Blogger who falsely accused council officers of corruption ordered to pay £25K damages.

Matthew Chatfield
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As a council officer and as a writer on the internet, I’ve been following the story of Jacqui Thompson and Carmarthenshire council for a while now.

Jacqui Thompson is vice-chair of the Community Council in the Carmarthenshire village of Llanwrda. She also maintains a blog critical of Carmarthenshire council and its officers. She found brief internet fame in 2011 when she was arrested after Carmarthenshire council objected to her filming one of its meetings on her mobile phone, causing a Twitterstorm of protest under the hashtag #daftarrest. And yesterday she was ordered to pay £25,000 in libel damages to a council’s chief executive over what Britain’s most senior libel judge described as an “unlawful campaign of harassment, defamation and intimidation”.

Burry Port Harbour, Carmarthenshire
Carmarthenshire has some nice bits

This is a sad business, but it has some wider implications for both council officers and bloggers. 

I’m not surprised that the issue this case centred on was false allegations of corruption. The reason that wasn’t news to me – and won’t be to many others –  is that council officers are regularly faced with such allegations, so much so that it almost becomes part of the job. But this isn’t how it should be. In my experience, when an irate member of the public starts talking about ‘brown envelopes’ or ‘you’re all at it’ this is often just a lazy, ad hominem attack on the person of the officer in front of them, whereas what they actually are angry about is the policy or law that stops them getting what they want. And for the officer on the other side of the table the worst thing about it is that it is almost impossible to fight back or refute such allegations, especially because the accuser is usually angry or upset about something, and to suddenly stop the discussion at hand and correct their facts really wouldn’t help.

And yet it can be done. I remember delivering a notice to a householder which contained some news she didn’t want to hear. She stood on her doorstep and made the usual speech about how the council was taking money from developers or something. I was so exasperated that I challenged her to withdraw the remark or call the police, there and then. She was astonished that I took it so personally, and soon backed off in confusion, saying ‘I didn’t mean you, I just meant generally’. I think she was just amazed that I bit back at all – rather as though a piece of furniture had suddenly started speaking. Every now and again I give it a try when somebody starts off with that tedious jocular banter about freemasonry and council committees. The response is often similar. Sure, it happens – the Telegraph has recently exposed some particularly egregious examples – but that doesn’t make it the norm. Very far from it.

So why is this bad? One could argue that the upset and insult to the officer is just part of their job, and they need to grow a pair. A police officer will hear far worse every Saturday night. This may be true. But nonetheless it is bad for us all, and here is why. For all the time campaigners spend ‘seeking out corruption’ they are largely barking up the wrong tree. In every local authority there are plenty of things that are in need of reform or public scrutiny. A tenacious member of the public can genuinely do some good in many cases. But if such tenacious people get sidetracked in some personal crusade against individuals, an opportunity to improve is lost. The case of Jacqui Thompson – clearly a community minded woman who is dedicated and committed to her own brand of public service –  may be just such an example. When evidence of corruption is found, there is more than adequate legal process available to do something about it. When it is not found, the explanation so often is not that there is some greater conspiracy hiding it. It is more likely that there is no evidence because there is no corruption.

Those making casual allegations of corruption are perhaps too used to kicking and kicking a public sector that is unable to defend itself. From the top of government downwards it really is just too easy to hammer abuse onto local authorities because, like the bullied child in the playground, they can’t do anything about other than smile weakly and keep walking, knowing that fighting back would only make things worse. The key distinction comes when insults and brickbats aimed  – sometimes with good reason – at local authority policies and services cross the line and become an unsubstantiable attack on an individual officer’s professional standards. That should never be acceptable.


Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

7 thoughts on “Blogger who falsely accused council officers of corruption ordered to pay £25K damages.

  • 22nd November, 2017 at 8:25 am

    In 2015 Cheshire West and Chester Council filed a private claim in High Court at Manchester , Cheshire West and Chester Council & others -v- Robert Pickthall No B90MA221 [QB]. The law states clearly no local authority may fund the private legal claims of those of its officers acting in their personal capacity. The Council’s co-claimants [others] were its chief executive officer, a solutions team officer and two councillors one of which was the leader of the Council all of whom filed in their own name in their private capacity.

    The Council used up substantial amounts of taxpayers money funding its own and its co-claimants claims. Despite receiving numerous freedom of information requests still the Council steadfastly refuses to disclose the total cost of that claim. If the funding of the claim was lawful then what excuse has the Council got not to comply with the law and publish its spending which exceeds £500.00.

    I say the Council and its co-claimants stole taxpayers monies but sadly the police refuse to investigate as does the LGO as does my MP as does Secretary of State for Communities and local government as does the Council as does its independant auditor Grant Thornton LLB UK.

    Is it any wonder the general public elect not to report their trusted public servants for corruption. theft and gross misconduct in a public office.

  • 27th March, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    This is a welcome report. It’s obvious that all public servants, especially politicians, are trustworthy, hard working, amazingly honest, all possess high integrity and are completely selfless in their pursuit of serving the public. The only problem is, like in the opposite observations, in so many cases it is difficult to substantiate.

  • 18th March, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Hear hear!

    Public servants in national and lcoal government are expected to just keep quiet and not defend themselves, which can be tough when it gets personal but there’s nothing you can do.

    Gus O’Donnell’s ‘In Defence of Bureaucracy’ complements this – – and Neil MacGregor’s wonderful ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’ defended good administration to create peace, order and prosperity in episode 55 –

    As somebody who worked for years in six different local authorities I’ve only come across one person I suspected (from the inside) of being a bit dodgy, and that was more a gut feeling than based on any evidence, so I never said anything. Only one suspect in hundreds of people – probably lower than in say big business or finance?!

    What is even sadder is how few people bother to vote in local or even national elections, or even know what a local council does or does not or cannot do.

    I agree with the Ranger that public-minded people outside local or national government can do a lot of good. In a good civilised democracy we need people to be involved and interested – and that means actually knowing what’s going on, not unfounded and unfair speculation.

    • 17th September, 2015 at 12:15 am

      I do have irrefutable proof of southampton city council planning enforcement corruption.I would be more then happy for you to see my proof.Ignoring planning & rights of way decisions.Lying to ombudsman.Withdrawing ens when developers lied in an unsworn statement.3 developers 4 properties behind mine and adjacent to each other.I have called them corrupt by phone and in writing.I would love them to take me to court but they will not as i have so much proof.I am a 59 yr old lifetime resident of southampton with sons who work in the public sector.Yours c.j doree.

      • 26th September, 2018 at 9:22 am

        Hi Carol

        Wonder if you can advise me. Cambridge city council issued a building certificate on my flat that has chronic damp and excess cold. After a 2 year battle they have basically told me to go away and forced me to take a cheque for 12.500 and rebuild property

        Is this lawfull?


        Carol hadley

    • 17th September, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      At first i put all the blame on the developers but as the years rolled by and i continued to try to get the action taken per the decisions made i soon realised that my biggest battle was with the council.My family have been the victims of prolonged ongoing harassment from the council/developers and ever changing tenants and visitors to the properties in breach.Surely cctv,photos foi requests should be enough for a lawful council.I am pleased that i have proof as they seem to have lost all paperwork and planning officers reports regarding all 3 developers.In 2014 councils solicitor sent me a letter stating this and apologised for their poor service.He has since left this authority.Yours c.j.doree.


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