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Blogger arrested for filming council meeting: In Carmarthenshire, this is what democracy looks like

with 54 comments

Furious council officials call Police after blogger refuses to stop filming a public meeting

From Carmarthenshire Planning blog

…when the row commenced over the Day Club, I started filming with my phone… I was asked to leave by the Chairman and Mark James, I said that I was not doing anything wrong, it is not against the law nor even in their standing orders (rules for meetings), neither was I disturbing the meeting…

As I didn’t leave, Mr James and the Chair called the police and then adjourned the meeting… it only took ten minutes today for two police cars and four police officers to appear in the Gallery. I tried to argue my point but was then arrested in the Public Gallery for ‘breaching the peace’. I was taken outside the door, handcuffed, searched, my phone taken and marched out to the waiting police cars. 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.

By this time I was very disorientated, worried about my young daughter who needed picking up from school, I was cold (the police had taken my jacket and shoes and socks) and distressed. Without a solicitor present, I was then threatened by three police officers who said that if I didn’t sign an ‘undertaking’ not to film/record any more meetings I would be kept in overnight

Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson is on Twitter as @caebrwyn

Written by Richard Wilson

June 9, 2011 at 10:05 pm

54 Responses

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  1. […] As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Police arrest hobbyists for taking photos of public events they’re now arresting bloggers for filming council meetings. […]

  2. Crime committed: Lèse-Majesté; or failure to kneel before superiors beings.

    A. David

    June 10, 2011 at 12:39 pm

  3. Utterly outrageous. New council at North Lincolnshire has brought in rules banning the use of twitter at council meetings.


    June 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm

  4. The law is clear though. You need to have explicit permission to photograph or record within a private place. Council meetings are not actually public places, so they were within their rights to remove you after you refused to stop when asked. Same as if someone was recording of taking photographs in your home.

    Simon Taylor

    June 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    • Come off it. It was a public meeting. And oh, yes, we live in a democracy. I believe that Jacqui Thompson would strongly dispute your suggestion that what she did was illegal – and has hired a solicitor to bring legal action against those responsible for this. And TBH, even if you were correct that the law allows councils to stop people filming their activities, then bad laws are made to be broken…

      Richard Wilson

      June 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm

      • I’m sorry, but you’re fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the legal definitions of “private property” in this context, as well as the law relating to public attendance at council meetings.

        It may well be the case that councils ought to permit filming of any public session by anyone present, but that’s an entirely different argument. At the moment, there is no such blanket permission and any council is entirely within its rights to forbid filming or photography if it wants to. And if someone is asked to stop but refuses to do so, the council is entirely correct to eject them from the council chamber. If they then refuse to go of their own accord, asking the police to remove them is the next step.

        Again, whether the police acted correctly is another matter – I think it’s reasonable to argue that, having successfully removed her from the premises, they should have simply sought an undertaking from her not to return and then just let her go. A full-scale arrest and detention seems unnecessary (unless, of course, she was deliberately refusing to cooperate in any way).

        As for the argument that bad laws were made to be broken, consider what might happen if, instead of a camera phone, she had turned up with full TV news rig and expected to be allowed to film from the public gallery. That would clearly be disrupting to other members of the public who just want to view the meeting. And that’s the reason why filming and photography require permission – not simply to preserve secrecy, but to ensure that the media doesn’t get in the way of members and the public.

        Mark Goodge ✔

        June 12, 2011 at 7:14 am

        • Sorry but council property is public property, and if the law doesn’t recognise that then, to repeat myself, bad laws are made to be broken.

          Richard Wilson

          June 12, 2011 at 8:34 am

    • It’s a public meeting, on property paid for by the tax payer, conducting the affairs of the representatives of the public. Any attempt to define it as a “private” place is sophistry worthy of the Jesuits.

      Peter M B English

      June 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm

      • The property is owned by the council, which makes it privately owned property and staff who work there should expect to be able to do so without someone filming them without permission. Simple point of law.


        June 10, 2011 at 9:41 pm

        • “The property is owned by the council, which makes it privately owned property” – no, it makes it publicly owned property, because it’s been paid for entirely out of taxpayer’s money and because the council, who occupy it (if anyone “owns” it, the taxpayer owns it) are a public body. It’s no wonder that our local councils are in such a shoddy state if this is how council employees have started to think about their role and responsibilities.

          “staff who work there should expect to be able to do so without someone filming them without permission”.- being a public employee requires you to be accountable to the public, which requires the public actually being able to see what it is that you do. If council staff don’t like that then they should go and work in a bank or something.

          “Simple point of law” – which law? The police seem to be struggling rather badly to actually come up with the law that Jacqui Thompson is supposed to have broken. It’s going to be embarrassing if it turns out that the council has helped to facilitate an unlawful arrest, isn’t it?

          Richard Wilson

          June 10, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    • How can something built with public money become private property?


      June 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    • Council meetings are not private places. They are open to the public and there is no law against filming them. The police should have known that and left without arresting anyone. This is a case of police misconduct in addition to council misconduct.


      June 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm

  5. […] comments This afternoon I was pointed towards this blog post entitled ‘Blogger arrested for filming council meeting: In Carmarthenshire, thi… on twitter and whilst my blood didn’t boil my head shook in despair. Sadly this is the type […]

  6. […] The arrest has sparked outrage on Twitter and blogs, with Richard Wilson, the author and free speech campaigner, writing that: “In Carmarthenshire, this is what democracy looks like.” […]

  7. “Let bloggers film meetings” [Eric Pickles]:

    Surprisingly positive message from the Pickle at the above link.

    Pretty straightforward question of the “public interest” aspect for me – What do council members gain from calling the police on a blogger/citizen/journalist in any case?

    Abuse of power in my opinion.


    June 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm

  8. Hello 21st Century to the Carmarthenshire council?? Hello any one at home? The days of closed doors and news fodder feeding the public are over! I am sure I am not the only one to think Carmarthenshire council are living in a 19th century time warp? Councillors throwing all there toys out of there pram and calling in the police. Far too many councils across the UK are still obsessive about controlling information and refuse to change and be more open?

    Well now Carmarthenshire council have shot themselves in the foot, as a small incident is now all over the internet and in the media as well –

    Here is a word for all the Carmarthenshire council and the ‘little Napoleons’ councillors, its called transparency, you may want to look it up in a dictionary to comprehend its meaning?


    June 11, 2011 at 10:41 am

  9. […] The arrest has sparked outrage on Twitter and blogs, with Richard Wilson, the author and free speech campaigner, writing that: “In Carmarthenshire, this is what democracy looks like.” […]

  10. I’m betting that there will be 20 – 30 people filming the next council meeting….

    That’s the way to bring down stupid laws such as this.


    June 12, 2011 at 12:49 am

    • There is no law to bring down. The police were hassling and threatening someone who hadn’t broken any law – as usual.


      June 17, 2011 at 7:57 pm

  11. You really have to wonder why the council would take this action. Surely they are not contending that events at a public meeting should be concealed from the public. Many people, myself included, do not often get to be able to attend such events because of work commitments, but are genuinely interested in council business. If the council isn’t going to provide an official source of video for the meeting, then citizen journalism / blogging is all we have left.

    I note that the blogger involved was not being loud, unruly, or attempting to disrupt the meeting in any way. It seems her only “crime” is trying to bring scrutiny to public officials.

    Finally, cudos to her for making the point that she is only the minor point in this story – the major one being the dismissal of the pensioners’ concerns.

    Martin Milan

    June 12, 2011 at 7:17 am

    • A two minute long video. We’re not told what went on before it and have one version of events of what took place after it. I’m guessing that the Councilors and the Police have a different tale to tell. From what’s said in this video I’m also guessing that the individual making the video is known to the Council.
      Who’s to say that there isn’t a history to this incident and that the lady concerned isn’t being somewhat selective in her version of events?
      Has this woman an ongoing problem with the Council?
      Had she at any stage approached the council to see if permission was required? Is so, what was the outcome? If not why not? It beggars belief that a person would simply start filming a Council meeting without at least contemplating whether permission was needed.
      She had a daughter to pick up? Best she think of that before carrying out an action that was obviously meant to cause friction. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. Irresponsible parenting.

      There’s a thin line between someone standing up for their rights and being a pain-in-the-arse, attention-seeking troublemaker.
      In short I’d like to hear ALL sides of this story before rushing to judgment.


      June 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      • It’s more compliacted than that, because there is no law against filming people without permission. So to that extent it is irrelevant whether permission was refused.

        And although it is private land, a council is a public body so cannot simply act on a whim. It’s decisions and acts must have a statutory basis. Any exercise of discretion authorised under statute must be made lawfully in line with public law principles.

        Tom (iow)

        June 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm

      • None of that is relevant. Whether this person is “known” to the council or not, she had every right to film what went on there. It wouldn’t matter if she was a convicted criminal who had made death threats against council members – a camera is not a weapon and council meetings are public.


        June 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm

  12. a complaint should be made against the police as they behaved illegally – maybe the inspector is a member of the same lodge – freemasons eh?


    June 12, 2011 at 7:33 am

  13. Unfortunately the council do have the right, the NUJ Freelance Branch have a guide to the law for photographers ( and videographers) Railway authorities can even stop you filming on railway stations . WE all know it’s not right so buttonhole your MP and get something done about it . But having said that the footage that you did get is your copyright and the council and/or police of security people cannot demand that you delete it or hand it over…..


    June 12, 2011 at 7:53 am

  14. These are all publically elected officials . My advice to you all is to put your names on the ballot papers for the elections. Take note of this event and publically campaign that if you get elected your purpose is to change these rules to ensure that public observance of these meetings is free and open. This is a corporate body elected by the public and if you are frustrated with its rules then campaign and change them.

    The opportunity to make the changes you wish to see if available if you and others get involved in that process. I know I have and I will continue to do so. We need people to understand that elected positions are not only for ‘the privileged’ or ‘the wealthy’ these are public posts serving and representing the members of their constituency and they (and I ) work for you.


    June 12, 2011 at 8:11 am

    • I don’t think these are all publicly elected officials. Maybe someone else can confirm this but I *think* the guy who actually made an issue out of Jacqui’s filming of the meeting was an unelected Council CEO.

      I basically agree with you that it would be good if more people became more actively involved in politics, stood for election etc. Equally, not everyone has the time, money, party connections or, frankly the skills to stand to be a local councillor. I certainly don’t. But I do still have an interest in the people I vote for and elect doing their jobs in an honest and open way – and a right to expect that they do. Being a politician is a specialised job requiring a particular set of skills – just as being an IT professional or a journalist or a police officer is – not everyone can do it. I have a right to raise concerns if the police abuse their power, even if I’m not in a position to switch careers and become a police officer so as to “change the system from the inside”. I think the same applies with politics and politicians.

      Richard Wilson

      June 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

      • I disagree , but I would like you to demonstrate how I am incorrect.

        when you say :

        “Being a politician is a specialised job requiring a particular set of skills ”

        How so ? I am a parish councillor who stood for district council. I have helped county councillor stand for their elections. Every one of those people I have met and campaigned with ( or against ) has been a pretty ordinary member of society the only specialised skillset they had brought to the campaign was their own knowledge and skills.

        Indeed if you choose to stand in an election the very paper work you complete suggests that a reason to stand is “to bring your experience and skillset to the meetings ”

        I would hate for someone reading this blog to walk away with the thought that you need to have “Special skills” to be elected. We really , really , really do not need a particular set of skills. You need an interest in fixing what you perceive as incorrect or misjudged about your society.

        nik butler

        June 13, 2011 at 7:42 am

        • The skills I’d have in mind at the bare minimum are communications skills – particularly public speaking, networking, diplomacy etc. Fundamentally, politicians have to be good at persuading other people to do stuff or they are never going to get elected in the first place. If you want to effect major systemic change then you’d need to reach at least MP/MSP/AM level, and for that you need additional skills – managing/organising people and the ability to “play” the entrenched party system to your advantage.

          Richard Wilson

          June 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

    • I looked at standing in the last CC elections but standing against the self serving Hand shake brigade on an anti corruption in CCC platform would have brought the jackbooted Lodge enforcers of the DP Police banging on my door every night, stopping my car, ruining my business, along with the danger of a lodge member banker calling in my mortgage. Local people who know what is really happening live in fear of their livelyhoods and freedom, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire is like a 3rd world paramilitary dictatorship

      Concerned citizen

      June 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm

      • I absolutely agree. Only in the last few days have I begun to realize just how endemic this problem is. Finding websites like this one have at least reassured me that I am not alone or incorrect in feeling exactly the same sentiment:

        “Local people who know what is really happening live in fear of their livelyhoods and freedom.”

        Corruption County

        August 14, 2014 at 11:43 am

  15. I have sympathy for the arrested blogger.
    But you do her no favours by arguing that property owned by a public body is not private property. It is an inaccurate assertion. And your repeating it doesn’t make it any less inaccurate.
    It simply strikes at your (and by association, her) credibility.

    You could argue that there ought to be a right to film/broadcast public meetings of elected bodies. And then you’d find lots of people (including me) agreeing with you.

    Simon McGarr

    June 12, 2011 at 8:43 am

    • Simon, my point is that in a democratic society, we, the public are the rightful owners of the things we pay for through our taxes. All council property is therefore public property in that sense.

      I’m talking here about a fundamental moral/political principle. I don’t think I’ve sought to make a detailed argument about the legalities of this issue (David Allen Green’s upcoming piece will, I’m sure, cover that with panache and in detail) so I’m not sure what you mean by an “inaccurate assertion”. The law is of course relevant, but I would resist the idea that we should mould our moral/political principles around what the law says rather than vice versa. I’m frankly more interested in the points of principle than the points of law.

      Richard Wilson

      June 12, 2011 at 9:06 am

      • Legally, the council is a person, and council owned property is private property. You can say it should be public, but that is more a normative statement rather than an accurate statement of the law.

        However, where land is normally open to the public, then any use of discretion to remove an individual must be exercised lawfully and for a proper reason. It should not just be abitrary and capricious. And the police are cetainly guilty of making an illegal arrest.

        Tom (iow)

        June 12, 2011 at 10:57 am

    • Property owned by a public body that is used for purposes of holding government meetings IS public property. You’re the one with a credibility problem here. If they are holding council meetings there, then it becomes open to public access as soon as the meeting starts.


      June 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm

  16. PS – to put it another way, it could be argued that the democratic slogan “They Work For You” is an inaccurate assertion. Of course in legal terms my MP doesn’t work for me in the sense that I am not his contractual employer, don’t issue his monthly salary cheques etc. But what that slogan is (re)asserting is the much more fundamental point of principle that in a democratic society all public officials do (and should) work for us…

    Richard Wilson

    June 12, 2011 at 9:14 am

  17. Council property is private property, however the problem here is that there is no crime of tresspass, the police have no power of enforcement against a tresspasser, and there is no law against filming people without permission. The remedy for tresspass where no harm is cause is nominal damages. The council could also have removed the person from the building, but were not entitled to police assistance and there was certainly no power to detain her at the police station.

    Hence the police brought a false charge of ‘breaching the peace”. This shows the police are not interested in enforcing the rule of law but in doing the bidding of the executive, which is corruption.

    Tom (iow)

    June 12, 2011 at 10:53 am

  18. Further to my post above it is now apparent that the individual who has posted this video had previously tried the same thing two months ago and therefore knew exactly where they stood in this regard (

    Trotting out the ‘won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children!’ line is disingenuous at best, deceptive at worst.

    This individual and many others appear to have an axe to grind re Carmarthenshire Council (have a Google). Fine, best they take the matter up with their MPs, raise petitions etc. What is not needed however is for this lady to make out that she is just a random, poor, unfortunate member of the public being forcefully restrained by The Man from recording some sort of pseudo-clandestine meeting.
    In my view she carried out the filming of the Council meeting in order to bring attention to her grievances with Carmarthenshire Council. In one sense this has worked, the video appears to be bringing lots of attention. Personally I think she’s simply shown herself to be extremely foolish.


    June 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    • “Further to my post above it is now apparent that the individual who has posted this video had previously tried the same thing two months ago and therefore knew exactly where they stood in this regard (”

      That doesn’t make her any less right. People with an axe to grind with a council have every right to address that council, observe that council, and film that council.


      June 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm

  19. Schools and courts of Law are all establishments paid for by the public, through our taxes; yet are private property. Try filming a trial.

    As to trespass. Failure to leave private property when asked becomes aggrevated trespass, which is a criminal offence.

    Rod Woodhouse

    June 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    • No it doesn’t, to become aggravated a person must “trespass on land and, in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land, does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect:

      a) of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
      b) of obstructing that activity, or
      c) of disrupting that activity.

      And in this case as far as I am aware, this offence was not alleged. Breach of the peace was misused to mean “not doing as you’re told”.

      Tom (iow)

      June 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm

  20. Legally there’s a right to film anyone in a public space, _unless there is an intent to defame_. I think that’s a crucial distinction. The definition of public/private isn’t always that clearcut.- neither is defamation for that matter. I think that protecting people going about their business is a valid reason to restrict access normally (if the resulting video could interfere with that) but in the case of a council, doing work on behalf of its residents, there is a legitimate public interest that is being served by taking a video. If someone does have an axe to grind, then stopping them just proves how valid their concerns must be.

    Mark Childs

    June 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm

  21. once she had been removed outside the possibility of breach of the peace had been eliminated. therefore there was no real need to arrest her, Unfortunatly you may find these 4 officers may not be familiar with the law that they are supposed to uphold.

    There are two seperate issues here.

    mark stocks

    June 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm

  22. […] story has since been followed up by The Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, as well as blog posts by Richard Wilson and tweets from Ben Goldacre. David Allen Green said he will post an analysis on his New Statesman […]

  23. Seems that there are people who are now so puffed up with their own self-importance on this matter that they’re crowing about it….

    “Jacqui Thompson, who regularly criticises the council on her Carmarthenshire Planning Problems blog…”
    As suspected this is all down to an activist using the pretext of civil liberties to wind-up a Council they dislike. Similar minded activists have then had her jump on the bandwagon and are now congratulating themselves on giving it a good old push.

    Bottom line is that this is a storm in a teacup with both sides no doubt thinking that they are in the right whilst making themselves appear idiotic.


    June 13, 2011 at 12:14 am

    • Wow – they must have been *really* “wound up” to go and facilitate an unlawful arrest, mustn’t they? And pretty easily-provoked if they’re so afraid of public scrutiny that someone recording a public meeting on a camera phone was enough to invoke their righteous wrath…

      Sure Jacqui T is a pro-democracy activist – that’s clear from our blog – and good for her. Activists got you and me the vote, and the civil liberties we (mostly) still enjoy. But they’ve left us the task of clearing up an endemically-corrupt political system and ensuring that we don’t lose those freedoms they fought so hard to get…

      Richard Wilson

      June 13, 2011 at 8:26 am

    • “As suspected this is all down to an activist using the pretext of civil liberties to wind-up a Council they dislike.”

      Good. We need more activists like that. And there is no “pretext” of civil liberties here.


      June 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm

  24. My press agency (Orchard News Bureau), BBC Look North, BBC Radio Lincolnshire and Lincs FM negotiated a deal with Lincolnshire County Council in 2004/5 to film and audio record council meetings from the press bench but NOT from the public gallery, and in 2005-7 we also audio recorded executive cabinet meetings (with the authority’s consent). There was no live broadcasting, because the council made the reasonable point that a councillor or officer might give the name of a service user (in care) by mistake and the council chairman informed everyone that the meeting/s was/were being recorded by the media.

    Shortly afterwards the council began webcasting its main meetings – and other councils around the country (admittedly few police authorities) have followed suit. But this does not change the law and it also does not set a precedent for the future. The best argument the media can muster is that any ‘blanket’ refusal to allow journalists to film or record meetings is a breach of Article 10 rights of the media to inform the public about matters of legitimate public interst. But this does not mean the council must give permission every time there is a public meeting.

    Other contributors are correct to say that where public meetings are open to the press and public, there should be a presumption in favour of allowing journalists to record audio or video but that does not extend to visitors in the public gallery, because it is private property and the council is entitled to remove persons causing a nuisance or disrupting the meeting or filming without permission.

    Journalists in Parliament are entitled to make notes of speeches, but visitors in the public gallery are not. Journalists in court are entitled to make of hearings if they are on the press bench, but visitors to the public gallery need permission to do so (because of the assumption that visitors are passing notes to witnesses yet to be called).

    This action by Carmerthen is correct, because recording is not permitted from the public gallery and only from the press bench with permission of the council. Any refusal by a council to allow an accredited journalist to audio record meetings may be reasonable in certain circumstances but is probably unreasonable if it is a result of a general policy or attempt to prevent audio recording of meetings because the council wishes to engage in ‘news management’ or because an issue is being discussed which is controversial or politically embarrassing.

    Tape recorders were banned from council meetings many years ago, on the basis that the noise of the tape machine might distract visitors and councillors. The law does not provide the media with a right to record meetings, but neither does the law make it illegal for a journalist to do so. The law does not entitle a council to ‘ban’ journalists from recording any meeting, for political reasons, but it is true that the council has the discretion to give or withhold permission at each or any meeting.

    Either Parliament or the courts need to sort this one out. It can’t be left to individual councils…,

    Richard Orange

    June 14, 2011 at 11:45 am

  25. Well someone on twitter managed to point out the statutory scheme governing this: section 1(4) of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960. Under s. 1(4)(c) and 1(8) the council has no power to exclude an individual, except for disruptive behaviour. So any argument that they have a discretion to exclude at will is dead in the water.

    Tom (iow)

    June 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm

  26. […] Filming in council meetings. Following hot on the heels of the case of the blogger arrested for filming in the council chamber, Philip John of LichfieldLive hosted a debate on the for and against of such activity and has […]

  27. Public property
    It is generally legal to photograph or videotape anything and anyone on any public property, with some exceptions made for certain portions of military installations that have national security sensitivity.[38].
    Photographing or videotaping a tourist attraction, whether publicly or privately owned, is generally considered legal, unless explicitly prohibited by posted signs.

    There are often bye laws in parks and “non-public” places which restrict commercial filming and photography or require a permit to do so but apart from that there is NO law in the UK which forbids filming or photography in public.

    Angharad Evans

    June 23, 2011 at 10:47 pm

  28. At the time of your story, I posted some comments regarding a controversy in North Lincolnshire where various changes had been made to the constitution and use of twitter at council meetings in North Lincolnshire.

    This was taken up by a couple of other local bloggers and myself, who decided the best thing to do to challenge this was to run a Cover It Live twitter feed from the meeting its self.

    This was coordinated with other members of the public, including Gary Day who submitted a written question to the council challenging the decision, and also received support from a couple of opposition councilors who contributed to the feed direct from the floor of the chamber.

    The result was a total climb down by the council, and a statement from the council’s leader saying that tweeting would be allowed.

    A replay of the cover it live session is also on my blog for any one bored enough to want to follow it.

    My point though is that local authorities appear not to like being challenged, and if more members of the public challenge their decisions and working practices then change can be made.


    July 6, 2011 at 2:43 pm

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