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Blogger now facing financial oblivion

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Mark James: Won a counter-claim for defamation

Mark James: Won a counter-claim for defamation

A CARMARTHENSHIRE blogger faces financial ruin after the County Council and its Chief Executive began proceedings to recover damages and costs from her, despite an indemnity underwriting those costs being ruled unlawful. 

Jacqui Thompson lost a libel claim against Mr James and the County Council, while Mr James won a counter-claim for defamation against her, and an appeal failed.

Four months ago, the local authority reported Jacqui Thompson to Dyfed-Powys Police, alleging harassment and a further allegation of perverting the course of justice.

The local force has declined to explain why it feels able to investigate allegations made by its Chief Executive and the local authority, when the investigation of the unlawful payments made by the council to Mr James were passed on to Gloucestershire Police due to the close working relationship between the authority and Dyfed- Powys Police.

As appears distressingly common in cases involving West Wales’s councils, Dyfed-Powys Police are taking an inordinate amount of time to investigate what should be straightforward allegations. It is over four months since the police opened their inquiry. An investigation involving grants fraud in neighbouring Pembrokeshire has resulted in no arrests after almost two-and-a-half years since the original report to the force. The fraud concerned is not complex, despite police claims to the contrary.

Mr James is pursuing Jacqui Thompson for payment of £190,390 for the council’s costs, plus a balance of £30,913 in damages to Mr James himself (the original award of £25,000 plus interest at 8% a year), Bailiffs’ fees of around £4,000 were also payable but, according to Jacqui, ‘seem to have been dropped following their unsuccessful attempt at recovery’. The bailiffs had not found goods worth seizing.

Jacqui Thompson cannot afford to pay, because her legal insurers, Temple Legal Insurance, revoked the after-the event policy which would have protected her financially in case she lost, following the libel trial verdict given by Mr Justice Tugendhat who had concluded that she had made a misleading statement, following an interpretation of a remark that she had never published an untrue comment regarding the council, while drawing attention to the terms of an apology to the opposite effect in another defamation case brought against her by former Head of Carmarthenshire Planning, Eifion Bowen.

The Judge’s words allowed the insurers to void the contract of insurance.

MORE LEGAL THREATS 

In April 2016, Jacqui Thompson received a letter from solicitors acting for Mr James personally, saying that he intended to ask the High Court to start contempt of court proceedings against her, and also informing her that Mr James has asked police to investigate if she can be prosecuted for the crime of harassment. She learned later that an investigation for perverting the course of justice was also being considered.

If the case reaches court, and Mrs Thompson is subsequently found guilty, she could be jailed.

Matthew Paul, barrister and Conservative candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in May’s elections for Welsh Assembly elections, went public with opposition to the council’s continuing pursuit of the blogger. Commenting in The Herald on April 22, 2016 (p.22), Matthew Paul wrote:

“The High Court’s judgement (and that of the Court of Appeal) in Thompson v. James was badly wrong. It would have been entirely possible to find that neither party had libelled the other, and that the case was an immense waste of court time and public money. Mr Justice Tugendhat should have ruled that Thompson’s comments made on the blog were plainly political, and protected both by the common law and Art. 10 of the ECHR [Article 10, on freedom of expression, in the European Convention on Human Rights]. Quite independently of the EU, our own courts failed lamentably in this case to protect free expression.”

PLANNING PROBLEMS… 

AND MORE 

Jacqueline (Jacqui) Thompson, married to forestry contractor Kerry Thompson and living in the countryside between Llanwrda and Caio, started to feel that the county’s planners discriminated against them.

In 1990, the Thompsons had received permission for a forestry contractor’s bungalow dwelling at Cae Brwyn, Llanwrda, and for an agricultural implement shed.

On three occasions between 2004 and 2007 (applications E/06601, E/17614, E/09739), the Thompsons applied for permission to construct a bungalow, with an agricultural tie restricting its value on the open market, for Kerry Thompson’s brother Eddie, a forestry co-worker. All three applications were refused, and so was an application in 2006 (E/11853) for a temporary mobile home on the plot intended for the bungalow. The final rejection, signed by senior development control officer Graham Noakes and dated December 18, 2007, said that ‘insufficient information has been provided to demonstrate that there is a proven local affordable housing need. The proposal would therefore create a form of unacceptable sporadic development in the open countryside’.

Yet in the following year, 2008, less than a quarter of a mile up the lane from Cae Brwyn, Carmarthenshire’s planning committee approved application E/20004 from CR and DM Griffiths of Betws, Ammanford, for a ‘single storey dwelling or a dormer bungalow’ in open countryside, on land which had been fragmented more than a decade earlier, when the farmhouse, buildings and 34 acres at Hafod Tafolog were sold off ‘to enable further land to be bought and to make the business more viable’, according to the council’s planning appraisal. One of the reasons given for the approval was the policy permitting a dwelling required for people engaged mainly in agriculture, a category which includes forestry. Despite the permission, to date this dwelling has not been built.

NO TRIAL BY JURY 

Jacqui Thompson expected a jury trial. It did not happen. It was listed as a jury trial. The International Forum for Responsible Media blog, dated January 16, 2013, listed upcoming media law cases for January to March, and said: “There is one jury trial, in the case of Thompson v James, listed for seven days beginning on 11 February, 2013. This is a claim brought by the author of the Carmarthenshire Planning Problems blog, Jacqui Thompson, against the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council in relation to a letter dated 28 July, 2011. Mr James has brought a counterclaim for libel, funded by the local authority.”

Yet just before the trial was due to start, Mr Justice Tugendhat decided that there would be no jury. The Judge’s decision to refuse jury trial, late in the day, was an unwelcome surprise to both Jacqui Thompson and her legal team.

MR JUSTICE TUGENDHAT’S JUDGEMENT 

The boundary between free speech and libel is somewhat of a movable feast. A great deal depends on the judge’s assessment of motives.

Mr Justice Tugendhat could not discern any motive other than a wish to harass Mr James and the County Council – not genuine political comment, not a desire to inform the public.

In Mr Justice Tugendhat’s opinion, Mrs Thompson had engaged in an unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation targeted against Mr James and other council officers (paragraph 423 (i)), and her motive was revenge (paragraph 406). The judge’s decision that the motive was revenge, following the County Council’s refusal of applications for planning permission for a forestry worker’s bungalow, seems to stem from the fact that he could not see any other possible motive.

APPEAL FAILS 

Permission to appeal against the judgement was refused, except for one small point relating to the interpretation of a term used by Mrs Thompson to describe the arrangements the council made to bankroll Mr James’s defence and counterclaim.

The council’s decision to allow public money to indemnify libel claims brought by staff or councillors was declared unlawful by the Wales Audit Office in January 2014.

The council has never appealed the Auditor Office’s finding and was shot down in flames when it questioned the qualifications of the auditor concerned earlier this year.

While Jacqui Thompson fell foul of the law of defamation as it applied at the time of the court action involving Mark James, the law has since changed.

In addition, as evidence of inconsistencies in Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning decisions have come to light it is at least arguable that her initial grievance about Carmarthenshire’s planning system would be worthy of deeper probing. That is a subject to which The Herald will return next week.

WE HAVE NO OPTION, 

SAYS COUNCIL 

The Herald asked Carmarthenshire County Council three questions:

Is the Chief Executive considering whether to draw a line under the past litigation and stop pursuing Mrs Thompson for a bill which is larger than her total financial resources?

In what ways does pressing Mrs Thompson for payment benefit the council’s reputation in Wales and the wider UK?

Is the council not concerned that the current police investigation into Mrs Thompson for harassment and perverting the course of justice could make it appear excessively hostile to criticism, in the eyes of the general public?

In response, the council has issued the following statement: “Mrs Thompson initiated the action after bringing defamation proceedings both against the council and Mr James in his capacity as its Chief Executive. This action was defended and won overwhelmingly.

“Costs would usually have been recovered from Mrs Thompson’s insurers; however, they withdrew from this citing a lack of good faith on her part.

“The council therefore had no option other than to pursue Mrs Thompson directly for the costs incurred after successfully defending itself in proceedings brought by her.

“It is standard procedure for the council to pursue any debts against it, it has the responsibility to the council taxpayer to do so.

“Whether Mrs Thompson has the means to pay will be something for the court to consider.”

The council has never mentioned that its Chief Executive had offered to settle the action brought against him by Mrs Thompson before the council spontaneously offered him an indemnity in relation to his costs.

Mr James is one of Wales’s highest paid local authority Chief Executives.

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Kwarteng gambles on rush for growth

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CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled his and Liz Truss’s economic vision for the UK on Friday morning.

The headlines are straightforward.

There will be £45bn in tax cuts by 2027; however, the largest cuts – national insurance cuts, the abolition of the cap on bonuses and the highest income tax rate- benefit only high earners.

MAIN POLICIES

Cut in the basic rate of income tax to 19% from April 2023;

National Insurance will not rise as scheduled, and the Government will reverse the current year rise as of November 6;

New Health and Social Care Levy to pay for the NHS will not be introduced;

The top rate of income tax was cut from 45% to 40%;

Cancel the rise in corporation tax which was due to increase from 19% to 25% in April 2023;

Rules around universal credit tightened by reducing benefits if people don’t fulfil job search commitments;

VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors;

End of the cap on bankers’ bonuses;

Planned increases in the duties on beer, cider, wine, and spirits cancelled;

Government to discuss setting up investment zones with 38 local areas in England.

Alongside the above, the Chancellor announced plans to remove environmental safeguards for building developments and reduce the regulatory burden on financial institutions.

KWARTENG LEAVES LABOUR AN OPEN GOAL

In an interview with Rishi Sunak during the Conservative leadership contest, Nick Robinson observed that it would be a nasty surprise for the former Chancellor when he found out who’d been in power for the last twelve years.

Kwasi Kwarteng followed Liz Truss’s preferred method of operation: he pretended they hadn’t happened.

The Chancellor comprehensively dumped on the policies pursued over the last dozen years by successive Conservative governments, for a decade of which Liz Truss has been a member.

His statement was, as one ministerial colleague said, “a game changer”, although perhaps not in the way he envisaged.

So complete was the change of economic policy that it leaves an open question about how Mr Kwarteng and his Cabinet colleagues ended up in the same political party as most of their backbench colleagues and served under the last three Conservative leaders.

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves did not miss the open goal. Even as Mr Kwarteng and Ms Truss shook their heads on the government benches, she hammered home that the Chancellor’s statement was an admission the record of Conservative governments since 2010 was one of a failure to deliver growth or a viable economic plan.

THE SUPPLY SIDE FIX

The Chancellor and Prime Minister’s rationale is that cutting taxes for the already well-off will benefit all citizens as they are incentivised to invest and act in entrepreneurial ways. In addition, reducing regulation for businesses will encourage increased commercial enterprise.

They believe the growth stimulated will make up for any loss in tax revenues as increased economic activity, encouraged by lower taxes, leads to increased government revenues.

That approach is called supply-side economics, which focuses on increasing the supply of goods and services through growth.

In every developed nation where the Government’s brand of economics has been tried, two things have happened: a cataclysmic bust has followed a short-term burst of economic activity.

In addition, wealth inequalities – and the UK is already grossly unequal – are embedded and made worse.

Low taxes on the wealthiest do not distinguish between those who generate wealth through their industry or create economic activity through business investment and those who inherit wealth or sit on capital without producing anything.

“THE RICH WILL REJOICE”

Wales’s Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans MS, responded: “Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Local Government, said: “Instead of delivering meaningful, targeted support to those who need help the most, the Chancellor prioritises funding for tax cuts for the rich, unlimited bonuses for bankers, and protecting the profits of big energy companies.

“Instead of increasing funding for public services in line with inflation, we get a Chancellor blithely ignoring stretched budgets as public services find their money is not going as far as it did before.”

Plaid Regional MS Cefin Campbell said: “This Budget will see the rich rejoice as their bonuses rocket and their tax bill sliced, once again it will be the poorest and most vulnerable bearing the brunt of the disastrous cost of living crisis.”

 Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson, Ben Lake MP, added: “Tax cuts for the super-rich will do absolutely nothing to drive growth in the Welsh economy.

“I urge the UK Government to recognise that our Government in Wales must be given the fiscal tools to unlock our economic potential ourselves. That is the only way to improve the lives of people across Wales.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Finance, Peter Fox MS, said: “Today shows that the UK Conservative Government has a comprehensive plan to provide a sharp boost to the economy by putting cash back into people’s pockets. Labour in Wales has the power to cut taxes in Wales but chooses not to.

“Mark Drakeford needs to take a leaf out of Liz Truss’ book and take immediate action to support hard-working people and struggling businesses, stimulating the Welsh economy rather than stifling it.”

Scott Corfe, Research Director at Social Market Foundation, said: “The Chancellor is taking a very high-risk gamble with the economy.

“If his package of enormous tax cuts and ‘supply side reforms’ fails to translate into significantly higher economic growth, we risk further falls in the pound and surging gilt yields as investors lose confidence in our ability to pay our way in the world.

“That, in turn, means higher inflation, an unsustainable trajectory for the public finances and steeper interest rate rises – potentially deepening rather than alleviating the cost of living crisis.”

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The world watches HM Queen Elizabeth II laid to rest in state funeral

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THE QUEEN’S state funeral is taking place with ceremonial processions in London and Windsor today. This is the latest update at 12:40pm.

The UK’s longest-serving monarch will be laid to rest after a state funeral.

The Royal Family, world leaders and dignitaries have descended on Westminster Abbey to honour the life of Queen Elizabeth II, after her death at the age of 96.

At 10.44am, the Queen’s coffin travelled from the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) to Westminster Abbey for the state funeral.

This is a very short journey, and was not be part of the public procession.

The state funeral service

The state funeral service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster and The Sermon and the Commendation will be given by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

During the Service, the Prime Minister and the Secretary General of the Commonwealth read Lessons.

The Archbishop of York, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Free Churches Moderator said prayers.

The Procession from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch

At the end of the Service, Her Majesty’s coffin wase borne to Wellington Arch, via The Mall on the State Gun Carriage.

The King’s Guard gave a Royal Salute as the Coffin passes the Queen Victoria Memorial.

All processions and services are being broadcast on near-all national television and radio channels.

Once the coffin reaches Wellington Arch, it will be placed in the State Hearse. The parade will give a Royal Salute and the National Anthem will be played as the State Hearse begins its journey to Windsor.

Procession from Albert Hall, Windsor to St George’s Chapel

When the Coffin reaches Windsor, the State Hearse will slow to join a Procession to be formed up on Albert Road to travel via the Long Walk to St George’s Chapel. Members of the Royal Family will join the Procession in the Quadrangle at Windsor Castle. Minute Guns will be fired on the East Lawn, Windsor Castle by The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, and Sebastopol Bell and the Curfew Tower Bell will be tolled throughout the Procession.

The Procession will halt at the bottom of the West Steps of St. George’s Chapel where a Guard of Honour, found by the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, will be mounted. The Queen’s Coffin will be borne in Procession into the Chapel.

The Committal Service

The Committal Service will begin at 4pm, and alongside His Majesty The King and Members of the Royal Family, the congregation will be made up of past and present members of The Queen’s Household, including from the private estates. Also in attendance will be Governors General and Realm Prime Ministers.

The Service will be conducted by the Dean of Windsor, with prayers said by the Rector of Sandringham, the Minister of Crathie Kirk and the Chaplain of Windsor Great Park. The Choir of St George’s Chapel will sing during the Service.

Prior to the final Hymn, the Imperial State Crown, the Orb and the Sceptre will be removed from Her Majesty The Queen’s Coffin, and placed on the Altar. At the end of the final Hymn, The King will place The Queen’s Company Camp Colour of the Grenadier Guards on Her Majesty’s Coffin. At the same time, The Lord Chamberlain will “break” his Wand of Office and place it on the Coffin.

As The Queen’s Coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault, the Dean of Windsor will say a Psalm and the Commendation before Garter King of Arms pronounces Her Majesty’s styles and titles. The Sovereign’s Piper will play a Lament and The Archbishop of Canterbury will pronounce the Blessing. The National Anthem will be sung at the conclusion of the Service.

Not seen on the streets of London since the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, the State Gun Carriage will be pulled by 98 Royal Navy sailors, with a further 40 marching behind acting as brakes. The King and Members of the Royal Family will again follow The Queen’s Coffin in Procession. The Procession will include detachments from the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth, as well as detachments of the British Armed Forces who held a special relationship with The Queen.

A Private Burial will take place in The King George VI Memorial Chapel later that evening, conducted by the Dean of Windsor.

The Queen is to be buried together with The Duke of Edinburgh, at The King George VI Memorial Chapel.

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Arrangements for the Funeral of Her Majesty The Queen

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THE TRAGIC death of Queen Elizabeth II set into motion an intricate period of mourning across the country, which will close with her State Funeral on Monday, September 19. 

Arrangements for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch’s funeral have been carefully detailed for many years. The Queen herself signed off on every detail before her death. The details were kept private until King Charles III gave his final seal of approval. 

The State Funeral of HRH Queen Elizabeth II will take place at Westminster Abbey on Monday (Sep 19) at 11.00am. 

Following the Queen’s death, her oak coffin—draped with the Royal Standard for Scotland and a wreath of flowers—sat in the ballroom at Balmoral, where estate staff had the chance to pay their last respects.

On Sunday morning, gamekeepers carried her coffin to a waiting hearse before she left Balmoral for the final time. 

The first stage of the Queen’s journey saw the royal cortege travel to Edinburgh and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. 

An honour guard made up of the Royal Regiment of Scotland greeted the hearse in Edinburgh with a royal salute before the coffin was transferred to the Throne Room by a military bearer party.

On Monday, September 12, a procession was formed on the forecourt of the Palace of Holyroodhouse to convey the coffin to St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh. 

The King and members of the Royal family took part in the procession and attended a service in St Giles’ Cathedral where they received the coffin. 

Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was laid in St Giles’ Cathedral, guarded by Vigils from The Royal Company of Archers, to allow those in Scotland to pay their respects. 

On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 13, The Queen’s coffin travelled from Scotland by  Royal Air Force aircraft from Edinburgh Airport. It arrived at RAF Northolt on Tuesday evening. The coffin was accompanied on its journey by The Princess Royal. 

The Queen’s coffin was then conveyed to Buckingham Palace by road, to rest in the Bow Room. 

The coffin was received by her family in a small private ceremony before her official lying in state. 

On Wednesday, September 14, the coffin was borne in procession on a gun carriage of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster. 

The Procession travelled via Queen’s Gardens, The Mall, Horse Guards and Horse Guards Arch, Whitehall, Parliament Street, Parliament Square and New Palace Yard. 

After the coffin arrived at Westminster Hall, the Archbishop of Canterbury conducted a short service assisted by The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster, and attended by The King and Members of the Royal Family, after which the Lying-in-State began.

During the Lying-in-State, members of the public will have the opportunity to visit Westminster Hall to pay their respects to The Queen. 

Members of the public were able to file past the Queen’s coffin during its first full day of lying-in-state at Westminster Hall on Thursday.

Brass plaques in the 11th-century hall mark the spots where Edward VII lay in state in 1910, George V in 1936, George VI in 1952 and Queen Mary a year later. The hall, which is 900 years old, is also where wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill lay in state in 1965.

The Queen was laid-in-state in Westminster Hall until 6.30am Monday (Sep 19) morning. The coffin will then travel in a procession led by King Charles III and his family when it is moved at 10.44am from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. 

He will walk with the Princess Royal, the Duke of York and Earl of Wessex and behind the quartet will be the Queen’s grandsons, Peter Phillips, Duke of Sussex and the Prince of Wales.

The Queen’s coffin will be carried during the procession on a 123-year-old gun carriage towed by 98 Royal Navy sailors in a tradition which dates back to the funeral of Queen Victoria.

The procession will be led by a massed Pipes & Drums of Scottish and Irish Regiments, the Brigade of Gurkhas, and the Royal Air Force.

It will arrive at the west gate of Westminster Abbey at 10.52am when the bearer party will lift the coffin from the gun carriage and carry it into the Abbey for the state funeral service.

The service will begin at 11am and will be conducted by the Dean of Westminster.

Westminster Abbey has a capacity of approximately 2,200 people.

Heads of state and dignitaries from around the world are expected to be invited to the British capital to join members of the royal family to celebrate the Queen’s life and unwavering service to the nation and Commonwealth. The majority of leaders were asked to take commercial flights to London for the funeral. 

Many members of royal families across Europe are expected to attend the funeral. The White House has confirmed the attendance of President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. 

Leaders from across the Commonwealth, of which the Queen served as head for the entirety of her reign, are expected to attend. Many other world leaders are also expected to attend the funeral. 

At approximately 11.55am the Last Post will sound, followed by two minutes of silence to be observed in the Abbey and throughout the UK.

Reveille, the national anthem and a lament played by the Queen’s piper will bring the state funeral service to an end at around noon.

After the service, the Queen’s coffin will be returned to the gun carriage by the bearer party and a procession will travel to Wellington Arch at Hyde Park.

At Wellington Arch the royal family will watch as the Queen’s coffin is transferred to the new state hearse, before it begins its journey to Windsor Castle.

At 3.06pm, the state hearse will approach Shaw Farm Gate on Albert Road, Windsor, and join the procession which will be in position.

At 3.10pm the procession will step off via Albert Road, Long Walk, Cambridge Gate, Cambridge Drive, George IV Gate, Quadrangle (South and West sides), Engine Court, Norman Arch, Chapel Hill, Parade Ground and Horseshoe Cloister Arch.

At approximately 3.40 pm the King and other members of the Royal Family who are walking in the procession join it at the Quadrangle on the North side as it passes into Engine Court.

At 3.53pm, the procession will halt at the bottom of the West Steps of St George’s Chapel in Horseshoe Cloister.

The Queen will be laid to rest following a committal service at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, which will begin at 4pm.

She will be interred with the Duke of Edinburgh in King George VI’s Memorial Chapel in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, in a private service at 7.30pm on Monday.

The burial service, conducted by the Dean of Windsor and attended by the King and royals, will remain entirely private.

Britain is projected to spend an estimated £78 million on Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.

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