Blogger arrested after filming council meeting in Carmarthen
By Alexander Smith and Graeme Wilkinson
AN internet blogger has been arrested after she tried to film a Carmarthenshire Council meeting from the public gallery.
Jacqui Thompson, 49, who runs the Carmarthenshire Planning Problems blog, refused to leave the chamber after she was spotted filming.
The meeting was suspended and four police officers arrived at County Hall in Carmarthen to escort her away in handcuffs.
She was later released with no further action.
Mrs Thompson, who is also a Llanwrda community councillor, said: “If someone displayed enough interest in our community council meetings to want to come and film, I would really welcome it.
“It would open up what we talk about to the public. But the county council doesn’t seem to be interested.
“They are quite happy for people not to know what goes on at all.”
The Carmarthen Journal witnessed events both inside and outside County Hall.
Councillor Pam Palmer halted the meeting part-way through when she spotted a member of the public had a camera-phone.
Recognising the blogger, who has been in trouble for filming meetings before, chief executive Mark James said: “Mrs Thompson, you have been asked time and time again not to film.”
Mrs Thompson said she was doing nothing wrong, to which Mr James replied: “I hope you’ve got a good picture for your website.
“Clearly Mrs Thompson doesn’t want to put the camera down.
“Can we ask for the police to come and remove her from the chamber?”
Chairman Ivor Jackson said: “I am going to suspend the meeting to remove that lady from the chamber.”
The meeting then broke up with the councillors loudly complaining and talking among themselves.
A spokeswomen from Carmarthenshire Council said Mrs Thompson was repeatedly asked to stop filming, and her refusal to leave the gallery left them no option but to suspend the meeting and call the police.
The arrest comes against a backdrop of a wider national debate — the effect of citizens using new technology to record meetings and court cases.
The UK Coalition Government recently told county councils in England to encourage bloggers and so-called “citizen journalists” to use new media, just as Mrs Thompson has done.
In a letter to English county councils, UK local government minister Bob Neil MP said: “There are recent stories about people being ejected from council meetings for blogging, tweeting or filming.
“This potentially is at odds with the fundamentals of democracy and I want to encourage all councils to take a welcoming approach to those who want to bring local news stories to a wider audience.”
But the Welsh Assembly Government said it is up to councils in Wales to decide for themselves.
It is not the first time Mrs Thompson, who tweets under the name @cabrwyn, has been in hot water.
In April she alleged she was assaulted by a council officer who was trying to remove her from a meeting.
The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the complaint because of a lack of evidence.
She said of Wednesday’s events: “It’s not illegal to film meetings and I wasn't making any noise. But I was taken to Llanelli Police Station where I was kept in cuffs for two hours.
“Eventually they got me to sign a statement not to film meetings, but I didn’t have a solicitor and felt under duress so I’m not sure it’s binding.”