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 cafĂ© 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.











9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I do hope the police have kept MJ's print out for forensic testing to see which printer was used in this private prosecution.

Tessa said...

A Dead Rat.

Sian Caiach said...

As to the pigs liver, the symbolic "pound of flesh" was actually a whole pig's heart. Mr James was not in county Hall and never saw the sealed plastic bag containing the meat.
The protest was not against him - the case being heard in court that day was Carms CC demanding £190k from Mrs Thompson in legal fees, even though the CCC legal insurance covered most of that sum. The pound of flesh was symbolic of CCC demanding a huge sum from a person with no financial resources to cover it and choosing not to claim it off their insurance. I would think they now have done so. as the judge did grant the Council the legal fees against Mrs Thompson but pointed out the futility of trying to actually get them, saying he would be very angry if CCC wasted more public money trying to obtain this sum.

As a member of the CCC press office had popped out to the demo to take pictures and film of everyone including the plastic bag containing the heart, I have no idea why it is described as liver, I'm also aware that the County Hall CCTV was used to record the incident.

I too am accused of a "prolonged and sustained "Campaign" against Mr James by Mr James in a complaint to the public service ombudsman submitted on the 27th January 2017 and this "pound of flesh" incident is being investigated at his request by the Ombudsman as part of the evidence against me to support that allegation. The heart also becomes liver in this account

As in Jacqui's case most of the evidence given against me is quoted from my blog. I have yet to be interviewed by ombudsman's staff on the subject of the pound of flesh demonstration or any other part of the complaint. However, the fact the pound of flesh was not liver is unlikely to be relevant to my Councillor's Code of Conduct investigation, so. for accuracy, it was a heart.

Anonymous said...

Mr James is mentioned in this article
http://www.bostonstandard.co.uk/news/prsa-errors-will-not-be-repeated-1-1106951

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks Anon @18.04. Some very interesting nuggets in this article from 2007, including this one:

It was revealed at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the arrangement the rugby club would provide the PRSA catering – through private company Caterwell – was actually laid down in a covenant when the council bought the land from the Emerson family. Even council chief executive Mick Gallagher was forced to admit he had 'no idea' about this latest development. An upset Coun Dorrian said: "I'm extremely concerned that even after extensive discussions around this, things still keep coming out. Yet again there appears to be another skeleton coming out of the cupboard."

Read more at: http://www.bostonstandard.co.uk/news/prsa-errors-will-not-be-repeated-1-1106951

Anonymous said...

Surely as the alleged harassment came about because of his position as CE of the council it would be entirely right and proper for him to use council resources in these circumstances. I think the private element of this refers to the libel case. if the "evidence" is as you allude to I don't think it should ever have got this far but I think she is barking up the wrong tree in relation to him using council computers to help his case.

Meryl the Peryl said...

He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @9.16 - perhaps the post does not make it clear enough, but the allegations of harassment relate directly to the libel case. In essence, he was saying that by trying to resist his attempt to seize Jacqui Thompson's home, she was encouraging politicians and others to interfere with his "private affairs".

Let's not forget that the damages awarded by Mr Justice Tugendhat relate to Mr James's counterclaim (that she had libelled him), something which the WAO ruled had been unlawfully funded by the council.

This amounts to trying to have his cake and eat it - the matter is "private", but has been fought almost entirely by relying on council money and resources.

Anonymous said...

There has been confusing blurring of "private" and "public" from the beginning of this sad saga. The libel case was personal but at the same time funded by public money; the alleged harassment of him has been a result of his public persona but is apparently a private matter, yet public property has been used to search for "evidence" so it is impossible to disentangle the two.

It is a pity that this "private" matter wasn't dealt with and funded privately from the beginning then perhaps it would never have got this far.