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Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson arrested for filming council meeting

A blogger has said she is angry and shocked after being arrested for filming a Carmarthenshire council meeting.

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 after the mother-of-four refused to stop filming the meeting.

Ms. Thompson, who is a community councillor in the village of Llanwrda, near Carmarthenshire, was filming the meeting from the public gallery for her blog “Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more”.

The blog has previously been highly critical of some planning decisions made by Camarthenshire council.

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”.

Ms. Thompson started filming the meeting from the public gallery at County Hall in Carmarthen. The footage, which she has since posted on YouTube, shows Mrs Thompson being repeatedly asked to stop filming.

She replies: “I’m not doing anything wrong and I’m not disrupting your meeting.”

After the meeting was suspended and police arrived, Ms. 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.”

In a statement released on the force’s website police confirmed Ms Thompson had been arrested to “prevent a further breach on the peace”.

The statement said:

“At approximately 10:20 on the 8th of June 2011 officers were asked to attend at County Hall, Carmarthen to deal with an incident involving a woman in the public gallery.

“On arrival, officers spoke to a 49-year-old woman but 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.”

Live-blogging using the social media site twitter, and filming open council meetings has become increasingly common in recent years but remains controversial with some councils’ banning the practice while others actively encourage it.

Camarthenshire County Council says that while they are obliged to allow members of the public access to open meetings there are no rules or government guidance surrounding recording of public meetings by individuals.

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.”

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.

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Discussion

One thought on “Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson arrested for filming council meeting

  1. Guidance issued by Eric Pickles (through Bob Neill) included an opinion from the UK Information Commissioner that the right to film elected representatives acting in the public sphere “should weigh heavily against personal objections.”

    Whilst his opinion is not binding in forcing councils to allow filming, the Information Commissioner has equivalent jurisdiction over Wales as England so therefore I would assume there is no objection from his office, ICO, to filming council meetings in Wales.

    Furthermore the advice from the Department for Communities sets out clear reasons why filming is good for democracy.
    I put the full letter on my blog here: http://ejf.me/cC

    Posted by James Firth | June 13, 2011, 2:42 pm

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