Carmarthenshire chief's taxpayer-funded legal bills 'not repaid'

A £30,000 taxpayer-funded legal bill for a council chief executive's libel action a local blogger has not been repaid, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Carmarthenshire County Council's Mark James launched the counterclaim against Jacqui Thompson over derogatory remarks she published online in 2011.

The FoI request shows the council paid legal fees of £29,414.08 for the case.

In 2014, the Wales Audit Office ruled that the council had no legal power to grant indemnity to James and called on the authority to rescind the decision.

However, two years later, it decided it would not chase the money.

Thompson was ordered to pay £25,000 in damages after a court ruled she had engaged in "an unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation targeted against Mr James and other council officers". She must also pay around £5,000 in interest and £15,000 in costs, all due by 2032.

In addition, she must pay £190,393 for the council's legal fees from her own failed libel action against James and the authority.

In 2012, James, who according to the council's 2015-16 accounts is paid £169,025 a year, said any damages would be repaid to the council. His lawyers have since refused to say whether any money has been or will be handed over, and James "did not intend to give any further statements or any interviews on this subject".

In March, at hearing to determine a possession order for Thompson's house, a judge said James "has told us he's entitled to change his mind...it appears he has".

The council told BBC Wales: "As far as we are aware, Mr James has yet to receive payment of any damages by Mrs Thompson."

Thompson claims to have paid two instalments of £250.

She told the BBC that James should repay the legal fees covered by the council as they were "unlawfully obtained".

"This is just another incident in the whole sorry saga," she added.

The legal dispute stems from Thompson's ejection and arrest for refusing to stop filming a council meeting. She later published an open letter on her blog criticising James and the council.

He replied, accusing Thompson of running a "campaign of harassment, intimidation and defamation of council staff and members for some considerable time".

Thompson sued for libel but lost. James then launched a counterclaim for comments Thompson published online in 2011. 

The High Court ruled that she had made "repeated false statements" and was "the author of her own misfortune".