Llanelli Star reporter Chad Welch ejected from council meeting and has notes seized
LLANELLI Star reporter Chad Welch was abruptly ejected from a council meeting yesterday and had his notes seized, after it was unexpectedly announced that the meeting was private.
Jointly arranged by Llanelli's town and rural councils, its stated aim was to discuss the way forward with the campaign to protect health services in the area.
As well as a select group of town and rural councillors, those present at the Llanelli rural offices included assembly members Keith Davies and Joyce Watson, of Labour, and Simon Thomas, of Plaid Cymru. The Star also received a number of calls inviting us to come along.
Mr Welch, a trainee, had been taking notes on discussions relating to the future of Prince Philip Hospital's A&E department for around 45 minutes when councillors became aware a reporter was present and declared the meeting was private.
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Llanelli Rural Council clerk Mark Galbraith approached Mr Welch and demanded that he hand over his notes and leave.
The clerk watched as Mr Welch tore the notes from his notebook and then confiscated them.
Afterwards, Star editor, Bede MacGowan, said: "As a local newspaper, we are the eyes and ears of the people of Llanelli, as well as their voice, and our reporter went along as a representative of the communities we serve – those who stand to be affected by any changes to our health services.
"So for him to be kicked out, have his notes taken from him and the door locked behind him – well the facts speak for themselves really and it is not something we will take lying down.”
After the incident, the Star tweeted the matter to alert its readers to what had happened and Twitter erupted with outrage from influential figures of the journalism world condemning the seizure of the notes as "bizarre" and "a farce".
Mr MacGowan added: "I was shocked and angry when I heard how our reporter had been treated, and judging from the response to our tweets about it, so are many other people – it seems almost unprecedented.
"Let's not forget that these were public servants discussing a matter of huge public interest in a building paid for by the public.
"What makes it all the more regrettable is that we've always enjoyed a good relationship with both of these councils, particularly in regard to the fight to save A&E at Prince Philip Hospital – and hopefully this unfortunate incident won't detract from that on-going and vitally important campaign.
"We received invitations to attend the meeting and believed we would be made welcome, in fact I still do not really understand why it was private in the first place. But that's a question for someone else to answer."
Llanelli councillor John Jenkins, who was not invited to the meeting and was unaware of it, said: "It seems a bit heavy-handed and a bit draconian to take the notes away.
"It just seems very strange. When it comes to consulting on health matters we have normally got a good relationship with the press, particularly with the Llanelli Star.
"It's not the warm friendly welcome that we are used to."
Earlier this afternoon, rural clerk Mark Galbraith refused to return the notes to Mr Welch on the grounds that the meeting was supposed to be private.
But he apologised to Mr Welch for the reaction and explained that the matter was a misunderstanding.
He said: "It was a free round table discussion, not a full council meeting. It's unfortunate that there was a location mistake and due to you and Simon Thomas entering the meeting after introductions had been given, your identity as a member of the press was not clear.
"There wasn't a formal invitation to the press and the public and this is why you were asked to leave the meeting.
"We need to be working together to save the hospital.
"I apologise to you on a one to one basis."
Mr MacGowan added: “This was only Chad’s second council meeting since he joined the Star in late January – it took him completely off guard.”
The editor confirmed the paper was now deciding on its next step in relation to retrieving the notes.