of Information request, structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded as divisionally based are now recorded under the HQ remit, for example, Roads Policing Unit, CID.”
Dafydd Llewelyn continued: “Since taking up my role as the elected person to represent the many communities across the four counties served by the force, I have increased the overall resource available by 4%. I have ploughed funding into dedicated teams to support front line officers and have invested in resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities.
“I have commissioned services specific to their needs – be that as victims of domestic abuse or young people choosing to leave their homes for reasons unknown to authorities. I will continue to do this. I will not be held to account by numbers on paper alone, but by the difference I can make to individuals’ quality of life.
“I will also use the opportunity I have to campaign for services appropriate to the very specific needs an area the size of Dyfed-Powys Police has and will work with the force to adapt according to those needs.”
He concluded by pointing out: “Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys remain the safest counties nationally and I’m proud to be driving a service that is willing and able to flex and respond, despite the financial challenges faced day-in-day-out.”
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