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Blogger ‘in dark’ over meeting

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Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 13.00.07THE 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.

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Outdoor hospitality given go-ahead and rules on mixing outdoors relaxed in Wales

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SIX people will be able to meet outdoors in Wales from Saturday 24 April while outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26 April as cases of new COVID-19 infections continue to fall, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed today.

The current rule provides for up to six people (not including children under 11 years of age or carers) from a maximum of two households to meet outdoors.

The new rules from Saturday will allow six people (not including children under 11 years of age or carers) to meet outdoors.

People should observe social distancing from people from outside their household or support bubble when meeting others outside.

The rules for meeting indoors remain unchanged.

The First Minister has also confirmed outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26th April 2021.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford said: “The public health context in Wales remains favourable, with cases falling and our vaccination programme continues to go from strength to strength. Because meeting outdoors continues to be lower risk than meeting indoors, we are able to bring forward changes to allow any six people to meet outdoors.

“This will provide more opportunities for people, especially young people, to meet outdoors with their friends. This will undoubtedly have a significant positive impact on people’s wellbeing.

“I’m also pleased to confirm outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen from Monday 26th April.

“These changes will help the hospitality sector recover after a difficult twelve months.

“It is thanks to the continuing efforts of people across Wales we are able to introduce this change. Together, we will continue to keep Wales safe.”

On Friday (23rd April 2021), the First Minister will confirm further relaxations to the covid rules that will come into force on Monday 26 April 2021.

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Scientists issue urgent appeal for help on ground-breaking Covid genetic study

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SCIENTISTS involved in a ground-breaking COVID-19 genetic research study are urgently asking people across Wales who caught the virus to donate a small amount of blood to their project.

To help encourage as many people as possible to join the study, volunteers are now able to quickly and easily book an appointment for a nurse to visit their home and donate a sample.

The unique GenOMICC COVID-19 Study, which is being delivered in Wales through Health and Care Research Wales, analyses the genes of people who have had the virus to discover why some experienced mild or no symptoms while others became extremely ill. The study is already contributing to the fight again COVID, with preliminary results helping identify possible new treatments.

study open to anyone who caught COVID but didn’t need hospital treatment

However, for the study to continue to make progress, the scientists urgently need to recruit 2,500 more people from all backgrounds. Along with seeking the help of members of Asian and Black communities, they’re also keen for more men to volunteer.

The home appointment system has already proved popular when the scheme was launched in Scotland and Bradford earlier this year – and with lockdown restrictions beginning to be eased in Wales, organisers are hoping for a similar response from people across the country.

“This study has one key objective – to help us understand why COVID-19 has impacted different groups in different ways,” said Dr Matt Morgan, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the University Hospital of Wales and Specialty Lead for Critical Care at Health and Care Research Wales.

“Across the UK, a disproportionate number of people who ended up in hospital have been male as well as people with Asian and Black heritage – that’s why we need people from these groups in particular to join the study as soon as possible.”

“If you are eligible, please register and join the project. You’ll be making a direct contribution to helping improve our knowledge of the virus and discovering new ways of beating it.”

scientists issue urgent appeal for assistance to help them identify new treatments

Dr Kenneth Baillie, the study’s Chief Investigator, said: “We’re appealing for more volunteers from all walks of life to come forward and register. We need to find people who tested positive for COVID but experienced either mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment. To maximise the study’s potential, it’s important these volunteers are similar in age, gender and ethnicity of those people who were severely affected and hospitalised.”

Professor Sir Mark Caulfied, Chief Scientist at Genomics England added: “The quicker this research can be completed, the faster we can solve the COVID-19 puzzle and protect vulnerable people.

Genetic research into COVID-19 is now playing an increasingly important role in our fight against the virus, enabling us to identify new forms of the virus and develop treatments.

“The findings from the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study will improve the treatment, care and outcome for those most at risk and lower the number of deaths.”

Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support and Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, said: “It’s vital we learn as much as possible about COVID-19 and to do that we need people to volunteer to take part in research. By introducing an appointment booking system, the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study is giving people the opportunity to contribute to potentially life-saving research from their own homes. These contributions can help provide the evidence we need to give all patients the best possible outcome.”

The research project is open to anyone who tested positive to COVID-19 but experienced mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment – volunteers can register online here.

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A Llanelli household is hospitalised following reports of an “unknown substance”

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REPORTS of an “unknown substance” at a Llanelli property led to a multi-agency operation.

Police, ambulance and the fire service descended on a property in a village, just outside of Five Roads, Llanelli,  following reports of members of the household feeling unwell and the presence of an “unknown substance”.

Three members of the household in Five Roads, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Emergency services were alerted to members of the household feeling unwell and the presence of an ‘unknown substance’ on Sunday, April 11 at 7.30am.

The ambulance service were first on the scene with one rapid response vehicle, four emergency ambulances and the Hazardous Area Response Team and were supported by police and the fire service.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Ambulance Service said: “We were called to a residential property in the village of Five Roads, Llanelli at 7.30am on Sunday, April 11 to reports of three people needing medical attention.

“We responded with one rapid response vehicle, four emergency ambulances and our Hazardous Area Response Team.

“Three patients were taken to Glangwili Hospital, Carmarthen, for further treatment.”

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) assisted the police and ambulance service, deploying a specialist officer and an Environmental Protection Unit to the property.

The service ventilated the property and remained on the scene until 5.29pm.

A MAWWFRS spokesperson said: “At 7:44am, crews from Llanelli were called to assist the ambulance service and police at an incident in a property in Five Roads, Llanelli.

“An unknown substance was found at the property and its occupants reported feeling unwell.

“The occupants were taken to hospital by the ambulance service.”

“The incident was contained to one property and there were no concerns for the wider community of Five Roads.”

A Dyfed-Powys Police Spokesperson confirmed the force assisted in the multi-operation incident.

A spokesperson said:: “Members of one household in the village were feeling unwell, and were taken to hospital for assessment.

“They were found to have no medical concerns.

“Following examination of the scene by a number of agencies, there was no cause for further investigation into the incident.”

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