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Free speech, huge bills?

Betsan Powys | 09:26 UK time, Thursday, 18 September 2008

"If you were born in Cardiff, why didn't your parents call you Betsan South Glamorgan?"

A question endured in school over and again but now, of course, I know the answer. As Christopher Glamorgan has proven, it would have been too dangerous a name to adopt.

Who is Christopher? He is - or was - a civil servant of many years, employed by the Welsh Assembly Government and who was sacked as a result of publishing an anonymous blog.

Whether the case against him stands up or not has been a matter of some discussion in parts of the Welsh blogosphere (particularly here) already.

For what it's worth, this is what I know.

The latest suggestion is that his tribunal case is going ahead, that it's unlikely to be heard until next year but that it will be discussed in an internal meeting, presumably in government offices in Cathays Park, next week.

Why was he sacked?

His thoughts on "Who would be a leader in a wicked, wicked world" drew the attention of someone in Cathays Park in July of last year. A flurry of confidential Emails started:

"This is the blog I mentioned earlier - reading it all and the profile places the individual in the Bay picking up plenty of insider stuff on WAG".

The then Permanent Secretary, Sir Jon Shortridge, gets involved.

"The Permanent Secretary has asked me to check if any emails have gone out to this blog site (or if people apart from ... have browsed). The site has contained some detail which may have links with leak enquiries".

He was sacked and and as things stand is taking his case to tribunal, despite his union, the PCS, heeding advice they've been given that he has some mountain to climb, such a mountain, carrying the threat of such a big bill at the end, that they've decided he must climb it alone.

Solicitors acting for the government don't mince their words. In letters I've had sight of they sum up the conclusions of the Employment Judge (and bear in mind I'm quoting their own summing up here, not quotes from a transcript) like this:

the "claim has little reasonable prospect of success", the blog was "contrary to the civil service code" and "has the potential to cause an embarrassment to the Welsh Assembly Government", therefore breaking the code. Had 'Christopher Glamorgan' been guilty of "excessive internet abuse and potential copyright infringement" alone the judge seems to conclude that a final written warning would have been enough. However the blog, "the most serious of the issues", means dismissal "would fall within the band of reasonable responses available to a reasonable employer".

The letter ends on what I'll call a blunt note: go ahead and we'll apply for a full costs order against you, one that covers all fees, charges, disbursements and expenses incurred by WAG.

Give in now and we won't.

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