Posted: Thu 14th Mar 2024

Claim ‘vexatious complaint’ prompted 4 month councillor police probe – Labour fire back at ‘shallow versions of Trump & Kim Jong Un’

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

Two Wrexham councillors have issued an extraordinary joint statement after revealing they were subject to a four month police investigation.

Earlier this week Wrexham.com reported that no criminal proceedings are being pursued, with the councillors now asking “Is the Labour Party locally involved in this attempt to silence democratically elected councillors?”.

Their statement has prompted an equally remarkable retort from local Labour, with Group Leader Cllr Dana Davies firing back, calling the Council Leader Cllr Mark Pritchard and Cllr Marc Jones “…shallow versions of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, both driven by ego, riding roughshod over the law and ignoring what matters to the people they should be serving”, and detailing five ‘fact’ responses.

The full lengthy statements from both are below, as the gloves are clearly now off in a messy, fraught, previously non-public dispute.

Investigation

As we reported on Tuesday, North Wales Police Detective Inspector Dean Jones said: “…a subsequent referral was made to the Crown Prosecution Service, who made a decision that no criminal proceeding would be pursued in relation to the matter”.

The investigation appears to related to the failed Judicial Review attempted by Council Leader Cllr Mark Pritchard, Plaid Group Leader Cllr Marc Jones and former Group Leader of the Conservatives Cllr Hugh Jones – plus an associated Motion to Full Council attempt.

The three councillors subject of the investigation were informed this week that the police activity had ceased, with a meeting held at Llay police HQ.

The councillors have also confirmed the Municipal Journal report, that there was an ‘accusation of malfeasance in public office’, made to police by an unknown person or entity.

Back in November their identities were accidentally revealed by Wrexham Council in a redaction error in an FOI response over the Judicial Review attempt.

All 56 Wrexham councillors were confidentially told at the time: “In August 2023 legal proceedings were commenced in the name of Wrexham County Borough Council by three elected members without any express or implied power to do so.”

As we reported there was an also an attempt to bring a Motion to Full Council, yet in an FOI response the council said that did not exist.

However, in a confidential report to all councillors on October 3 the Legal Officer said: “The three councillors also submitted a Notice of Motion for consideration by Council on 27 September 2023, seeking approval of their unauthorised actions in retrospect and for the Council to pay the costs of instructing external legal advisors along with the defendant’s (Welsh Government) costs in the event the JR2 application was unsuccessful.”

The details now emerging give added context to the Local Development Plan debate and vote, which contained a reference to being jailed, as tensions ran high some councillors walked out of the chamber as the LDP finally passed.

Issues around the LDP and various legal challenges have been sensitive subjects, with cautious approaches in Audit, and ruled out of scope in other meetings.

Since then a third Judicial Review is in the works, with the two councillors now identifying that they are connected to that move, where they are hoping a “statutory appeal case” in the planning court plus a separate case in the Court Appeal where they hope to overturn the vote to adopt the LDP will be successful.

 

The full joint statement from Cllrs Mark Pritchard and Marc Jones is below:

The news that the police and Crown Prosecution Service are taking no further action regarding a complaint against three Wrexham councillors is very welcome.

In our opinion, this was a vexatious and groundless complaint by someone acting on behalf of vested interests and against the interests of Wrexham.

Because councillors challenged the Local Development Plan, which does not deliver what local communities need, we have been subject to all manner of threats – senior officers have talked of councillors being jailed if they don’t vote the right way, Welsh Government civil servants have threatened us with legal costs and there have been complaints made to the police and Ombudsman against us.

But this is now about more than planning alone. It’s about democracy and who runs Wrexham Council. If a majority of councillors vote twice to say this Local Development Plan is not what we need, then that should’ve been good enough. If members vote against officer recommendations and vote in the way they want to support their communities, they should not enter the council chamber under threat of jail. But a cabal of powerful people needed to impose this plan on Wrexham and, as we’ve seen, they stop at nothing.

We’ve been under police investigation for more than four months. It was a cynical attempt to silence us, to bully and intimidate elected councillors who are standing up for their communities.

Who are we up against? It’s clear that the seven big housing developers want this LDP to go through and so to does the Welsh Government because challenging their authority is clearly not allowed. But there are other local allies who have been part of this. How else do we explain why the local Labour parliamentary candidate for Wrexham knew about this police investigation before we did? Was he a part of this cabal and, if not, who told him? Is the Labour Party locally involved in this attempt to silence democratically elected councillors ?

This has been a difficult and stressful time for ourselves and our families. The accusation of malfeasance in public office carried a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Throughout this, we have tried to do the right thing. We have followed independent legal advice and we will continue to challenge powerful people who are not acting in the best interests of Wrexham

That’s why we are taking them to court through a judicial review, and we suspect that’s what is upsetting those who have tried to silence us.

To go to court we have to pay a barrister. That’s not cheap and that’s why we’re raising funds from people in the community to make sure Wrexham has a voice in this process. They’ve tried to shut us up but we will not be silenced and will have our day in court. Democracy should not be silenced by the powerful.

If you want to support the campaign for democracy in Wrexham, please donate whatever you can: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/wrexham-councillors-threatened/

After receiving that statement Wrexham.com invited Andrew Ranger and Labour Group Leader Cllr Dana Davies for comment.

Cllr Davies provided the following reply, below in full:

What this joint statement demonstrates is that these two senior Wrexham Councillors, Cllrs. Mark Pritchard and Marc Jones, are very apt at creative writing, and their goal in actively distributing disinformation is to confuse the public. This is a serious cause for concern when the taxpayers of Wrexham are entitled to facts and truth. These two councillors are Wrexham’s shallow versions of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, both driven by ego, riding roughshod over the law and ignoring what matters to the people they should be serving.
I will speak to the facts and truth.

Fact: North Wales Police do not refer ‘vexatious and groundless complaints’ to the Crown Prosecutions Services. They refer a file full of evidence to determine if that evidence meets the CPS’s very high threshold for prosecution.

Fact: Statutory Officers, in their professional advice to Councillors at December’s Council meeting, listed several potential consequences if Councillors refused to accept the Court Orders imposed on Wrexham County Borough Council (WCBC) as a result of the High Court decision in November 2023. These potential consequences are very much linked to the legal Contempt of Court framework. The public may remember that to avoid voting on these Court Orders, the Plaid Cymru Councillors present at this meeting left the Chamber and many other Councillors across the Tory and Independent political groups voted to abstain. It was widely reported at the time that our taxpayers would foot the £100k bill awarded against the Council, and it should be recognised that these costs do not include all the additional costs incurred by WCBC as part of this LDP long-running and still-continuing saga.

Fact: Public sector organisations that are funded by public money can only spend your money in a lawful way. They are bound by what is known as Financial Procedural Rules. There is a clear process whereby any ‘unlawful expenditure’ can be recovered from elected officials, and as all expenditure goes through an internal and external audit process, unlawful expenditure is easily identifiable. I personally raised these procedural rules and the re-invoicing of unlawful expenditure at the recent budget debate at February’s Council meeting to seek assurance that any liability for unlawful expenditure would not sit with Wrexham taxpayers. It is reassuring to know that WCBC has very robust Financial Procedural Rules in place.

Fact: The accusation of a cabal of powerful people to impose the plan is sensationalism at best. The plan was imposed by a High Court judge in the form of Court Orders and in compliance with the 2006 U.K. Government legislation. It is useful to know that Wrexham Councillors could have withdrawn the plan at any point during the Examination in Public process, and in compliance with the 2006 legislation, WCBC’s LDP was sitting in the EIP process from November 2018 to January 2023. This begs the obvious questions as to why your senior Councillors did not a) successfully withdraw the LDP from the process at any point during that 4-year period, b) decide to act outwith the legislation, which has resulted in you, the taxpayer, picking up the bill.

Fact: The who knew and when question. I would refer the two senior Councillors to Cllr. Carrie Harper (Plaid), as I have recently understood that she was chasing details of the police investigation as early as December 2023.

In my view, the behaviour of some Councillors at WCBC has created a toxic environment. I have witnessed a coordinated active hunt for whistleblowers and officers regularly coming under attack for providing their statutory professional advice. This is not sustainable, and with this in mind and at the direction of the Chief Executive, members are currently receiving support from the Welsh Local Government Association to develop a process of positive behaviour for elected members. I am really hoping, although not yet convinced, that this work delivers a successful outcome for the people of Wrexham.

In closing, Local Labour Councillors will continue to act lawfully, abide by the Code of Conduct and our Declaration to Public Office, and we will always speak truth to power. We support and respect all investigations by internal and external bodies, and we champion truth, facts, transparency, and accountability. True democracy only exists if the rule of law is upheld.

Mr Justice Eyre said it best in his Court judgement dated 29th November 2023,

“The Court is only concerned with the lawfulness of the decisions. All must remember that the Council is set up by law. Obligations and powers do not depend on some form of abstract democracy but upon statute. It is inevitable that some Councillors will find it irksome to perform some statutory duties or that they will be unhappy with some elements of a decision which the Council is obliged to take.”



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