Clerk silent on why he took reporter's notes
A LLANELLI council clerk who confiscated a Star reporter's notes has failed to provide valid justification for doing so.
Trainee reporter Chad Welch had his notes seized and was kicked out of a Llanelli Rural Council building on Thursday after it was suddenly announced that the meeting was private.
But when the Star later asked rural council clerk Mark Galbraith under what powers he took the notes, he stated: "It would be inappropriate to comment at this point."
Jointly arranged by Llanelli's town and rural councils, the meeting's stated aim was to discuss the way forward with the campaign to protect the area's health services.
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Present were five Welsh Assembly members and a select group of town and rural councillors.
Mr Welch had been taking notes on discussions over the future of Prince Philip Hospital's A&E for around 45 minutes when councillors realised a reporter was present — declaring the meeting private.
Mr Galbraith approached the reporter, demanding he hand over his notes and leave. He watched as Mr Welch tore the notes from his notebook and then confiscated them.
And he has refused to hand them back since.
Star editor Bede MacGowan said he was shocked by what had happened, adding: "Obviously the notes belong to us and were gathered on behalf of the people of Llanelli, so we'll be exploring every available avenue to get them back."
After the incident, the Star tweeted alerting its readers to what had happened and Twitter erupted in outrage condemning the seizure of the notes as "bizarre" and "a farce".
And given the importance of health services to the people of Llanelli, the Star was keen for answers over why the issue should be discussed behind closed doors.
In a joint response, Mr Galbraith and town council clerk Mel Edwards said: "The purpose of the meeting was to gather as much information as possible from the AMs in order to prepare the next steps of our campaign and it had been decided that a round-table format would be the most appropriate way to do this.
"The meeting was not a formal and properly constituted council meeting whereby public notice and an agenda would have been prepared in advance of the meeting and an invitation then being extended to the press and public to attend."
But the Star had received a number of invitations to attend.
Llanelli-based AM Simon Thomas, who was present, said: "I had received no indication from the councils that the meeting was private, indeed the initial indication was to appear before the whole town council.
"It was therefore troubling to see a journalist's notes were confiscated. In all my years as a councillor, an MP and an assembly member I have never seen a journalist's notes taken from them."
Llanelli councillor John Jenkins, who was not invited to the meeting, labelled the incident as "heavy-handed" and "Draconian".
Mr Welch received an apology from Mr Galbraith for what happened, explaining that it was the result of a misunderstanding.
Both editor and reporter will be meeting with the two clerks tomorrow to discuss retrieval of the notes.
Comment — page 10