A controversial Welsh council is due to ratify a change in wording today which will allow public money to be used in private prosecutions but critics claim it is to circumvent an official auditor’s decision that officials had broken the law, and discuss as well a multi-million pound land deal which is the focus of a huge police investigation into alleged bribery, it has emerged.
In an “Annual Review Of The Constitution” headline-grabbing Carmarthenshire County Council (CCC) is likely to “‘tidy up’ Scrutiny Remits” taking out any action which could be construed as unlawful, but permitting the indemnifying of a libel counter-claim.
It comes after Anthony Barrett, the then Assistant Auditor General for Wales (AGW) and Appointed Auditor of the authority, issued a public interest report saying the council had acted ‘unlawfully’ in indemnifying the libel counter-claim of the authority’s Chief Executive at the time, Mark James, against the furious blogger Jacqui Thompson.
Ms Thompson herself has written: “… the removal of the offending clause is to be welcomed, and, to be honest, I can’t see the council treading this path again, (but) it must be recognised that they were unlawful in funding the chief executive’s counterclaim, and there is NO power to use public money to sue for defamation, either in a claim, or counterclaim.
Also on the CCC agenda is the £200 million ‘Llanelli Wellness and Life Science Village’ (Delta Lakes) project which was rebranded as ‘Pentre Awel – Breezy/Windy Village’ and has been at the heart of a huge probe into alleged bribery ever since a formal complaint was made by Swansea University (SU) to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in 2018, with at least eight addresses being raided by officers.
The renaming of the Wellness Village to Pentre Awel has been slammed by outraged critics of CCC as “moronic” and “an attempt to clean up its image”.
One politician, Sian Caiach, said ironically: “Its good to know that the disaster of the Wellness Project is to be covered up by moronic re-branding.
It is all set against an extraordinary backdrop, after the former Vice Chancellor (VC) at SU, Richard Davies, along with one of his senior executives the Dean of his School of Management, Marc Clement, were sacked for “gross misconduct”, and as appeals against dismissal by other executives were rejected, with the alarming land deal at the centre of it.
Last year the police said their inquiry was focussing on the tendering process of the Wellness Village/Pentre Awel project.
It formed part of the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal and was run in partnership with SU and Hywel Dda and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health boards.
86 acres of land at Delta Lakes had planning permission and the giant scheme was to have included research and business development facilities, a state-of-the-art care home and assisted living and rehabilitation centre, outdoor leisure space, a wellness hotel, as well as a new leisure centre.
Chris Moore, the director of services at CCC said at one point that “significant conversations” have continued with an unnamed higher education partner to come on board with the project, and design work was progressing.
Mr Moore claimed that around 15 financial companies had been approached by the council about potential expressions of interest.
“There is some significant interest in the market, based on the business plan which has been put together by our financial analyst, with our assistance”, he said.
But the alleged bribery inquiry has now put a spanner in the works.
Properties in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent have been searched as part of the enormous continuing investigation.
South Wales Police said the regional crime unit executed “a number of warrants as part of an investigation into alleged bribery offences.
“Seven addresses in Swansea, Carmarthenshire, and Kent are being searched with the assistance of colleagues”
A statement from SU made plain that senior executives were involved in the probe.
It stated baldly: “In September 2018, the University investigated a payment that had been made to Raymond Ciborowski (the University’s former Registrar) upon the termination of his employment.
“This investigation found that the agreement governing the termination of Raymond Ciborowski’s employment as Registrar contained irregular and inappropriate provisions.”
The statement continued: “… gains included salaries from future appointments and equity potentially worth millions of pounds.
“The evidence suggested that there were material and serious interests that should have been declared under the University’s policies and procedures”.
An earlier statement from SU’s ‘Associate Director Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Head of Legal and Compliance Services’ declared: “The matters under investigation are very serious.
“The University has invested a significant amount of resource investigating the alleged misconduct, as have the authorities. It is essential that nothing is done to undermine the on-going processes.
“They must be allowed to run their course without interference.”
The astonishing investigation at SU was carried out as an unbelievable and highly defamatory internal computer campaign by someone calling him or herself ‘Your friend’, was launched to undermine it, and which has been only partly covered by the mainstream media.
Part of one of the libellous gmail messages from ‘Your friend’ stated: “As your Institution’s suspensions farce continues through its eight(h) month, you may wish to reflect on the person responsible for it and the standard of professional conduct (he) deem(s) appropriate”.
The gmail included an official UK Government document naming another senior executive at SU, and added tendentiously: “Properly declaring interest to your employer and following the rules are important things; pity not everybody manages to do this”.
Mr James too was part of the contentious scheme, and he has long been a controversial figure with the libel counter-claim against Ms Thompson coming under intense scrutiny, as well as its being underwritten by public money.
Changing the words of a constitution may not be enough to stop that scrutiny – especially when the police give the results of their alleged bribery investigation into Pentre Awel…
The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s 37-year award-winning career in journalism (including exposing allegedly unlawful acts) as he was gripped by the incurable neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!