Blogger arrested for filming county council meeting

A local news blogger was arrested by four police officers for using her mobile phone to film a public meeting.

Mother-of-four Jacqui Thompson, 49, was detained at a police station after being forcibly removed from the public gallery at Carmarthenshire County Council on 8 June, when chairman Ivor Jackson suspended the meeting to call police.

The county council claimed its rules prohibit filming of its meetings.

Thompson, who is a community councillor in the village of Llanwrda, near Carmarthenshire, runs a blog called “Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more”.

She said she was filming the meeting because she felt that the way the council was dealing with a petition presented by elderly campaigners to save their day centre in Llandeilo was “a travesty”.

After the meeting was suspended and police arrived, Thompson was handcuffed and escorted from the building.

“I was then taken 30 miles to Llanelli police station where I remained handcuffed for another hour before being ‘processed’, and put in a cell for another two hours,” she said.

Three police officers then told her that if she failed to sign an “undertaking” not to film or record any more meetings she would be kept in the police station overnight.

She continued: “I am now asking a solicitor about the legality of this and regardless of the outcome I will not abide by something I was forced to sign. I will be back.

“I can’t quite believe what happened to me for trying to film a public meeting.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “The law requires the council to allow public access to its meetings, but it does not require councils to allow the public to film them.

“There is no Welsh Government Assembly guidance requiring this and in fact they also do not allow individual members of the public to record their proceedings. Neither does Parliament.

“As owner of the building the council is entitled to regulate what happens on their premises.”

The council’s standing orders provide that if a meeting is being disrupted by a person in the public gallery, the chair should ask for that person to be removed.

“If he or she refuses to leave when requested, the chair can adjourn the meeting to enable this to happen and for order to be restored.”

The spokeswoman said that on a previous occasion when Thompson was asked to stop filming and to leave the gallery she had accused an officer who tried to remove her of assault, and added: “Because of this background there was no alternative but to ask the police to deal with the person concerned.”

Dyfed Powys Police reported Thompson’s arrest in a statement on its website, saying that officers arrived at County Hall in Carmarthen and spoke to a 49-year-old woman, adding that “she refused to co-operate and she was then arrested to prevent a further breach of the peace”.

The statement added: “She was later released with no further action.”

It also said, in a note to editors: “Police responded to the call as filming in the public gallery is prohibited under council regulations (as reported by the council.)”

A spokeswoman at the Welsh Assembly Government’s social justice and local government department said there was no guidance in Wales a to whether councils should allow individuals to film their meetings, adding: “It’s up to each council to decide for itself what it does.”

Guidance issued by local government secretary Eric Pickles did not apply in Wales, she added.

In February, Pickles issued guidance calling on councils to open up their public meetings to local news bloggers and to allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency.

Councils should open public meetings to citizen journalists as well as the mainstream media, especially as important budget decisions were being made, to ensure that all parts of the modern-day media were able to scrutinise local government, he said.

On Sunday the director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC reiterated calls for some court proceeding to be televised.

Speaking on Sky News‘ Murnaghan programme, he said: “It is the modern way of making sure the public actually see justice.”

He added: “Cameras should be allowed and the judge should be able to have discretion to order that a particular part of the trial cannot be shown.”

“If people saw prosecutors explaining the case and the defence and saw the judge giving the sentence to the individual, they would have much greater faith in what is going on in court.”

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