Jacqui Thompson outside the High Court, after permission to appeal was denied
Welsh blogger Jacqui Thompson - who writes as @Caebrwyn - went to the High Court yesterday for a brief hearing of an application for permission to appeal the decision of Judge Tugendhat earlier this year in regard to the libel case regarding Mark James, the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council.
As you may recall, Mr James was in charge of the council meeting in 2011 in which Mrs Thompson was arrested for the 'crime' of daring to film a few minutes of the proceedings, from the public gallery, with her phone. She was put in handcuffs, taken to a police station and kept in a cell for several hours until she agreed not to repeat her attempt to do what Eric Pickles urges citizens to do: to take an active interest in the actions and decision making processes of their local authorities, report their activities and hold them to account.
Mr James had then made comments to another blog about Mrs Thompson, which became th subject of her libel claim, met by a counter claim by Mr James.
Mrs Angry wrote extensively about the original hearings, which you can read about here, and in the posts immediately before it ...
Judge Tugendhat's findings were pretty damning: he dismissed her claims, and concluded that she had "engaged in an unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation targeted against Mr James and other Council officers".
Yesterday Lord Justice Clarke found no reason to overturn this opinion, although written permission has already been granted to challenge one aspect of the finding, regarding a post alleging the use of a 'slush fund' for legal action.
Jacqui has now issued the following statement:
Just in case anyone is unaware of what transpired yesterday in London at the Court of Appeal, I was refused permission on all further grounds of appeal. I was present along with my husband and of course my legal team. The legal team representing Mr James and the council also took part.
Aside from the one ground relating to Mr James' counterclaim, which remains ongoing, there is the matter of the costs and damages which have to be resolved. This currently stands at approximately £190,000 for the claim, £41,000 for the counterclaim and £25,000 damages.
I will now have to live with the trial judgement and deal with the consequences, financial and otherwise but I will never accept nor agree with the findings. Yesterday's hearing was yet another devastating blow.
My purpose and motivation for writing this blog has always been, and always will be a means to scrutinise the local authority and to share issues which I feel are important and which would otherwise perhaps remain unreported.
I have always acted with good faith and personal integrity and written this blog with the honest belief and opinion that everything I have said is true to my best knowledge. I have not made unwarranted personal attacks on individuals; my intention has been to highlight failings within a public body where I believe it is necessary and to try and bring some transparency and accountability to my local council for the benefit of residents and taxpayers.
As for the litigation itself, as I have said, some issues are yet to be resolved so it would be inappropriate to comment yet.
My heartfelt thanks, as ever, goes to my legal team, and of course to my family and friends, well wishers and supporters.
The future of the blog? Business as usual.
Mrs Angry was present for some of hearing, turning up rather late, thanks to chaos on this end of the Northern Line - and it was a very short hearing anyway.
It was easy to find the court: a familiar trail, being the same room where the One Barnet appeal had been heard, and indeed there was a distinct sense of déjà vu in the proceedings, both in terms of the dismissal of Jacqui's case, and in the sense of the impossibility of success in reversing the judgement of any hearing before their lordships, the ultimate representatives of the law, who exist in a dimension far removed from the world in which most of us now live.
At the original hearing, Jacqui Thompson was presented as pursuing a vindictive, personalised campaign against Mark James. Her defence, that she was in fact seeking to hold the actions of the authority to account, failed to convince Judge Tugendhat.
Jacqui has now expressed her intention to continue with what she sees as her duty: to scrutinise the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council.
And since the trial several very important issues relating to the authority have continued to present some very acute questions, most of them as yet unanswered.
The Towy church matter, for example. Mrs Angry understands that the Information Commissioner is shortly due to decide on the question of Carmarthenshire County Council's refusal to respond to FOI requests for correspondance between the evangelical Church and the authority over a controversial grant and land deal.
But more significant perhaps is the matter of Mark James' indemnity from the council, which covered his legal costs in relation to the action against Mrs Thompson, and his pension payments, currently under investigation by the Welsh Audit Office, shortly to publish its findings on the matter, while the council itself has now decided, "without conceding that it is intrinsically unlawful, that the pay supplement policy be withdrawn on procedural grounds."
At a time when radical cuts are being made in the authority's budget, including grants supporting leisure and sport, extensive financial support - reportedly up to £20 million in aid - has been made available to the Scarlets.
See here, today's BBC Wales coverage of the issue:
It seems to defy belief that such a massive amount of public funding would be made available in this way at any time, but in these times of austerity, and the prospect of further cuts in services in the years ahead, to continue with such seemingly unlimited generosity is highly questionable.
It is reported in 'Wales Online' this morning here that Councillor Sian Caiach, who is almost unique in having the courage to challenge the actions of the current administration in Carmarthenshire, has now made a formal complaint to the European Union regarding allegations about the level of public money given to the Scarlets. If such funding is found to amount to 'state aid', it would be held to be 'anti-competitive' and the team would be required to return it. With interest.
What will happen in the matter of the libel indemnity and pension payments to Mr James should the Audit Office find that they were indeed unlawful is unclear: will he have to repay the money? We do not know.
What we do know is that Jacqui Thompson has no indemnity against costs or damages, as her insurance cover was withdrawn in the light of the severity of Judge Tugendhat's findings. She now faces the loss of her home, in order to pay the costs of the case and the compensation owed to Mr James.
Of course one of the worrying but less understood implications of the new press regulatory Charter is that even if successful in a court case, a judge will be able to award costs against any publisher who has decided not to register as a member. Some argue, indeed, that the Charter positively encourages such a move. For good or bad now, it seems, bloggers, and any other small publisher without significant financial resources, may well be bullied into signing up, whether they want to or not, for fear of the consequences.
Many lessons for bloggers in this cautionary tale from South Wales: and yet - lessons for others too, which may not be apparent quite yet. All eyes on Carmarthenshire, then, in the New Year.