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Dyfed Powys Police react to media enquiries on #daftarrest and proceed to shoot themselves in the foot

So the Dyfed Powys Police have finally got back to David Allen Green over their reasons for detaining and arrested blogger Jacqui Thompson for videoing a council meeting, which is neither against the law nor against the published rules for council meetings in Carmarthenshire. They were first asked on Friday of last week but on Wednesday they finally replied in the form of a statement on their website which was simultaneously CC’ed to the New Statesman’s columnist who originally asked the questions.

However over in his column in the New Statesman, David Allen Green shall we say rips the statement to shreads and has left me asking firstly ‘who is their PR person and when will they be looking for a new job?’ Secondly I’m asking ‘Why haven’t they apologised yet?’ and thirdly ‘It seems pretty clear they didn’t know the law – just how scary is that?’

I’ll start with the PR person query. Whoever authorised that statement going public is an idiot. To show that firstly they didn’t know the law is pretty inexcusable and then mid-way though the statement refer to Mr Green without any prior introduction just shows a lack of basic journalistic skill. Had the introduction said that this statement was in response to Mr Green’s questions then it would be fine but to just drop his name in from nowhere is woeful. I studied and graduated with a degree in Journalism and I don’t think anybody would allow such an oversight. Journalism and PR is such a competitive business so you can’t put together such an ill conceived press release and expect not to get rebuked.

As for why they haven’t apologised – well I think we know the answer to that. The police as a rule of thumb do not apologise unless they are backed into a corner by a media frenzy. They cover their tracks – or should I say they attempt to cover their tracks furiously. We all remember what happened in the Ian Tomlinson case with police lying hand over fist until they were confronted with rock hard evidence. It does piss me off that a regular joe can be arrested and charged with either lying to the police or not telling the whole truth to the police but when a police officer or officers do the same then it one of the perks of the job. Police can lie and deceive but it’s fine. One rule for one and one for another has never struck a chord with me and it never will.

The final question about the police not knowing the law though might even be more frightening. They seem very confused as to whether filming a council session is a breach of the peace. We all know the answer that it isn’t but they seemed to believe that it was. How can they not know the law? It is their job. I know we all have jobs where we don’t know everything but when we don’t know something we ask someone. There were four officers on the scene and not two according to multiple independent witnesses, which is again a lie from the police and I did notice they failed to name either officer photographed with the arrested blogger. I am sure someone can name them locally but they deserve some stick for their unlawful arrest of a citizen.

I think one thing is clear – the Dyfed Powys Police had no idea that an arrest of someone for a unbelievably minor crime could cause them so much heartache. A small mistake that could have been fixed with a bit of common sense and a quick apology has rumbled on and continues to do so with their substandard answers to media enquiries.

Not all the police are bent. We all know that. However every time a story comes out like this it rocks people’s faith in the law. When it comes out that they do not know or understand the law it is enough for us to see the police in a completely new light. If Jacqui Thompson wants to sue the Dyfed Powys Police then she has a case and she could drag the force through the mud. Oh how I wouldn’t want to be anyone in authority with that police force right now.

As Elton John once sang, ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’ and had they put together a quick apology all this would never have seen the light of day. However that apology was not – and still has not been – forthcoming and for that reason the Dyfed Powys Police will keep getting lumped into in the blogosphere and in the media.

Dyfed Powys Police – Safeguarding our community is their tag line. I have a new suggestion, ‘Dyfed Powys Police – Safeguarding our own backsides’. Or maybe, ‘Dyfed Powys Police – we don’t know the law’. Either or but both are seemingly just as or even more accurate than their own version.

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24 Comments

  1. Local Local

    The root of this problem lies with Mark James, the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council.

    Since his arrival in the county in 2003 the PR budget has doubled and all information released to the public tightly controlled, with personal intervention by him in FOIA requests. (Trawling through Jacqui Thompson’s blog there is a jpeg example of one of her FOIA requests having a response which inadvertently included an email trail asking him if the response was OK).

    A journalist that was his biggest critic in the local press suddenly became an employee of the council PR department, and local papers suffered an apparent lack of adverts and public notices due to negative stories about the Council.

    A blogger such as Mrs Thompson is obviously not a favourite of a control freak such as Mark James.

    Anyone who has attended a council meeting will have no doubt that this unelected bureaucrat is in control and pulling the strings of the yes men and women he has elevated to positions of “power”.

    There is no standing order to prevent filming of public meeting at County Hall Carmarthen; Mark James has simply decided to interpret what little legislation there is to block it. To quote his press release “The law requires the Council to allow public access to its meetings, but it does not require Council to allow the public to film them”. That certainly does not forbid filming, but how could he possibly ensure that all the positive spin coming from his expensive PR department was believed if people could watch what really happened? How would people vote his puppets back in if they could see how they really conducted themselves? Mark James has decided, undemocratically of course, to ban filming so he can continue to control the spin from County Hall. There has been no debate or discussion, and there is no legal standing of his personal decision.

    Parliament and the Welsh Assembly broadcast their meetings and make available recordings of meetings, so there is no need for individuals to record meetings. It is clear from Mrs Thompson’s blog that she is not particularly looking for individuals to record meetings, but for Carmarthenshire County Council to broadcast their meetings so that tax payers can see what actually goes on. Maybe the closure of Day Clubs for the elderly, or the approving of giving money to an “alternative church” for a bowling alley (read the blog), wouldn’t happen so easily then.

    Mrs Thompson was not causing a disturbance or breaking any standard orders at that public meeting. She had been thrown out before on the order of Mark James (that time for being suspected of filming when she simply had her mobile in her hand), and had checked and confirmed that there were no rules she was breaking. Her “crime” has been to stand up to this jumped up so-called public servant.

    The problem in Carmarthenshire is Mark James and the weak willed councillors that do his bidding. The only way to stop people like him is to legislate to ensure local government meeting are broadcast.

  2. Just because she was asked not to film on a previous occasion doesn’t mean there was a rule in place.

    The issue here is that there was no law or rule to prohibit video recording. If a recording is later misused then that is an entirely different issue and no excuse to stop people going about their lawful business.

    Unless Carmarthenshire Council are using the Minority Reports method of pre judging what someone may do in the future as an excuse for having them arrested before they have broken any law.

  3. Sugr3 Sugr3

    Dennis @3.21 it is neither an old rule or a new rule. The rule does not exist. It is not in the standing orders. The lady did not do anything apart from quietly attempt to film a public meeting on her own mobile phone. When she was asked to stop she refused quietly and politely. At best she could only be accused of peaceful protest which is our democratic right!

  4. Dennis Dennis

    Re the issue of the video misrepresenting the proceedings. Editing is a powerful tool, as is stripping the audio and only using that if it serves your ends. In short it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how a Council might not want a meeting recorded via video.
    Incidentally, the lady concerned has a YouTube account that clearly shows that months earlier the same thing took place – the lady wanted to film the Council and she was asked not to. Any inference that this is a ‘new rule’ is incorrect.

  5. @explobition

    You say that the Courts do not allow filming of their procedures. This is a poor example. It is sadly true that court proceedings are governed by archaic laws; for instance the people who paint portraits of defendants that appear in newspapers actually have to leave the room and paint the picture from memory. However the Supreme Court has televised its proceedings with little to no alterations to its working practices.

    Furthermore you seem not to have properly understood the Council standing orders. They govern disruption, not filming. Your characterisation that filming is against the rules is inaccurate. It is obvious from watching the footage (available on YouTube) that Jacqui Thompson was not disrupting proceedings until a councillor noticed she (as a known person to many councillors) was filming. Councillors then demanded she be thrown from the room, she refused, disruption then ensued.

    If you think Jacqui Thompson’s behaviour was disruptive I suggest you read about what happened when Lambeth Council tried to vote on its budget.

    https://brixtonblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/protestors-against-cuts-occupy-lambeth-council-chamber/

  6. Sugr3 Sugr3

    I still can’t figure out why the chairman would to stop want anyone filming the ‘democratic’ and public meeting! Anyone???? Answers on a postcard please. It is also patently clear to me that the only persons disrupting the meeting were the councillors. Had I been at that meeting I would have put in a complaint to the council. As we all know time is precious and short. Do the councillors have so little to do that they can afford the time to disrupt a meeting for such a silly reason.

  7. “Thompson interrupted the business of the council by refusing to stop filming. She then refused to leave when asked, causing the meeting to be adjourned. This is a clear cut breach of the peace.”

    No its not! She wasn’t interrupting the business of the council. They had no right to ask her to stop filming and no right to ask her to leave the meeting. It is a clear cut abuse of position by the chairman who should be ashamed of himself.

  8. “Maybe they didn’t fancy the idea of a person answerable to no one grossly misrepresenting their proceedings?”

    I would have thought that a video of the whole meeting would have stopped anyone misrepresenting the proceedings.

  9. admin admin

    ‘Neil, drawing a parallel between a peaceful meeting of elected representatives and a notorious instance of racist violence exactly typifies the fundamental dishonesty of your original blog post.’

    Taking it to the nth degree maybe but just showing that doing exactly what the police want in ‘any situation’ is clearly not right.

  10. explobition explobition

    Maybe they didn’t fancy the idea of a person answerable to no one grossly misrepresenting their proceedings?

  11. Whilst there may be a law to stop councils excluding the public from council meetings there is no law or Carmarthenshire council rule that prohibits them filming. It is ridiculous to suggest that you need a law to let people do something which is not unlawful or a rule which allows them to do something which is not against the rules. There is no need for individuals to film Parliament or Welsh Assembly because they already allow live TV coverage. It would appear that Carmarthenshire Council were worried about the wider public scrutiny of their meetings and were willing to distort their own rules in an attempt to stop this happening.

  12. explobition explobition

    Neil, drawing a parallel between a peaceful meeting of elected representatives and a notorious instance of racist violence exactly typifies the fundamental dishonesty of your original blog post.

  13. explobition explobition

    Charles, the reason people are free to remove “the bag/coat over their heads” once they enter a court room is because filming is not allowed there. You might want to reflect on why a perfectly transparent public process prohibits witnesses whipping out their cameras.

    As regards what is or is not allowed in council meetings, the Council itself answered this point: “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.”

  14. explobition explobition

    If it was Rodney King you were filming and Rodney King said “stop”, you would have a high level of disregard for other peoples wishes and a delusional sense of your own self-importance if you decided to carry on.

    • admin admin

      @explobition – True but I didn’t say Rodney King asked you to stop. I said the police did. So do you still stand by your ‘in any situation if someone asks you to stop filming them then you should’ comment?

  15. @explobition

    Your vision of how democracies and governments should work seems to me to involve a disturbing lack of transparency.

    The Council has never prohibited filming. It is not in their standing orders and no higher authority such as the Welsh Assembly or Parliament has prohibited it either. In the society we live in, if something is not prohibited, it is allowed.

    For individual Councillors to invent new rules as they go along and expect the public to comply with them is farcical. Any rules should be passed by a majority recorded vote, not on the whim of a one Councillor. Otherwise we move from a system of due process to one of autocracy.

    The idea that it is all Jacqui Thompson’s fault for filming the Council is as silly as if the meeting were cancelled and then she was ultimately arrested because she refused to take off her hat inside the meeting, because one councillor claimed it was distracting them.

    Aside from copyright and privacy issues (neither of which should apply to the meetings of an open public body like the Council), you are under no obligation to stop filming someone if they ask you. Which is why many people enter court wearing a bag/coat over their heads.

    As a side note, if both the Welsh Assembly and Parliament do not allow filming (I am not sure of this), it is because the BBC does the filming for them.

  16. explobition explobition

    She was asked to stop.
    In any situation, if someone asks you to stop filming them, you should. Not to do so is provocative.

    As the Council said,

    “The law requires the Council to allow public access to its meetings, but it does not require Council 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.”

    • admin admin

      In any situation, if someone asks you to stop filming them, you should. Not to do so is provocative.

      So you are filming Rodney King getting the shit kicked out of him by the police and they ask you to stop – you think you should?

      I’m pretty sure ‘any situation’ is clearly not right.

  17. admin admin

    ‘Did Thompson have a right to film the council meeting? No she didn’t.’

    Err…yes she did. It is not against either the law or the published council rules.

  18. explobition explobition

    Did Thompson have a right to film the council meeting? No she didn’t.
    Did the council have a right to ask her to leave?
    Yes they did.
    Did the police have the right to arrest someone who had disrupted a council meeting, was refusing to leave private proeprty, had ignored police officers and was threatening to cause further breaches of the peace?
    They had not only the right but the duty to do so.

  19. Mike Hitchcock Mike Hitchcock

    @explobition – so you are saying that if you are going about a lawful activity you have to stop simply because the police ask you to? Who caused the rumpus here – seems to me it was the DPP turning up mob-handed and themselves acting illegally.
    If we have to desist from our lawful business just because a policeman doesn’t like it, we are living in the very definition of a police state, and I for one don’t want to.

  20. Dyfed-Powys Police are clearly not up to scratch with the law at all. Indeed, knowledge of the law has been a basic tenet for its enforcement since Magna Carta in 1215, which stated: “We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well.”

  21. explobition explobition

    Refusing to cooperate with police is not an “unbelievably minor crime”

    Thompson interrupted the business of the council by refusing to stop filming. She then refused to leave when asked, causing the meeting to be adjourned. This is a clear cut breach of the peace.

    When the police arrived she still refused to leave, accused them of “assaulting” her when they attempted to guide her outside. Once she was finally out of the building she attempted to go back in.

    What were the police to do? What would you want them to do if you were a member of the public anxiously waiting for the outcome of that council meeting and a woman turned the whole thing into a spectacle entirely about her?

    Anybody who ignores a lawful request and then starts a fight with police officers further ignoring their guidance should be arrested.

    By portraying Thompson as a victim you are grossly misrepresenting what happened at that meeting and ignoring her own culpability for how events turned out.

    • admin admin

      What were the police to do? What would you want them to do if you were a member of the public anxiously waiting for the outcome of that council meeting and a woman turned the whole thing into a spectacle entirely about her?

      I would contend that she didn’t make it all about her. The council chose to do so. What she was doing was not interfering with the running of the council. The council interfered with the running of the council by throwing a strop as they knew what they were going to do would be unpopular and they wanted as little evidence of it as possible.

      Anybody who ignores a lawful request and then starts a fight with police officers further ignoring their guidance should be arrested.

      Was it a lawful request though? That seems to be the debate. Feom what we know it wasn’t. The council decided they didn’t want to proceed with Ms Thompson in the building for whatever reason. They do not have any justification for that other than they don’t like her. It is a public gallery and it was a public meeting – she had every right to be there as long as she wasn’t interfering with the running of the council. Is someone silently filming a public meeting interfering? The answer is quite clearly No. No it is not.

      Ms Thompson is clearly a victim. The council were paranoid and illiberal by not wanting her there and the police were grossly misintrepreted the law when they decided to arrest her. As citizens we have rights and if you think that we don’t then I feel for you.

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