South West Wales

Blogger libel: Council boss's £30k legal bill not repaid

Jacqui Thompson
Image caption Jacqui Thompson became embroiled in a legal row with Mark James over posts on her blog

Taxpayers have paid £30,000 to fund a council boss's personal libel case - and none of it has been repaid.

Carmarthenshire council chief executive Mark James pursued a counterclaim against blogger Jacqui Thompson for defamatory remarks she posted online.

A Freedom of Information request shows the council paid £29,414.08 in 2012 for Mr James's legal fees in this case.

None of this has been repaid and it was decided in March 2016 the council would not chase Mr James for the cash.

The authority's pledge to cover his legal fees was found to be unlawful by the Wales Audit Office.

Also, in 2012, Mr James vowed any damages he won would be paid to the council.

Mrs Thompson, of Llanwrda, must pay Mr James damages of £25,000 but his lawyers previously refused to say if this would be repaid.

Image caption Mark James's solicitors, Acuity Legal, said he "did not intend to give any further statements or any interviews on this subject"

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

But Mrs Thompson said she had made two payments of £250 in damages so far.

The council said its position on the matter was "well documented and subject of public record. There is nothing further to add".

As well as damages, Mrs Thompson owes about £5,000 in interest and nearly £15,000 in costs - which has to be paid by 2032.

She must also pay £190,393 to the council for its legal fees from her failed libel case against Mr James and the authority.

Mrs Thompson said: "I think he should repay it as it was unlawfully obtained. This is just another incident in the whole sorry saga."

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Media captionMark James's solicitors have refused to say if he will repay money as he pledged to do

The legal spat developed in June 2011 after Mrs Thompson was removed from a council meeting and arrested after refusing to stop filming it.

On a separate blog, an open letter was published which was critical of Mr James and the council and urged him to reply.

He did, saying Mrs Thompson had run "a campaign of harassment, intimidation and defamation of council staff and members for some considerable time".

Mrs Thompson sued Mr James and the council for libel, but failed as a court ruled they were true.

Mr James, who will earn up to £171,539 in 2017-18, subsequently launched a counterclaim for remarks Mrs Thompson posted on her blog in 2011.

The High Court heard she made "repeated false statements... and various allegations of corruption, lying, perjury and misappropriation of public money" against Mr James.

The court's ruling said Mrs Thompson's "unlawful campaign of harassment and defamation" meant she was "the author of her own misfortune".

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