December 28, 2013

Professional Auditors, Armchair Auditors, or No Bloody Auditors – Come Clean Mr. Pickles…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 9:33 am

An Open Letter To Mr. Eric Pickles, MP :

Dear Mr. Pickles,

In light of the above, you might perhaps forgive me for presuming that you support of activities of “Armchair Auditors”, and feel that, in these troubled times, they have a serious role to play in holding political bodies to account. I further presume that you would also agree that scrutiny of those in public life is a good thing, and that the ability to scrutinise such people needs to be protected.

As someone with a demonstrable interest in such matters, I am sure you will be aware of the case of Jacqui Thompson, a prominent and indeed award winning political blogger based in Carmarthenshire, Wales. Jacqui has for some time blogged about many aspects of the conduct of her local authority, and is perhaps best known for her campaign to allow the public to film during public meetings, having been removed from a council meeting and arrested by police officers for attempting to film those who claim to represent her.

You might not however be aware of subsequent events – in that I wrote a letter on this blog (madaxeman) to the Chief Executive of the council, asking him to justify the council’s actions in that meeting. I feel that he failed to offer any substantive response to the points I raised, but in his response he did unfortunately make a number of comments concerning Jacqui and her family that she considered libelous, and the matter has unfortunately had to come before The High Court. Indeed, I myself was called as a witness at the case, which Jacqui lost owing to what I find to be a frankly inexplicable conclusion that she was conducting a campaign of harassment.

The merits of the case are a matter for separate consideration, but as a blogger who has frequently posted on issues surrounding political accountability myself, the most disturbing aspect of the case is that the Chief Executive launched a counter suit, with the benefit of an indemnity provided from the public purse. Whilst I can understand that public finances might well be justifiably employed in the defence of a council officer before the courts, I find the notion that public funds might be used to actually launch an action against a blogger, or any other member of the public for that matter, to be extremely disturbing.

It sets the scene for a David vs Goliath confrontation, and serves as a major deterrent to those of us who are prepared to dedicate our own efforts, though not our financial security, in the service of the public good. There is perhaps at this point a need to ensure clarity in the point I am making, because I am not suggesting that bloggers should have any special protection against the findings of the Court. The real deterrent here is the process and expenditure of a case in and of itself – during the conduct of the case, rather than at it’s conclusion. It is clearly unfair, and runs contrary to the principle of natural justice, that local authority officers should have the support of the public purse when bringing personal actions against members of the public. The Chief Executive is an extremely well paid man – and since I am denied access to the courts by my financial circumstances, it is particularly gauling to find my taxes being employed to support the actions of someone who is clearly able, though seemingly unwilling, to pay his own way.

If a local authority wishes to act against a member of the public, then it should do so in its own name. Of course, the Derbyshire Agreement prevents such conduct, and that prevention is employed for very good reasons. Those in public life should expect to face scrutiny and robust challenge – and indeed I feel it could be argued that they have a duty to submit to it.

Scrutiny is, in my view, the oil that lubricates the political system. With no oversight, you end up with chaos. But who will bring that scrutiny? I’m told there are plans afoot in Carmarthenshire to reduce full council meetings down to merely watching corporate presentations, leaving the decision making to the favoured few. What of scrutiny then? What of the local press, so starved of funds in this day and age that many publications are terrified to report the truth, lest they should find the local authority removing advertising from them?

Bloggers are ideally placed to bring the required scrutiny – but if you want people to assist you with armchair auditing, then you need to be prepared to stand by them, and ensure they are protected from unscrupulous bodies with relatively inexhaustible resources. It matters. Jacqui Thompson is now going to lose her home, which doesn’t strike me as a fitting reward for countless hours spent in service of the community.

I urge you to read her blog, and draw your own conclusions…






  1. Well said, Martin. Like you I attended the libel hearings and saw Jacqui’s blog represented as focused on one individual rather than raising issues of real public interest. The judge’s findings agreed with this view, and he expressed his condemnation in no uncertain terms. I think the consequences for her have been punitive, and disproportionate. Jacqui continues to write her blog, and indeed there are many issues of interest at the moment to report.

    We all have a duty to be accurate and fair in what we write, and to provide the evidence for allegations or wrongdoing, but we must defend the right to scrutinise and criticise the actions of public bodies. Too many authorities are still opposing the very principle of open government and obstructing such scrutiny wherever possible.

    Comment by Mrs Angry — December 31, 2013 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Mrs. A…

    I’ve just reminded Eric Pickles on Twitter that he hasn’t responded to this. It’s a shame – I thought he was sincere in his wish to bring greater accountability to town halls. #naive…

    Comment by madaxeman — January 20, 2014 @ 12:58 pm | Reply

  3. Saying one thing because it looks good on the public record is so easy, the problem comes when asked to put it into practise; that’s where the likes of Mr Pickles get stuck – hoist on the spike of their own words.

    Comment by maureenjenner — October 9, 2014 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

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