Sunday, 24 September 2017

Ysgol Dewi Sant - Plebs and jumped up Welsh tossers

Before launching into the next piece, apologies for the lack of posts in recent months. Work and family matters have meant that blogging has had to take a backseat, and that is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.

That said, Y Cneifiwr is not about to throw the towel in yet, although the blog will not be updated as frequently as it used to be.

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This blog chronicled the row about Llangennech School at some length. It was a particularly bitter and divisive issue, with the Llanelli Labour Party performing a 180 degree U-turn on its policies when in power, and adopting positions which were indistinguishable from UKIP as it exploited prejudice and ignorance to win votes.

Just as the battle in Llangennech was entering its final stages, many of the same Labour figures began teaming up with another campaign a few miles away to halt plans to relocate Ysgol Dewi Sant.

The campaign against Ysgol Dewi Sant is not ostensibly about Welsh-medium education, but as we shall see, some of the same figures have become involved and are using the same divisive tactics.

Apart from a couple of leaks which revealed collaboration between Llanelli Labour, UKIP and more extreme elements in Llangennech, almost everything which appeared in the blogs and the mainstream media was a matter of public record. Nia Griffiths was entirely invisible, even though the row in her constituency was making headlines far beyond Llanelli, and we were given only brief glimpses of the manoeuvres performed by Lee Waters. 


The interesting thing about the Ysgol Dewi Sant row is that we now have direct evidence of what senior Labour figures have been up to behind the scenes in Llanelli, and how those divisive, dog whistle tactics stand in stark contrast to the public message.

The leaked correspondence also provides a fascinating glimpse into the backstabbing and jostling going on within Labour in Llanelli.

Now read on.

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News addicts who watch the main evening bulletins on S4C and BBC One Wales could be forgiven for thinking that Cymru and Wales are entirely different places, possibly even located in different parts of the solar system.

A couple of weeks ago, BBC One Wales led with a story about an unsolved murder case in Cardiff dating back to before the Second World War. 80 years after the event, descendants of the relatives of the little girl understandably welcomed the decision by South Wales Police to re-open investigations, but for the rest of us it was hard to see why this story should receive star billing.

There being no royal drivel to report, that evening's output treated us to a cursory round-up of lesser matters before telling us at some length that Sam Warburton was about to have an operation on his neck.

And that was it. "The news where you are" turned out to be largely devoid of news as usual.

Meanwhile Newyddion 9 on S4C (also produced by the BBC) led with an interesting piece on a row about the future of Ysgol Dewi Sant in Llanelli.

Ysgol Dewi Sant

In a nutshell, the Welsh-medium school with over 450 pupils is desperately in need of a new home, and parents and governors have been campaigning for a new school for a quarter of a century. The current ramshackle collection of jerry-built flat-roofed buildings and portacabins is bursting at the seams, with some children having to be taught in corridors. Badly leaking roofs, chronic over-crowding and dilapidation everywhere you look, with children housed in conditions which would upset the RSPCA.

The fact that this disgrace has been allowed to drag on for so long should have had Labour politicians and the unions mobilising support for the school years ago, but this is a Welsh-medium school, and Llanelli Labour has instead once again made itself some toxic new friends, and thrown its lot in with a campaign which threatens to wreck the plans for a new school.

The County Council's technical experts had examined nine potential sites for a new school, and recommended a large green open space called Llanerch Fields.

Finding a site large enough to accommodate a school of this size in an urban environment was never going to be easy, and there would have been objections no matter which site was chosen. In the case of Llanerch Fields, it is understandable that many local residents would oppose the loss of an open green space near their homes, but the fields are no longer used for organised sports, and these days their main function is as a gigantic doggy toilet.

Sure enough, the plan has attracted what the Newyddion 9 report described as "fierce" opposition, with the objectors' latest tack being to have the green open space designated as a "village green" to stop any school from being built on it. Unsurprisingly, the most vociferous campaigners live right opposite the site of the proposed new school.

For its part, the County Council has developed plans which would create close links between the school and the local community. These include:

Village green located 100metres north of proposed site.

Retention of U7/8’s football pitch for school and community use.

Proposed Multi-use games area for school and community use.

Proposed multi-purpose hall and studio for school and community use.

Proposed off site car park (approx. 75spaces) for school and community use.


Meanwhile, close by, the council is proposing enhancements to Penygaer School as part of the Ysgol Dewi Sant scheme, including:



Proposed flood lit all weather recreational facility for school and community use.

Refurbishment of multi-use hall for school and community use.

Proposed dry changing rooms for school and community use.

Proposed link to and from Penygaer playing fields to enhance / facilitate community use.

Retention and enhancement of existing car park.

As Nia Griffiths, Lee Waters and Labour's county councillors know, there comes a point of no return in the development of plans for new schools. Sites have to be analysed for suitability, including transport links, road safety, flood risk and the presence of contamination and the legacies of past industrial activity (an especially relevant factor in Llanelli). Detailed technical surveys will have to be carried out, and funding put in place. All sorts of hoops will have to be jumped through before the Welsh Government will sign off and hand over millions of pounds, and needless to say all of this takes a great deal of time.

Part of the process includes consultations with  the schools and their governors, parents and local residents, and logically enough the consultations have to take place after all of the groundwork has been done. By this stage, consultation really means trying to incorporate sensible suggestions made during the consultation, responding to concerns and mitigating possible problems, but in essence proceeding with the scheme that has been outlined.

A decision at this very late stage to scrap the plans would mean the loss of £9.1 million ear-marked for Ysgol Dewi Sant, the waste of all the resources ploughed into evaluating the site and developing detailed plans, and years and years of delay before a new school can be built on a different site - a site which would certainly also encounter opposition.

To campaign against the plans for Ysgol Dewi Sant means in practical terms that around 480 children and the school staff would be forced to stay put in cramped and squalid conditions for years to come, and despite their protestations and public utterances, that would be the logical outcome of the recklessly irresponsible tactics adopted by Nia Griffiths MP, Lee Waters AM and Labour councillors, most notably Rob James.

Llanerch Fields would be saved for dog lovers, and the staff and children of Ysgol Dewi Sant would have to hope that the school budget could stretch to buying a few more buckets to catch the rain water dripping from classroom ceilings.

The Newyddion 9 report (no longer available online) interviewed the school's head and two governors, Aled Owen and Garry Nicholas. Garry Nicholas pointed out that the school had been waiting to be re-housed for many years, and he called on politicians to show their support for the school and Welsh-medium education.

Unfortunately for the school, Llanelli Labour is doing precisely the opposite.

Let's look at some of the key players in more detail.

Lee Waters AM 

We'll start with Lee Waters and Nia Griffiths because as experienced and intelligent politicians, they have no excuse for not understanding the consequences of their actions.

In Llangennech, Waters' public stance was initially to sit on the fence as the firebrands went to work, before lobbing in a few incendiaries of his own and encouraging the pyromaniacs. True to form, he retired slightly singed, mounted his pulpit to blame everyone else but himself and deplored the damage that fire can do. That, in Waters' book, constitutes "leadership".

When Labour Party members were actively conspiring with UKIP, Waters urged them to be careful instead of telling them to stop. Unsurprisingly, Michaela Beddows and her friends saw that as a green light.

Besides UKIP, there is evidence that Jacques Protic also became involved in the Llangennech row. Protic is the author of the extremist Glasnost website which has this to say about the part played by Lee Waters and Nia Griffiths in Llangennech:

Through my contact with Lee Waters and from what I learned by reading various statements he made on his blog and in the social media Lee and Nia chose to use a low-key approach working behind the scenes but generally supportive of the parents’ stance which unfortunately got them nowhere – The Council wasn’t going to budge no matter what!

According to Protic, then, he was in contact with Lee Waters as the row escalated.

As he tells us in this tweet, he is a lifelong member of the UK Labour Party:


According to Protic, "Welsh" Labour (which as he ought to know has no separate legal existence from UK Labour) is working for a Welsh-speaking republic. Here is another of his cries for help to any comrades prepared to listen:



Protic has many bees in his bonnet, but his main obsessions are the evils of the Welsh language and Islam. When he is not warning of the dangers of ethnic cleansing in Wales and compulsory cerdd dant, he is busy spreading fake news about the Muslim menace.

Did you know that huge swathes of Denmark are no-go areas for the Danish police because of Islamic extremists? No? Neither do the Danes.

Interestingly for a lifelong member of the Labour Party, Protic is also a keen supporter of Anne Marie Waters (probably no relation) who is hoping to become the next leader of UKIP. Even some of UKIP's most prominent loonytunes are scared by that prospect.

That was Llangennech, and so far at least there is no sign of Protic on Llanerch Fields. But it's probably just a matter of time, and in the absence of Protic, Michaela Beddows and friends, Lee Waters has been busy forging new relationships.

Like Jacques, Lee seems to be fond of conspiracy theories. While everyone else seems to have known that the council was going to propose building a new school on Llanerch Fields, Lee Waters saw a sinister secret plot:


A few weeks after this shock horror revelation, Lee Waters was writing to the chair of the campaign group, one Mrs Heather Peters (pictured uncharacteristically hogging the microphone) to discuss tactics. More about Mrs Peters later, but suffice to say that she and Michaela Beddows would find that they have quite a lot in common.

Lee has a great idea:

Perhaps we can organise a mass gathering on the field on a Saturday morning for a photo to underline public support for keeping the space?

That would be a mass gathering in support of stopping the plans for the school from going ahead on Llanerch Fields.

Nia Griffiths MP

Publicly, Nia Griffiths maintained complete radio silence on the Llangennech issue, although it is hard to believe that she was not involved behind the scenes, as Protic hints on his website.

In private, Nia Griffiths had nothing but praise for the Llanerch objectors. Here she is discussing tactics ahead of a consultation meeting in a leaked e-mail:

You have done magnificent work on the committee in gathering information, and I would suggest that we will get more useful information from this if we take the same approach, and think carefully about the questions we want to ask beforehand.        


Probably the officers who will be sent along are unlikely to be the people who finally have the say (who will be their superiors) and we will get more out of getting info from them this way, than if people “have a go” at them.



In public, the MP was rather more cautious. Addressing a public meeting back in October 2016, she said:

“It is very clearly a decision which will be made by Carmarthenshire County Council and therefore people need to speak directly to those decision makers. There are a number of issues to be looked at but the only people who can actually change a decision or make a decision on this are the County Councillors in power and in particular, of course, the Executive Board members.”
 
Slightly more decorous than Lee Waters, but while both protest publicly that they are in favour of a new school for Ysgol Dewi Sant, both have been working behind the scenes to wreck the plans.

Cllr Rob James

Nia Griffiths and Lee Waters are both on the centre right of the Labour Party, and their involvement in this campaign probably has as much to do with internal party wrangling as it does with saving Llanerch Fields for dog walkers as they contemplate future selection battles.

Cue Cllr Rob James (Lab.) who until this year's council elections in May was, nominally at least, serving as a county councillor down the M4 in Neath with an address in the town.

Despite his postal address in Neath, James moved to Llanelli a couple of years ago and threw himself into getting a front seat in the Llanelli Labour Party.

James has previously claimed to be a centrist, but now appears to be firmly in the Momentum camp with ambitions way beyond his abilities.

He became involved with the Llanerch Fields campaign group early on, while still an ordinary rank and file member of the Labour Party and nurturing plans to oust Bill Thomas as county councillor for Lliedi ward.

Bill Thomas was everything that Rob James is not. He was broadly sympathetic to the campaigners' desire to keep Llanerch Fields as they are, and dutifully went about helping them gather detailed, technical information, even though he was probably aware that the people he was helping were plotting against him.

One of the issues the campaign group had hoped would deal a killer blow to the school plans was the presence on the fields of some underground water tanks managed by Dŵr Cymru. The tanks represented a serious health and safety hazard, the objectors claimed.

Bill Thomas did his homework and wrote to the group informing them that, "As the Councillor for the area I have never had any complaint or photographic evidence of spills until now, neither do I have any evidence that these spills contain anything. If they do then it is an issue that needs attention from Welsh Water."

Cllr Thomas, as he then was, went on to call for a full insurance and risk assessment of the site before it was cleared for development. And that is what the County Council did, to howls of protest from the campaign group who were angry that money should have been spent on making sure the site was suitable for the new school.

Bill Thomas's careful regard for evidence and honesty did not go down well with the campaigners who launched a veritable onslaught of lobbying and correspondence giving the impression that all those poor little children would spend their days wading through sewage. They also made something of a name for themselves with their often very aggressive and hectoring behaviour in public meetings.

To the campaigners' delight, Bill Thomas lost his selection battle against newcomer Rob James in October 2016, with Heather Peters, the chair of the campaign group, telling her troops:

Guess where Our Rob was tonight?  Beating Bill Thomas out of his seat on the labour Lliedi seat for LLANELLI!!!!!!!


WELL DONE ROB we are all behind you !  

 Despite his lack of local roots and inability to speak Welsh, "Our Rob" had no hesitation about giving an interview in English to Newyddion 9 a couple of weeks back.



Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?

He supported residents who wanted to keep the green space as it is, he said. "Even if that means scuppering the plans for the new school?" he was asked.

"I don't think that is connected in any way", said Cllr James in a breathtaking display of post-factual politics, dismissing the notion that blocking plans for a new school would, um, block plans for a new school. 

"Our Rob's" performance duly received ecstatic reviews on the campaign group's Facebook page, with Mike Bassett, aka Red Mick, one of the CUSC trolls (no prizes for guessing that they would be involved) commenting "Next Leader of the Carmarthenshire Labour Group. Sooner the better".

Lee Waters must be having nightmares.

Heather Peters

The campaign against the relocation of Ysgol Dewi Sant is led by a small group of very vocal self-appointed activists calling themselves "Save Llanerch and Penygaer Recreational Fields". Most prominent among them is Mrs Heather Peters who just happens to live opposite the site of the proposed new school.

Mrs P and her deputy, Sharon Burdess, can be heard taking part in a lengthy "interview" with LlanelliOnline here, although strangely neither of them is identified by name as they respond to Alan Evans' interesting interview technique, which boils down to delivering a monologue with brief pauses to allow his guests to agree with him.

E-mail correspondence also shows that Alan was active in the campaign, dishing out advice on tactics and questions to ask of the County Council.

Let's be generous and call this campaigning journalism, although Alan Evans' collaboration with Heather Peters and Co again raises awkward questions about the objectivity of LlanelliOnline.

Heather Peters is, of course, entitled to campaign to keep the large expanse of grass outside her home, although the e-mail files show that a good number of her e-mails and some of the accompanying documents emanated from the IT network belonging to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.

She certainly does not mince her words.

Responding to one of La Peters' missives, the chair of the school's board of governors, Garry Nicholas, pointed out to her that if the threat to health of developing a school on Llanerch Fields was as great as she claimed, why had nothing ever been done about it in all the years that it had allegedly been going on? Indeed, if the site was as dangerous as she suggested, why did her campaign group want to keep it for children to play on?

Warming to his theme, Garry Nicholas pointedly noted, "No mention has been made either of the dog foul that litters Llanerch fields. Doesn’t this contribute to the contamination and health risks that are referred to? Do the campaigners want to keep Llanerch fields for the convenience of dog owners only?"

Mr Nicholas's polite refusal to be bamboozled provoked howls of outrage, with Mrs P launching a new campaign to have him removed from the board of governors, or failing that, to be given a severe dressing down.

Writing to her fellow campaigners, Mrs P asks, 

Do you all agree that this arrogant jumped up Welsh tosser deserves to be pulled over the coles (sic)?

Mr Nicholas was not the only dissenter to cross her path.When a parent voiced his doubts about the validity of the campaign on Facebook, Mrs P was once again livid. It was time to re-double efforts on the group's Facebook page to counteract this sort of rank insolence:

From the comments from the pleb on Facebook we really need to start banging the drum, these parents have been brainwashed, well the few who were actually given a brain to start with.


That put the parents of Ysgol Dewi Sant in their place, but it must leave Unison wondering whether it is comfortable about lending its whole-hearted support to a campaign which dismisses working families in Llanelli as brain-washed plebs.

Taking Lee Waters' advice that "it is important that we take multiple lines of challenge", i.e. throw the kitchen sink at the campaign in the hope that at least something might stick, one member of the campaign group who is understood to work in the county council's social services department hit on what they agreed was another fundamental weakness of the school plan - Ysgol Dewi Sant did not have enough children receiving free school meals:


I know for a fact Dewi Sant pupils didn't meet the Communities First criteria. The development officers have been told not to get involved in the Llanerch fiasco as its too political but I will chase up one or two other people today who may be able to get us this info.

At least it could be another piece of ammunition to fire?!
So it would seem that the parents and children of Ysgol Dewi Sant are both brain-washed plebs and a middle class plot to gentrify one of the more deprived areas of Llanelli.


We now have to wait to find out the fate of the village green application, and the fate of Ysgol Dewi Sant and its children. More updates in due course.

Footnote

Much of the material for this piece was taken from voluminous e-mail correspondence with a very large distribution. As is the way with e-mails, some of it fell off the back of a passing lorry as Cneifiwr was sauntering down the road.
 








 














Sunday, 20 August 2017

Council of Despair - An exclusive interview

This week our business news editor Llinos Rhacs-Jibidêrs takes a penetrating, in-depth look at the property market in an exclusive interview with Sir Ephraim Jams.

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After weeks of delicate negotiation, the appointed hour had finally arrived and I was ushered into the inner sanctum by veteran PR officer, Ms Rosa Klebb.

"You've got ten minutes, and don't push your luck, missy", she barked, clicking her heels ominously as the door closed behind me.

As I made my way across the deep lambswool shagpile to the sonorous ticking of an ornate ormulu Napoleon III carriage clock, I noted with awe the impressive array of portraits and autographed photographs hanging from the walnut panelling. 

There was Dame Muriel peering out from a huge flower-bedecked hat, with her ample frame swathed in a tasteful lilac Dalmatian jacket. HRH the Duchess of Cornwall gazed in soft focus from another frame, while alongside her portrait was another of Charles dressed casually as Commander in Chief of the Beefeaters greeting a bemedalled Sir Ephraim at the entrance to Llwynywermod.

Another signed photograph of HRH Camilla was placed strategically on the vast Louis Quinze mahogany desk, behind which sat Sir Ephraim in pensive mood.

"Good morning, Your Excellency", I began.

"Come, come, no need to be so formal. You may call me Sir Ephraim, or Sir for short, Miss, um...", the great man replied, flicking through some papers.

"Llinos Rhacs-Jibidêrs, Sir. But you may call me Llinos for short."

"Very well, Lino. I understand you wish to gain some insight into the workings of the property market?"

"Indeed, Sir. If I may begin by asking you for your views on the local housing market."

Sir Ephraim cracked his fingers. "A very good question. Well, after a period of exceptional growth fuelled by demand in the retirement sector, it has to be said that the last eight or nine years have been very disappointing locally. To combat that, I personally oversaw the emergence of the Local Development Masterplan based on what I was assured by my economic advisers would be an unprecedented upsurge in population growth. Unfortunately, the wrinklies have been dying off as fast as we can replace them, and so growth has been static."

"But it would be unwise to place all one's eggs in the geriatric basket, and so to that end the Masterplan provides for a swathe of more upmarket executive developments in what we call our Growth Zones, such as Fossils Race Course, the exciting new town springing up in the swamps to the south of Jobsworth Road or the wonderful new Kansas Fingerlickin' Fried Chicken Roundabout estate at Leekes Cross West."

"It has to be said that despite determined efforts to keep out undesirable elements by minimising the provision of cheap housing stock for local riff-raff, Twinkle Wimple and Woodrot Homes are still finding it tough going, even though these wonderful new developments represent an excellent opportunity for offshore investors and those looking for a tax efficient way of writing off losses."

"Overall, then, the local market is a specialised affair, and investors with only a couple of million to spare would be advised to look east to the much more exciting market in Cardiff", Sir Ephraim continued.

"Unlike this backwater, Cardiff is a vibrant, young city, and a very popular destination for hen and stag parties, AirBNB minibreakers and hipsters. The abolition of bridge tolls will do even more to open up the market to those looking for value for money, and returns are set to soar."

"To that end I and my fellow directors have begun developing a portfolio of residential properties in the Bay, and we have identified some exciting new opportunities in taking control of what are known as 'Right to Manage' entities away from the hopelessly inefficient and poisonous old busybodies who think they have a right to manage their blocks simply because they live there."

"This is all perfectly legal, although I am not at liberty to disclose the sensitive legal advice I have given myself, and it is frankly sickening that there have been complaints from cancerous old malcontents and professional complainers about the way in which these perfectly legitimate transactions have been carried out."

"But I wish to leave your readers in no doubt about my motives. I have worked tirelessly without payment in a non-executive capacity simply because I wished to help these poor, long-suffering home owners, and so successful have we been that my fellow directors and I have now set up a new company to offer advice to all those who find themselves in a similar position, whether they be in Hull, Harrogate or Harlech."

"It is therefore compassion and my duty as a Christian that drive me on to help those in need, and suggestions that I am motivated by unbridled greed are vile slurs."

Sir Ephraim snapped a pencil at this point, and I saw an opportunity to interrupt his monologue with a second question.

"I would like to ask, if I may, Sir, about recent press and blog coverage of your investment schemes."

Sir Ephraim looked very cross.

"You mean Shitton of the Mail, his bosom pal Jac in the Gogs and various other toxic and scurrilous vermin on the web, I take it, Miss Rhibidirês? Fortunately nobody outside my press office reads them, and Miss Klebb and my legal team are compiling another file on their vitriolic outpourings for the local constabulary."

"Thank you for clarifying that, Sir. May I ask you to clear up the controversy surrounding the appointment of a former tenant to manage your ventures?"

Sir Ephraim looked very stern. "Let me make it perfectly clear that Miss Ludmilla Legova was introduced to the board by a director who had declared a personal interest in the matter, as the law and transparency require, and that it was unanimously agreed that this talented young woman was exceptionally well qualified for the role. Not only does she possess a PhD in Baroque Fiddlers, but she gained extensive administrative experience during the months she spent working alongside some of our greatest singers, including Dame Kiwi T. Canalot."

"But as usual, the guttersnipes have sought to belittle her multiple achievements with smut and innuendo."

"You mean, Sir, Ms Legova's modelling career and the balcony incident?"

"Indeed. I have little more to say about this other than that it was typical of what passes for journalism in these parts that there should have been vile speculation about that unfortunate freak accident when she fell from a balcony while playing a pink oboe, just as the poster in which she appeared modelling swimwear while holding a peeled banana under the caption 'I am getting my five a day' was part of a healthy eating awareness campaign. To suggest otherwise is a disgrace."

Before I could probe any further, the door opened and in strode Miss Klebb, announcing curtly that it was time for me to leave.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Gesture Politics

Update 23 July

Huw Prys Jones, who was commissioned to produce an independent linguistic impact assessment of the Gwynedd/Môn LDP, has written a strongly worded piece for Golwg360 (here) ahead of a vote next Friday by councillors. There are some striking parallels with what happened in Carmarthenshire, including what he describes as the council's own feeble attempt at an impact assessment written after key decisions had been made in order to justify the plan.

Whether or not you care about the impact of LDPs on the language, the development of huge housing estates way beyond the needs of existing local communities, whether it's in Bangor, Cardiff, Llanelli, Carmarthen or the eastern side of Carmarthenshire, should give all councillors pause for thought.

Adopting an LDP is probably the single most important vote any county councillor will ever be asked to make. What we got in Carmarthenshire was a brief and confused debate, with most councillors there only as silent voting machines, and the consequences in places such as Bynea are now there for all to see.

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The words Local Development Plan will cause many eyes to glaze over. The process by which these plans come about is byzantine and drags on for years, with numerous consultations and consultations on changes made in response to consultations. The public and local groups have the right to make representations, but the complexity of the process and the time and effort required to participate in this marathon give a significant advantage to developers and the planning consultants who are employed by them.

A key phase in the LDP process is the adoption of candidate sites for housing or commercial and/or industrial development. Once a site has been adopted, the cards are heavily stacked in favour of developers and against local people who may wish to object to future development.

The best hope residents and communities have is that their interests will be looked after by their elected representatives in the shape of county councillors, and a quick look around the council chamber will show that some of us are better represented than others.

Councillors worried about potential developments in their wards are relatively well-placed to object to the inclusion of sites in an LDP and, whisper it quietly, councillors who are members of a ruling group on the council have more leverage than opposition councillors when it comes to lobbying.

This brings us to a recent battle at Genwen Farm in Bynea where a developer is planning to build 240 houses on a greenfield site.

Bynea has seen more than its fair share of development in recent years, and the plan aroused significant opposition from residents and political representatives across the political spectrum, with Cllr Derek Cundy (Lab) taking a leading role as the ward councillor.

The objectors have many valid concerns, not least the impact this large development will have on creaking local infrastructure.

The Genwen site was earmarked for housing development under the UDP (Unitary Development Plan) which preceded the LDP, but an application for outline planning permission in 2007 was later withdrawn.

As is usually the case, the site was then included in the new LDP for housing development, and it was at that point that the council could have had a re-think. What if any representations were made to remove Genwen from the LDP is not clear, but Genwen joined all the other myriad sites earmarked for development when the county development plan was given the green light in December 2014.

This blog recorded the chaotic and underwhelming grand finale to all those years of turgid meetings, consultations and consultations on consultations here, and that post is well worth a read, immodest though that recommendation may sound.

Back in December 2014 the council was led by Kevin Madge, with Labour and the Independents in coalition. Concerns about the undemocratic nature of the plan were expressed by several Pliad councillors, including the Plaid leader, Emlyn Dole. This was recorded in the otherwise very uninformative official minutes of the meeting:

Concern was expressed that the Welsh Government sets the targets for Carmarthenshire as this took away the Authority’s right to recognise local need and identify how many houses are required, where and what kind. The Leader was asked whether he could raise this issue with other Leaders and the W.L.G.A. to try to change this before the next LDP is considered, as it was not fair that the Welsh Government sets those kinds of targets. A recent poll indicated that 72% of people feel that the Local Authority should set the targets.

All concerns were swept aside, and as Y Cneifiwr noted, apart from speeches by Kevin Madge and Meryl Gravell congratulating officers for their hard work and calling for the plan to be approved, the Labour and Independent benches had nothing to say, apart from former Labour councillor Terry Davies, who rose to curtail debate and get the whole thing over and done with.

Readers with long memories may recall that Terry Davies was one half of the notorious Keri and Terry double act, two Labour councillors who sat for years on the planning committee rubber-stamping everything that was put before them and determined to keep meetings of the planning committee as brief as possible.

All Labour and Independent councillors voted in favour of the LDP, while in the confusion presided over by Chair Elmer Fudd (Daff Davies), the Plaid group managed to vote three different ways.

By coincidence, on 18 November 2014 a few weeks prior to this fiasco, the Planning Committee had met to consider a revised application for Genwen. Despite vigorous objections, outline planning was granted, although it was not given the final seal of approval by the then head of planning, Eifion Bowen, until over a year later in December 2015.

An application for detailed planning consent (known as "reserved matters" in the jargon) finally came before the Planning Committee on 11 July of this year. As before, there was strong local opposition, and this time the Labour Party which had enthusiastically voted in favour of the plan back in 2014, decided to throw its lot in with the residents - two and a half years too late.

Joining Derek Cundy, who had up till then been something of a lone voice (although he too voted for the LDP), were Sharen Davies and Rob James for Labour and Gwyneth Thomas for Plaid. Sharen Davies, who had also voted for the LDP, called for the application to be rejected, while Rob James (a very occasional attendee of Neath Porth Talbot council back in 2014) had nothing to say.

Discussion ground on for two and a half hours, with all of the objections made back in November 2014 being given a second airing. Perhaps the most interesting interventions came from Kevin Madge who had clearly undergone something of a conversion since 2014, as he spoke about something called "The Structural Plan", known to everyone else as the LDP.

He acknowledged that he had been leader when the "structural plan" had been adopted, but the "structural plan" could be changed, he argued.

Perhaps in a parallel universe an LDP could be changed, although undoing what Kevin Madge piloted through as leader would be a very time-consuming business and a very expensive one from the council's point of view because the developer, in possession of legally valid outline planning, would be able to go to court and sue for significant damages on the basis that the goalposts had been moved, stripping the company of a very valuable commercial opportunity.

He went on to recommend that the application be rejected, despite repeated warnings from officers and the chair that unless councillors could identify new material reasons for rejecting the application, the council would face a costly appeal (and one which it would certainly lose).

And so at length, the committee voted narrowly to approve the plan to the dismay of the people of Bynea and the satisfaction of 'Welsh' Labour which once again had done its best to convince voters that it had stood up for "the many, not the few" to protect them from a policy it had championed and pushed through, while making a futile and doomed last minute gesture knowing that Genwen's fate had been sealed years ago.

Bynea's residents now join public sector workers ("scrap the cap") and young people ("abolish tuition fees" in June, put them up in July) in realising that what "Welsh" Labour says and what it does bear very little relation to each other.








Monday, 17 July 2017

CPS drops prosecution of Jacqui Thompson

The decision by the CPS to drop a prosecution for harassment against fellow blogger Jacqui Thompson marks the end, for now, of more than 18 months of a carefully planned and orchestrated legal onslaught against her by Mark James, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, although he has the right to request a review of the decision and may yet have more legal surprises up his sleeve.

During this period, Jacqui Thompson has had to endure two separate and very slow police investigations into allegations of criminal harassment, a separate allegation of perverting the course of justice, threats to return to the High Court for contempt of court, and civil proceedings to try to force the sale of her family home.

All of the legal actions initiated by Mr James have now failed, and all bar the attempt to seize the Thompsons' family home have been funded by the public purse, as has the rest of his extraordinary campaign against her, with the council now lumbered with hundreds of thousands of pounds of costs which it cannot recover, and untold additional resources and costs incurred by council staff, the police and the CPS.

The decision by the CPS to pull the plug on the latest case very late in the day calls into question the judgment of both that body and the police in deciding to bring a prosecution in the first place, and more questions are now being asked about what appears to have been the use of council staff and IT resources to produce "evidence" in pursuit of what Mr James now insists is a purely private matter.

Central to Mr James's case alleging criminal harassment is his witness statement, accompanied by a printout of Jacqui's blog. This extraordinary document runs to seven pages. Because the case will not now go to court, unless Mr James launches a successful appeal, the statement is not in the public domain. However, for anyone who has seen it, it is hard to believe that Dyfed Powys Police could have spent seven months, untold hours and significant amounts of money on investigating these allegations when even a cursory examination should have kicked the farce into touch very early in proceedings.


Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me

We now enter a bizarre world where nothing is quite what it seems, a world of paranoia and delusion, half truths, omissions and facts built on shifting sands. 

The first thing to say about the allegations of harassment is that they relate solely to Jacqui's blog. There is no suggestion that she has done anything else, although it has been put about in County Hall that there is something worse lurking in the undergrowth. If there were we would surely have heard about it by now, but the whispers have undoubtedly had an effect.

Mr James's statement kicks off with a general complaint that Jacqui Thompson has been waging a campaign against him through her blog.

He feels threatened, he says, before taking the police on a long detour containing edited highlights of his favourite bedtime reading, Mr Justice Tugendhat's verdict in the libel case, and the first complaint of harassment made in January 2016 which the police decided not to pursue after another 8 month investigation.

He had nothing to do with the decision by Dyfed Powys Police to issue her with a Police Information Notice, he tells Dyfed Powys Police, who could probably have worked that out for themselves.

Next up, Mr James notes that Jacqui Thompson did not react well to his decision to force the sale of the Thompson family home, and had sought to involve MPs, AMs and councillors. This was, he says, an attempt to bring pressure to bear on him to halt a private legal action which he had felt forced to bring.

In Mr James's view, he was entirely justified in bringing the action, and Jacqui Thompson had no right to complain. "I was mortified that Mrs Thompson was trying to get senior politicians to intervene in my private affairs". 

If the prosecution had gone ahead, the courts would have found themselves being asked to rule that by asking for help from elected representatives and encouraging others to do the same, a constituent could be guilty of a criminal offence.

A very public private affair

Even if Dyfed Powys Police headquarters had been suspended in deep sleep in the manner of Sleeping Beauty's castle for the last few years, a little light Googling should have been enough to convince its occupants that Mr James's "private affairs" were nothing of the kind. Approved and funded by the County Council, with key elements of the decision ruled unlawful by the Wales Audit Office, this was never a private matter. And the press archives are littered with quotes from the publicity-loving chief executive heralding Mr Tugendhat's verdict as a victory for councils everywhere, with Mr James telling council staff that he had done it all for them.

If the libel action succeeded, he told the Executive Board, he would pay his winnings over to the council, or possibly "good causes" he later told the press, before his lawyers told a judge that he could do whatever he liked with the money, including "stuffing it in the gutter".

Such are the shifting sands on which Mr James's arguments rest.

To Mr James's evident horror, two county councillors, Alun Lenny and Cefin Campbell, last year sought to bring a Motion calling on him and the council's Executive Board to find a compromise which would not make the Thompsons homeless and "enhance the reputation of this council".

"As it transpired", Mr James writes as if what happened next had nothing to do with him, the then chair of council, Cllr Eryl Morgan, had given a detailed ruling, including an extensive quote from Mr Justice Tugendhat, setting out why the Motion was not admissible.

Even Cllr Morgan's family and friends would have been surprised by his sudden in-depth knowledge of the Tugendhat verdict and the legal ins and outs of libel damages.

The rather more prosaic truth is that a furious Mr James was determined to have the Motion stuck down. The council's Head of Legal and Monitoring Officer, Mrs Linda Rees Jones, appointed by Mr James in a way which bypassed the need for the involvement of elected councillors in the appointment of a senior officer, was persuaded to issue a fatwa in Cllr Morgan's name, with the elderly councillor being reduced to a ventriloquist's dummy.

All of this had come about because of the interference of Adam Price AM, Mr James concludes, adding that this was something "I find to be intimidating".

Cock and bull

We are now on page 4 of Mr James's statement, and alert readers may have realised that so far Mr James has not presented the police with a single example of harassment by Jacqui Thompson.

The first actual example produced from the blog is a post about the Pembrey Park scandal, in which Jacqui pointed out the seriousness of the accusations and not unreasonably suggested that knowledge of them went right to the top. In short, there had been a cover-up.

Nonsense, says Mr James. The council had investigated the matter, referred it to the police, and an officer had been convicted by a court of law.

A cursory examination of this account would have shown the police that it was at best spin and a highly selective account of what actually happened down at Pembrey. The conviction of a council officer came about because of a complaint of  assault brought by the proprietor of the park café who was planning to take legal action against the council for the way in which it handled a shambolic and corrupted contract tendering process.

The prosecution related solely to the facts of the assault, and a recording exists of a very senior council officer pleading with a whistleblower not to go to the police about wider allegations of corrupt practices.

It won't cost you a penny
 
Next, Mr James takes the police on a brief trip to Boston, Lincolnshire, where he was chief executive before taking up his current position all those years ago.

Mr James's biggest legacy to Boston is what is now called the Princess Royal Sports Arena, a huge project built on a delusional business case which came to be a burden on local taxpayers.

Mr James departed Boston before the grandiose scheme was completed, and it subsequently attracted the attention of the Audit Commission which issued a report highlighting grossly inaccurate and wildly optimistic revenue forecasts, how councillors had been kept in the dark and how contract tendering procedures had not been adhered to.

True, the Audit Commission report named no names, and its purpose was to highlight lessons to be learned rather than act as an indictment.

According to Mr James's account to Dyfed Powys Police, he was not aware that the auditors had become involved, which suggests that their report and criticism somehow escaped his attention. Perhaps that might help explain Parc y Scarlets, cynics would say.

The man or woman on the Cilycwm omnibus may find it difficult to believe Mr James was unaware of the Audit Commission's involvement, but it seems that Dyfed Powys Police agreed that by linking the damning report to the council chief executive whose pet project this was, Jacqui Thompson merited prosecution for criminal harassment.

More examples now follow in quick succession. References to the controversial and heavily criticised Scarlets car park deal; a petition launched by a man in Trimsaran; a letter calling for Mr James's dismissal published in a local newspaper; Private Eye's decision to award Mr James its prestigious "Shit of the Year Award" and a protest outside County Hall by members of the public (but not Jacqui Thompson) involving a pig's liver are all evidence of harassment by Jacqui Thompson, Mr James tells the police.

It is all "draining, oppressive, distressing, harassing and intimidating", Mr James concludes after raiding the thesaurus for a list of adjectives.

It is also "distressing and humiliating" to have his private affairs brought to the attention of the council, "Cardiff Bay" and an MP.

You bet it is.

Own goal

Throughout the document, Mr James is at pains to make the police understand that Jacqui Thompson's "campaign" has been designed to damage his otherwise spotless reputation in the view of reasonable persons.

More perceptive readers than Dyfed Powys Police's finest may have spotted that this argument is more than slightly flawed because Mr James offers up numerous examples of how the press, politicians and members of the public have a rather less than flattering view of his virtues than he does himself. These include the pig's liver, an online petition, critical remarks made by politicians, letters to the editor, the "Shit of the Year" award and the outrageous Motion on Notice with its diplomatically phrased call for a compromise. Not to mention (which Mr James doesn't) a heavily subscribed petition from a couple of years back calling for him to be sent away empty-handed when he applied for voluntary redundancy and all of the other public criticism he has attracted over the years. Not forgetting other exhibits, such as a dead rat which a Carmarthen resident handed in at the reception desk in County Hall, for Mr James's attention.

As such, the witness statement is a spectacular own goal unless you believe that Private Eye, the press, councillors, MPs, AMs and numerous members of the public are all under the control of Jacqui Thompson, master criminal extraordinaire.

Alongside the argument about his tarnished reputation, the main thrust of the witness statement is to try to persuade Dyfed Powys Police that Jacqui Thompson was guilty of harassment by trying to deter him from exercising his legal right (to seize her home), something which amounted in his view to contempt of court:


I end my renewed complaint of harassment with Mr Justice Tugendhat's words in his Judgment which the Chair of County Council himself repeated when rejecting the Motion on Notice: "Pressure put upon a litigant to deter him from pursuing a legal right, or to punish him for having pursued a legal right, can be a Contempt of Court". I certainly regard it as also being harassment.

For the umpteenth time in the statement, Mr Justice Tugendhat is wheeled out of retirement, and Cllr Eryl Morgan is cited as a legal authority on the strength of an e-mail written by Mr James's legal protection squad.

The statement, dated 27 January 2017, came before a court hearing in March of this year when a judge sitting in the County Court ordered Jacqui Thompson to pay the chief executive £250 a month in return for being allowed to stay in her home.

By the time Dyfed Powys Police got round to making its very belated decision to prosecute, that ruling and Jacqui Thompson's compliance with it meant that Mr James's complaint was demonstrably invalid.

But they decided to press charges anyway.

Sigh of relief

That this complaint got as far as it did suggests that there may be some truth in the oft-repeated claims that elements within Dyfed Powys Police see themselves as Mr James's personal protection squad.

Had the matter gone to court, the outcome would almost certainly have been red faces at Dyfed Powys HQ and the CPS, and yet more damage to the council's reputation.

It is not just Jacqui Thompson and her family who are probably breathing a sigh of relief that someone in the CPS put a stop to this nonsense.











Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Updated



Update 8 July 2017

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald also notes that a council computer appears to have been used to trawl through Jacqui Thompson's blog just before Mr James went to Dyfed Powys Police with a complaint of harassment.

The newspaper notes that it would be "wholly inappropriatefor any officer to use council IT infrastructure to assist another officer in the preparation of a private legal matter, and that it would also be wholly inappropriate for any officer to ask or instruct another officer to do so".

The council failed to answer questions from the newspaper as to whether any officer or employee time was spent on checking the blog in the preparation of Mr James's complaint.

________________


There being no election campaigns to fret about, at least for the next few months, it is time to return to a subject which has preoccupied this blog ever since it first saw the light of day very nearly six years ago after Jacqui Thompson was arrested for filming a short snatch of a council meeting.

The dispute between Jacqui and the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council has now run on for rather longer then the Second World War, and it shows no signs of coming to an end.

Right from the very start, this has been a fight between, on the one hand, a woman armed with nothing more than a laptop, and the other the longest serving and most highly paid council official in Wales with friends in high places and access to what amounts to almost unlimited resources.

Having won the libel case and more recently gained control over Jacqui’s home, Mr James is now embarked on an attempt to drag her through the courts on charges of criminal harassment.

The first stop will be a visit to Llanelli Magistrates’ Court, now scheduled for 13th July, and unless the charges are dropped at the last minute, it is a near racing certainty that the case will move from there and go to trial, most likely somewhere towards the end of this year.

Representing Jacqui Thompson will be Matthew Paul, Cneifiwr’s favourite true blue fox bothering barrister and Herald columnist.

We have been here before – well, almost – because last year Mr James presented Dyfed Powys Police with a bundle of documents, believed to have been printouts from her blog. In what may or may not have been a coincidence, the documents were produced after IP addresses belonging to Carmarthenshire County Council spent days trawling through Jacqui’s blog.

Of course, it would be outrageous to suggest that council staff and resources were used to perform work for which a solicitor would have charged a small fortune because, as the council likes to remind everyone, this is an entirely private matter between Mr James CBE and a resident.

Except of course when Mr James was crowing to the world that his victory at the High Court was a victory for councils everywhere.

That first complaint ground slowly through the Dyfed Powys mill, and was eventually dropped, although Jacqui received a letter which, while it took no view on the validity of Mr James’s claims, stated that the police could act if further complaints were received.

Coincidentally, Cneifiwr understands that the Ombudsman for Public Services is still engaged in a less high profile investigation of complaints made by Mr James against former councillor Siân Caiach.

Just as with last year’s attempt to have Jacqui Thompson criminalised, Mr James had also previously sent a batch of complaints to the Ombudsman about Ms Caiach, only to be told to grow a thicker skin and have all five complaints dismissed.

Alert readers may at this point wonder who is paying for all these very slow-paced investigations and the days and weeks spent by council staff, police, CPS and the courts dealing with Mr James’s complaints of lese-majeste.

We are, of course.

One of the many ironies of this sorry tale is that Mr James, who famously takes a very dim view of any criticism or complaints levelled at his leadership, should be such an avid complainant in his own cause.

In the case of Siân Caiach and the Ombudsman, the irony-meter is close to melt-down because recent history is littered with examples of Mr James’s exasperation and barely concealed anger at critical reports produced by Peter Tyndall, the previous holder of that office which is supposed to champion the rights of Dai bach against government and council Goliaths.

Fortunately for Mr James, Tyndall’s successor in the office, Nick Bennett, appears to have drastically reinterpreted his role, to the delight of downtrodden Goliaths across Wales and the despair of everyone else seeking redress.

Readers of this blog and other publications invariably hold their hands up at this point and ask where in this unending saga are our councillors, and why they seem content to go on employing a chief executive who dragged them into this morass.

There are almost as many explanations for this as there are councillors, a good many of whom still believe that Mr James was sent to lead them to the Promised Land. Others are more sceptical, but have been persuaded to keep quiet.

But we now have a new council with a fresh intake; it will be interesting to see if the newly elected councillor for Lliedi, Rob James, follows up his pre-election promises in the press to get Mr James suspended any time soon. We wait with bated breath.

How Mr James will fare in the courts, we will have to see, but one of the mysteries which may just be solved is what if any difference there was between last year’s unsuccessful complaints to the police and this year’s crop of grievances, and what has persuaded the police and CPS to bring a prosecution after all this time.

Whether the prosecution case amounts to anything more than a sheaf of blogposts criticising Mr James’s rule in Carmarthen and exercising those quaint rights to freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, we will have to see.

On a number of occasions Cneifiwr has heard whispers emanating from County Hall that there is more to the Jacqui Thompson case than meets the eye. Sensible councillors, it is hinted, will steer well clear of getting involved because the, ahem, facts, vouchsafed to very, very few show matters in a different light.

Perhaps this dark truth about the Wicked Blogger of Llanwrda which has so far uncharacteristically been kept under wraps will finally emerge blinking into the harsh light of the court room. 

Or rather more likely it will remain hidden from mortal eyes like a local government version of the Ark of the Covenant somewhere in the inner sanctum on Jail Hill, from whence it will continue to be used to crush the heretical thoughts of councillors who ask awkward questions.

It’s all a bit reminiscent of that 1930s masterpiece, Cold Comfort Farm, where Aunt Ada Doom constantly complains that she “saw something nasty in the woodshed” sixty-nine years ago when she was no bigger than a titty wren. 

Or as psychiatrists would put it rather more prosaically, Aunt Ada was suffering from a traumatic fallacy which she projected onto her brood, the Starkadder family, and as a result had them all running around bringing her five meals a day and doing whatever she wanted.

As Flora Post, the heroine of Cold Comfort, puts it when she confronts the old tyrant:

Any attempt by any of them to get away from the farm made one of your attacks of madness come on. It was unfortunate in some ways but useful in others . . . The woodshed incident had twisted something in your child-brain seventy years ago. And seeing that it was because of that incident that you sat here ruling the roost and having five meals a day brought up to you as regularly as clockwork, it hadn’t been such a bad break for you, that day you saw something nasty in the woodshed.

“I saw something nasty in the woodshed, and now everything depends on me”, Aunt Ada replies.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Guardian and Llangennech

Most readers will be aware of the Guardian's extraordinary hatchet job on the Llangennech school row published last week.

The relatively short article (here) managed to pack in so many distortions and inaccuracies that it would take pages to list and respond in detail to all of them.

Suffice to say that the piece provoked a storm of criticism, with Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government's LibDem Cabinet Secretary for Education, her predecessor, Leighton Andrews (Lab) and Huw Edwards among the more prominent figures condemning it.

As usual Llanelli's two elected representatives, Lee Waters and Nia Griffith, have had nothing to say about events in their constituency which have been making waves across the UK.

In the days that followed publication, the Guardian was forced to make a number of corrections to the original article to remove some of the most glaring errors, although the corrections are grudging and fall well short of an apology.

Among other things, the original article gave the impression that Save the Children opposed teaching through the medium of Welsh. It turned out that the two authors of the article, freelancer Louise Tickle and Guardian reporter Steven Morris had not actually spoken to Save the Children, and the charity later issued a statement making it clear that Tickle and Morris had quoted a report on education in the Asia Pacific region out of context.

More on the possible source of this misrepresentation in due course.

The newspaper then published a response from Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett highlighting the benefits of bilingual education, and in a separate comment piece on Nation.Cymru the academic Ifan Morgan Jones also makes the point that Welsh medium education should really be called bilingual education because the aim of these schools is to produce children who are equally at home in both languages.

Huw Edwards, who grew up in the village and has followed the story closely, summed up his reaction with this Tweet:

Inaccurate and nasty.

Carmarthenshire County Council finally approved plans to phase out the English stream and establish a new primarily Welsh medium school in the village at the beginning of this year, and the decision came at the end of a long and protracted consultation process under a policy introduced by the previous Labour-led council.

That should have been the end of the row, and it is a fair bet that just about everyone in Llangennech, whatever their original views about the change of language designation, would have hoped they had heard the last of it. It was time to move on, consign the bitter and nasty campaign against bilingual education to history and give the school a chance to get on with doing what it does very well.

But as we know, a tiny hardcore of protesters numbering roughly a dozen out of a population of around 5,000, elements within the local Labour Party and more sinister elements from outside the village had other ideas.

And now after a couple of months of quiet, the Guardian has sought to reignite the row with a one-sided account written unchecked and unquestioningly from the perspective of two of the most vociferous anti-Welsh campaigners.

It is this aspect of the Guardian story rather than the wider educational arguments for bilingual education which will be dealt with here.

There is a huge amount of information on the Llangennech school dispute which the two authors of the article, Louise Tickle and Steven Morris, could easily have found if they had wanted to check the claims being made by Michaela Beddows and someone identified as "Alice Morgan". For reasons best known to themselves, they did not.

Since "Alice Morgan" has previously made numerous media appearances, including TV interviews, under her real name, and since just about everyone in the village knows her real identity, let's not maintain this pretence. Alice Morgan's real name is Julia Rees.

"Anti-Welsh bigots and fascists"

Rees begins by telling the Guardian that, "we've been told we are anti-Welsh bigots and fascists".

Let's deal with the fascist bit first. Michaela Beddows was suspended from the Labour Party after it emerged that she had shared EDL material on Facebook. The group, of which she was one of the more vocal members, also engaged with UKIP and brought Neil Hamilton to the village to stir things up even more - after the final decision on the school's future had been taken.

For someone who always protests that she does not understand politics and is just an ordinary mum, she certainly knows how to use a dog whistle (WKDwax is Beddows' Twitter handle):



UKIP would argue that it is not a fascist party, but it certainly contains fascist elements and the party shares many characteristics with other neo-fascist groups.

Guardian readers would have drawn their own conclusions if they had been presented with the facts.

That brings us to anti-Welsh bigotry.

Not only did Beddows, Rees and the rest bring in UKIP, they also established a close working relationship early on with Jacques Protic, the virulently anti-Welsh author of the notorious Glasnost website.

Protic visited the protesters and advised them on their campaign. He almost certainly had a large hand in creating their website, Keep Llangennech Primary Dual Stream. The website has since been deleted, but this previous post gives a flavour of the semi-literate rubbish which filled its pages, including claims that children were being taught Welsh "illegally" and that children were upset when the rest of the school sang "penblwydd hapus i ti" to them rather than "Happy birthday to you", the song's highly complex lyrics being too much for them to deal with.

Protic famously uses a whole battery of pseudonyms on social media, including Steve Stacey and J Jones, and can even be found conducting conversations with himself in which, for example, Glasnost.org posts a comment to some article, only for Steve Stacey or J Jones or other fictitious characters from the same menagerie to pile in agreeing with each other.

Here's "Steve Stacey" making a considered comment about education and the Welsh language on Twitter:



In case you didn't get it, "Yaki" is Stacey-Protic's insulting name for the Welsh language, a corruption of iechyd da (good health).

Stacey has only 20 Twitter followers, and Beddows is one of them, just as she also follows and interacts with Glasnost and the rest of Protic's zoo:


A psychiatrist would have a field day with Protic's behaviour online, but it seems that if Steve Stacey is an aggressively abusive aspect of his online personas, "J Jones" is at the more intellectual end of the spectrum, specialising in quoting bits of research out of context in support of his crusade against the Welsh language.

It may be a coincidence, but the misquoting of the Save the Children report looks very much like a J Jones speciality fed to Louise Tickle, the Guardian's "award winning" freelancer.

Does all of this amount to anti-Welsh bigotry? You bet it does.

Overwhelmed

That brings us to Julia Rees whose comments form the backbone of the Guardian article. In common with several other members of the hardcore protest group, Rees is a Labour Party activist. She is pictured in this piece wearing a red rosette while out canvassing, and the same piece shows her with the Hamiltons.

Rees became something of a poster girl for the anti-Welsh campaign group because unlike the rest, she can actually speak Welsh, and she appeared earlier this year representing the group on the S4C current affairs programme, Y Byd ar Bedwar.

Part of the Guardian interview which may strike readers as odd is her claim that "although we speak Welsh at home", her eldest son had felt "overwhelmed" by being taught mainly in Welsh and had become depressed and unhappy.

Why would a child - who we are led to believe was brought up with Welsh as his home language - feel overwhelmed by the language in the Welsh stream of his primary school, only to have his life transformed for the better when he was moved to the English stream?

Perhaps there were other reasons for his feeling unhappy, or perhaps Julia Rees was being less than truthful. Perhaps Welsh was not really the home language after all, as has been suggested by some who know the family.

Rees's second child also began school in the English stream at Llangennech, and there both of them could have stayed until they moved to secondary school, but she decided to take them out and move them to another English-medium school nearby.

She tells the Guardian that she chose English medium for her second child because he was assessed as having special needs. Remember that she claimed that theirs is a Welsh speaking home.

Beddows, on the other hand, has long argued that children with learning difficulties from non-Welsh speaking homes cannot cope with Welsh medium education.

The only conclusion we can draw from this is that both women believe that there is something about Welsh which makes it inherently unsuitable for anyone with special needs or learning difficulties, no matter what their first language.

By that logic, countries all around the world would be switching to English language education.

Abuse

Julia Rees's decision to request anonymity despite previously appearing in the press and on TV under her real name seems to be part and parcel of another of the tools in their propaganda war, which is to portray themselves as victims. Here's the Guardian quoting an unnamed mother, who may or may not be Julia Rees or Michaela Beddows:


One mother said she was now too frightened to walk down to the Co-op in the village to buy a loaf of bread. “It’s got that bad. Perhaps I’m being paranoid but I’m really scared at the moment. I’m not sure it’s good for the reputation of the Welsh language.

Readers may recall how a few months ago the Western Mail published an entirely false account of  abuse and intimidation being directed at the Beddows/Rees group, claims which it had to retract one by one over several days. The Western Mail article began by suggesting that Cymdeithas yr Iaith were behind tyre slashings in the village.

It first had to issue an apology for that utterly baseless claim, and then had to backtrack further when Dyfed Powys Police said that there had been incidents of tyre slashing across a wider area, and that in their view there was no link to the school dispute.

Finally, the newspaper had to report that Dyfed Powys Police had received no complaints about abuse, whether it was a claim that one member of the group had been spat at, or anything else relating to the school row.

Bearing in mind that the Western Mail's false allegations appeared several months ago and that all has been quiet in the intervening period, the latest claims of abuse in the Guardian look even more suspect.

Looking forward

Llangennech was not the first dual stream school to be transitioned, and it will not be the last.

Michaela Beddows, Julia Rees and the rest are entitled to their views, but they lost the battle in Llangennech, and they discredited themselves and their cause in the process.

It was a campaign based on lies, distortions and bigotry.

The decision to phase out the English stream from Llangennech school is not going to be undone, so the timing of the Guardian article and the decision by Beddows and Rees to resurface now have to be understood in a wider Welsh context.

Nothing would please Protic and his helpers more if other education authorities and school governors were deterred from changing the language category of schools by the example of Llangennech.

Those of us who followed events in Llangennech have learned a great deal from that campaign and know what to look out for.

We cannot allow the education of our children to be determined by a tiny handful of bigoted extremists.