Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Police Guidance on Filming - More Thoughts on #Daftarrest

I was reminded again yesterday of this guidance issued to all police forces;

There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.
We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.
Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether for the casual tourist or the professional is unacceptable and undermines public confidence in the police service.
Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order.

(All forces guidance letter, 26th August 2010, Andrew Trotter, Chief Constable, Chair of ACPO Communication Advisory Group).

This is very clear, and got me thinking again. I firmly believe that the Public Gallery of the County Council is a public place, in fact it such a public place that there are specific laws which ensure you have free access to it, although we know of course that Carmarthenshire Council have re-written these laws (or, to put it another way, broken them) to deny free access.
Anyway, the Guidance had clearly passed over the heads of Dyfed Powys Police on the 8th June. As soon as the police officers entered the Gallery, they seized my phone whilst the image of the Council Chamber was still on it. One of my concerns (and I must say there were quite a few at that time) was that the police would delete the video I had taken. It soon became apparent that they wouldn't because the arresting officers clearly classed it as 'evidence' of a 'crime'. The officers' statement, which was read out at the station, included words to the effect that 'when we arrived at the public gallery an image of the council chamber was clearly visible on Mrs Thompson's phone'.
As I have said before, my phone, in an 'evidence' bag, was returned to me that evening with the film footage intact and undeleted.
As filming is clearly not a crime, and in the absence of any breach of the peace, I am still wondering why they arrested me.
Hopefully it'll all come out in the wash.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Council 'Shine Awards' - for going that extra mile...

The latest edition of the Council rag, the "Carmarthenshire News" made it's way to Caebrwyn today. Featured in it's thrilling pages is a nomination form for the annual Council 'Shine Awards'. As an award for excellence, I am now torn as who to nominate, one of my commenters has suggested Mr Mark James this year for "raising the profile of Carmarthenshire in China and showing people there how to deal with dissidents. This could be the start of an exciting new municipal twinning programme....."

I would have to agree. Then of course there's the 'planning supremo' Eifion Bowen who has marked this exceptional year with a headlining article in the Rotten Boroughs section of Private Eye. Sadly Mr Lyn Thomas, Head of Law and Administration and Monitoring Officer cannot be nominated as he has just decided to retire. I am also a little worried that, if he's not replaced, there will only be two officers in charge of the purse strings of the libel cost amendment; the Director of Resources and the Chief Executive. Anyway I am sure Mr James is eminently capable of controlling the legal department as well as the rest of the council. I am digressing a little so back to the Awards. I guess it's going to have to be Mr James for two main reasons; firstly, for so spectacularly bringing the Council into disrepute in recent weeks and secondly for bringing excellence to the world of baking;

The Council Chief, the Police Chief and 'The cake'
A few words about the Carmarthenshire News again. I have mentioned the cost etc many times before, but this time it strikes me that the cost of one edition (there are 6 per year) is £23,000 - the rough estimate provided by the Council for webcasting their meetings. The 'Media Section' of the Council website (you will not be surprised to learn that this is the only section to be regularly updated) always carries a little blurb about the cost of the rag to deflect criticism (who would do that?) and claims that advertising and sponsorship offsets the cost to the tune of £18,000 so the total cost is only £5000 per edition. With only two remotely 'private ads', both belonging to building firms with regular contracts with the Council, they are either paying an extortionate fee for the honour, or the £18k actually comes from other council departments and 'partner' organisations, so the claim that they are 'on target' for 'nil' costs is a generous helping of poetic license then..

Lastly, with the Minutes of the 'lockdown' full council meeting on July 13th just published (and of course we are stuck with the minutes rather than a true record) I see that concerns were raised regarding the much trumpeted, council run, 'Cwm Aur' care and respite facility. Held as a 'good example' in a recent report (the snappily titled 'Annual Report of the Statutory Director of Social Services on the Effectiveness of Social Care Services in Carmarthenshire in 2010/2011' - doesn't that just want to make you read it?) some Councillors wondered why it was still half empty and offered no respite care ten months after the grand opening. The Director of Social Care eased their worries and said that these things took time to 'settle'. With those comforting words, that was the end of the argument.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Filming Debate, So far....

As you may be aware, several Welsh Councils have agreed to consider the possibility of webcasting public meetings, even Carmarthenshire. With a quiet August, I hope the momentum will pick up again in the Autumn. Several Councillors across Wales have prompted the debate within their own Councils. Both Plaid Cymru in Carmarthenshire and even the Labour Leader in RCT have stated it wil be part of a manifesto pledge for May's local elections. As the lead for this came from Eric Pickles MP, I presume the Conservatives will give it a mention too. With the elections in mind, I hope the issue, which is about transparency of course, will have a part in a fair few campaigns, it will definitely be part of mine. Whilst some progress is being made for future debates, Wrexham, for one, have dismissed the idea for the moment, as the leadership believe there is insufficient interest to warrant the cost. I feel this may be a stumbling block across the board. I hope that someone savvy with this sort of technical know-how comes up with a reasonable costing exercise. Perhaps they should cast an eye over the Severn Bridge and see how it's being done there, and how much interest is being shown by the public. Maybe Welsh Councils should ask the public for their opinion before making decisions.

Less promising is the prospect of members of the public being allowed to film and record meetings. This, of course, costs nothing. Local Authorities (Carmarthenshire being the most extreme example) appear to be going out of their way to prevent this happening. I still cannot think of a good reason why not - I believe people will look back in a few years time and wonder what on earth the problem was and equally, what on earth they were trying to hide. It's a bit like the invention of electricity - a bit of a worrying, unknown quantity at the time but everyone soon got used to it and now we'd never be without it.

I, for one, will continue to challenge Carmarthenshire Council and attempt to film meetings, I hope a few other who are so inclined, will attempt to do the same at their own Town Halls.

Anyway, I wanted to list the Freedom of Information responses recieved so far. Some are late, some answered in full, some have gone for Internal Review and some reported to the ICO.

Thanks goes to Mike Walden and Aled Griffiths for taking the time to ask, and to follow up the responses;
(Scroll up each page to view full requests)
@MikeGWalden has asked Carmarthenshire, Monmouthshire and Cardiff (the only Council to webcast meetings). And @AledWyn has asked Powys, Isle of Anglesey, Gwynedd, Pembrokeshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Ceredigion, Vale of Glamorgan, Blaenau Gwent, Wrexham, Torfaen, Bridgend, Flintshire, Denbighshire, Neath Port Talbot, Conwy, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Caerphilly and Swansea. Aled has also asked the Welsh Assembly for the Minister's view but it's not very inspiring, unlike the views several other AM's who have publicly expressed their support.

The Photon has asked, again through the Freedom of Information, for Carmarthenshire Council's fire and saftey assessments for the 'lock-in' (or lock-out if you're me) arrangements introduced for the Public Gallery on July 13th. 

Perhaps now is a good time to mention my petitions to the Welsh Assembly again, the 'filming' one is here, and the 'spending over £500' one is here - If you wish for more transparency in Welsh local government please sign. If you have already done so, thanks.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Another Police Statement and a Breach of Data Protection

 More articles have appeared in the local papers, the Carmarthen Journal and the Llanelli Star about last week's meeting. I have provided the links below.

There are a couple of points I wish to mention. I was aware that Cllr Sian Caiach and Cllr A Davies had tried to challenge the Minutes of the meeting of the 8th June which stated that I, (it was obviously me) had interrupted and disrupted the meeting, which I hadn't. I was unaware until now of the names of the other two Councillors who had also supported their challenge, Cllrs Jenkins and D Williams. So my thanks goes to them too.

There is also a statement from Dyfed Powys Police in an attempt to explain the reason for the phone call I had from a Chief Inspector two days before the meeting;
 "We contacted both parties involved to understand their intentions. The aim of the two conversations was to ensure that everybody understood what could happen if certain courses of action, including any breaches of the law on either side, were followed. We have taken a proportionate, fair and balanced approach to the situation. We did recieve a call asking for assistance to enter the viewing gallery for the Council Chamber, but advised the caller that this was a matter for the council, not the police"
 On the face of it this sounds a fair statement but I get the impression that Dyfed Powys Police are tip toeing around all this and realise their previous mistake without admitting liability, having now decided, contrary to the evidence on the 8th June, that this 'was a matter for the Council, not the police'. However, I very much doubt if breaches of the law on 'either side' were remotely discussed, and from the rather sinister and intimidating phone call I had, it was very clear that I was likely to be arrested (I am not sure what for). I believe it was possibly the timely intervention (on the morning of the 13th July) of an email from @DavidAllenGreen to Dyfed Powys Police to urge them to consider issues of free speech should they attend, that dissuaded them completely.

Back briefly again to yesterday's Freedom of Information response. The Council FoI office goes to great lengths in their response letter to explain why my details were redacted from an email thread, Data Protection, third party etc etc. Very commendable and the details were duly redacted in downloadable version of the email. However, they didn't bother to check, (or maybe even decided to leave) the html version where my name AND address are there for all to see! I have taken screenshots and printouts and now reported this matter to the Information Commissioners Office.

Film Row Blogger not allowed into Council meeting
Council accused of Glossing over events at County Hall
Accuracy is Questioned
From the Carmarthen Journal and the Llanelli Star.

Update 22nd July;
The Council have now removed my name and address from the email thread. Glad they have been reading this post and recified their mistake; this one anyway. However, I have already sent scanned images of the original breach to the Information Commissioner along with my complaint.

Back to a bit on Planning

Couple of planning related snippets from today's Carmarthen Journal; The Council is busy urging people to 'have their say' over the Local Development Plan, with only a couple of weeks to go before the end of the consultation period I suggest, if you can actually locate it on the website, or find it in a local library (if you can find a local library that is) you have a look.
However, with the council's track record on 'listening' to the public failing miserably by the day, another interesting article (Intimidation Row Overshadows Plans to build 13 Homes) illustrates the increasingly undemocratic planning process here in Carmarthenshire and the 500 or so objectors, including the AM, MP, Community Council etc are probably wondering why they ever bothered to put pen to paper. This controversial application has been rumbling along for three years. It also appears that the Head of Planning had declined to sign a decision notice even though the councillors had rejected the application last year. At the meeting, a couple of Councillors accused Mr Bowen, of 'intimidation' as he panicked over a possible rebellion to the recommendation of approval and the council solicitor had to step in to calm things down. Eventually, with the vote split, Cllr Tom Theophilus, with his casting vote, didn't let Mr Bowen down.  I heard that as a substitute Chair he had to be called three times before he realised anyone was talking to him and make is way to the front of the chamber to take the Chair.

for more excellent comment on the LDP please have a read of Y Cneifiw's blog;
Local Development Plan comes under fire and
LDP - The fog descends as you Pamper your Pooch

I have frequently mentioned the Council's sometimes questionable use of exempt reports at meeting where the public and press have to vacate the chamber/gallery for 'sensitive' items. The next Executive Board meeting has a corker, of the two items, one is the authority's plans for leisure facilites (selling them off), but the second is an update on the transfer of Public Toilets - obviously top secret stuff.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Undertakings and Filming FoI Response...

Interesting wording on Carmarthenshire Council's latest 'undertaking', the one which everyone is now required to sign before being locked in to the Public Gallery.. "I hereby undertake not to record or film any meetings of the council or it's committees from the public gallery of the Council Chamber at County Hall, Carmarthen until and unless the policy relating to this is reviewed by the Council" (my underlining) So what Policy is that then? There isn't one so how can anyone promise not to breach policy when there is no policy to breach? What right did they have to force people to sign? More to the point, was it legal? 

In relation to this and reinforcing the fact that there is no policy, a partial response to the long awaited Freedom of Information request appeared yesterday. I suppose this is why it has taken so long, it has clearly been lingering for some time in someone's in-tray, making it over a week late. I should imagine that with such a spotlight shone on this council over the past few weeks, email, meetings, notes etc would have been extensive and there is surely far more. I believe that the 'legal exemption' clause has been used to hide a multitude of sins and I wonder what 'matter' is 'still under consideraton'
I see they have included a rough estimate of costs for webcasting at £20,000. This seems overly high and I suspect this figure is to deter public interest and support. Mr Jonathan Edwards MP told me that he had heard the costs would be minimal with a sound system already in place - just never used.
I will film their meetings for free of course.

I even thought, naively, that maybe to save face and to dispel the overwhelming belief that they have things to hide, the attitude of the Council may have been different last Wednesday - perhaps they would have just opened the whole meeting up - invited the public to come along and watch/record/film/observe - as long as there was no 'disruption'. They would surely have gained brownie points and could have analysed the 'results' for future reference. But no, they went to the other extreme and turned the place into Fort Knox. What were they worried about?

Even Mr Pickles MP has glanced over the Severn Bridge to pass comment on the #daftarrest of 8th June, whilst addressing a conference of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy on the 7th July he referred to issues of Council transparency and said; "That is why, looking over the Welsh border, I think Carmarthenshire Council were out of line in having a local blogger arrested for the offence of videoing a public Council meeting. It was immensely short-sighted too" Go Eric.

The Council has come under considerable criticism over the way it has handled both the incidents on the 8th June and the strange lockdown on the 13th July

[remainder removed]

Pantecelyn Demo - Council welcoming Committee

Not unrelated to recently imposed measures to restrict public access to council buildings, it's back again briefly to the determined campaigners trying, against the might of Carmarthenshire Council bulldozer policy, to save Pantecelyn Secondary School, Llandovery, from closure. Already labelled as 'orchestrated organisers of opposition' this small band of about 10 children and several parents made their way (30 miles) to Carmarthen's County Hall on Friday, dressed as ghosts (symbolising death of the school, Llandovery, democracy etc..) and waving a few banners. You would think the council, aware that the local paper and even a TV crew had turned out to cover the event would open it's doors with welcoming smiles, or even send a senior officer out to greet them and take their messages and concerns. Of course if you thought that, you would be mistaken. You may also think that Friday afternoon might be fairly quiet with many staff gone home for the weekend but, unsurprisingly, there were sufficient security staff present to ensure another rigorous display of 'protection', and not of the peaceful campaigners of course. Incidentally none of the campaigners recieved a call, as I did, from the Chief Inspector. The spokeslady of the group was greeted at the main door with 'who are you, what do you want?', she explained, very politely, and was escorted across the polished marbled floor to the reception desk where further large gentlemen appeared. The lady's husband was not allowed to enter the hallowed halls as I imagine two campaigners could have posed a real threat to national security. As Council security were puzzling over whether to call the Rapid Response Team or Ghostbusters, it soon became apparent to the campaigners that nobody was coming out to talk to them. This is nothing new of course, endless folk have trailed down to County Hall with petitions, demos etc etc only to be met by the proverbial brick wall and if they're lucky, a junior minion will have drawn the short straw and be thrust out to grab statements etc whilst an accomplice holds the door open so he/she has a quick escape route back in.

You would think, with the generous PR budget and even it's own PR company, SirgarPR, Carmarthenshire Council would get it right one day.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Abuse of Power

[post removed]

New links 15th July - all excellent, please read;
Photon Blog; Has Carmarthenshire Council gone too far?
Y Cniefiwr; Killing Democracy the Constitutional way
Mark Cole; The Peculiarly Secretive World of Carmarthenshire County Council
Photon Blog; Carmarthenshire Lock-up - The Questions to be Answered

New Link; 17th July;
Blog Banw; Carmarthenshire - Where Democracy Thrives!

Why Carmarthenshire Council needs to be filmed; By County Cllr Sian Caiach

Carmarthenshire County Councillor Sian Caiach has asked me to post her shocked reaction to yesterday's full council meeting. She and Cllr Arthur Davies are the only two Councillors who regularly challenge the nonsense spouted forth in County Hall. Cllr Caiach is regularly threatened with the ombudsman etc for her trouble. She knows exactly how this little dictatorship in west Wales works and is the only one who is prepared to speak out.

This is what Cllr Caiach has to say;

"I asked for the minutes to be corrected on 2 points:

1. that I had made a request to present a motion about Noddfa Teilo from the floor that the chair denied. It was not mentioned at all in the minutes.

2. to correct the minute that you had been disruptive, as you clearly were not.

Ivor Jackson and Mark James had clearly not seen this one coming and had a quiet conflab for a few minutes. Ivor then announced that the correction to the minutes had to be submitted as a Motion, not the usual procedure, but he's the chair. Did I have a seconder? Arthur seconded it. They were very uncomfortable and Ivor insisted on putting it to the vote immediately.

We then entered a parallel universe. Now I remember trying to put that motion from the floor. It was filmed by yourself, reported by the press and I was sure it did happen. Ivor Jackson had told Mark James to write to me threatening a referral to the ombudsman if I acted in such a manner again. I have the letter. I understand Peter Hughes Griffiths also complained about my "outrageous" behaviour,

Mysteriously they had all had their memories wiped. They couldn't possibly vote to say I had proposed a motion from the floor because they had insisted it was put in a motion which also said you had not caused a disturbance.

40 councillors, including all the group leaders, decided to vote against this motion, denying that I had ever tried to raise the motion on Noddfa Teilo from the floor. A spattering of Plaid and Labour backbenchers clearly could actually remember the incident and decided not to get involved, a few actually voting against.

Politicians usually lie by being evasive or economical with the truth. In Carmarthenshire they passed a motion to say that an incident that clearly did happen (my attempt to present a motion) didn't, and an incident that didn't happen (you being disruptive) did.

I am disgusted with these fellow councillors who have decided to lie openly rather than accept the truth. Granted they are not "under oath" but they are elected representatives from which we do expect a standard of behaviour which should not include bare faced lies.

What better argument to film the meetings than this incident when the majority of councillors decided to deny what had happened in the previous monthly meeting, even though they must know it had been privately filmed and documented.

What was going on yesterday? Do the leaders of my council urgently need a trip to a memory clinic or are they just prepared to lie in public meetings where they know they aren't being filmed?. Either way I can see why the public were not welcome and had to endure escessive security and intrusive scrutiny which I presume they will now have to impose at every public meeting.

This will mean that the "vetting procedure" and agreement not to film or record should put off all but the most decicated of council watchers. A bus load of locals coming to hear their petition presented are unlikely to be processed in time. Is locking the doors of the gallery not a health and safety issue? By the time we have our next meeting (Sept) where I will bring this up I would not be surprised if the feeble 40 not only continue to forget why they are on the council but will have forgotten everything that happened yesterday as well."

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Locked Out

A quick post on this mornings events. Carmarthenshire Council have clearly been busy making up some new rules. Firstly, the external door of the Public Gallery is now locked. I had to go to reception where members of the public have to sign to get a pass, which I did, and read a *specially laminted* card with  the 'rules' against filming (remember? there aren't any?). I was then presented with the piece de resistence which was an undertaking not to film/record, EVERYONE had to sign it. I refused. I then spent some time talking to Chris Burns the Assistant Chief Executive who had been charged with the task of ensuring I didn't get in. The door to the Chamber and the internal door to the Gallery were both locked and guarded by security.
I emphasise here that at no time did I so much as raise my voice, merely asked whether I could go to the public gallery. I acted peacefully and reasonably the whole time.
Despite the phone call from the Chief Inspector on Monday the police had decided to keep away. At one point I phoned the police myself and said I had been prevented from entering the Gallery and could someone escort me there. I then received a message 15 minutes later to be told, (correctly I suppose) that it 'wasn't a police matter and I would have to deal with Carmarthenshire County Council' - How strange, only 4 weeks ago it was all definitely a police matter to the tune of four officers, two cars and a trip to Llanelli Police station - and why did the Chief Inspector phone me on Monday??
Looks like the police have had a complete gutsful of Carmarthenshire Council and it also means they realise they were completely in the wrong, ie wrongful arrest, last time.
What next? Well I will now make my complaint against Dyfed Powys Police over #daftarrest and I am now in search of a good lawyer to challenge the increasingly strange and undemocratic behaviour of Carmarthenshire County Council and it's very senior officers.

By the way, one of the reasons I wanted to attend the meeting was to see whether the Minutes from the last meeting were approved. Two Councillors, Cllr Caiach and Cllr A Davies put forward an amendment to the effect that I had not disrupted the meeting, I have been told that they and two others voted for the amendment but the other's voted against. The two Councillors then voted against the main vote to approve the minutes, and according to those who were admitted, there were several abstentions but it was passed. The issue of the minutes therefore is still to be addressed.

No filming? This is on the front door to County hall, they can film us but we can't film them.

Carmarthenshire Council really need to do their homework, they inadvertently let in a fellow blogger this morning, read his post it is very interesting and describes the sudden 'lock down' very well, including the fact that members of the public, who did sign, had to be escorted by two security guard in and out of the Gallery - Y CniefiwrDemocracy Under Lock and Key
and now Part 2! - spot on - Democracy Under Lock and Key Part 2
Another great post from The Photon; Carmarthenshire - The Hole gets Deeper
More from The Photon; Carmarthenshire - The Lemon Files (1) 
Political Scrapbook; Council at centre of filming row locks doors of public meeting
madaxeman; The daft story of #Daftarrest 
All brilliant posts, please have a read.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Phone Call from Chief Inspector, Dyfed Powys Police

Just to keep you updated, I have had a 'courtesy call' from the Chief Inspector of Dyfed Police Police (no less) wanting to know my plans for Wednesday's Council meeting. He said he'd picked up information that I'd be at the meeting from the 'internet'. Whether or not he phoned me on the instructions of the Council, I cannot say. I said my plans were to attend the Public Gallery, simple as that. He said he would now discuss matters with the Council, he also said that the police were 'likely to be called' - why? I understand their concern about the negative publicity they recieved after what happened last time, particularly as I had not broken any laws, but quite why they should be so concerned about me attending Wednesday's meeting, I have no idea. I also have to say that at no time did he tell me I would not be able to attend the meeting.
According to him, the previous incident, the #daftarrest, is an ongoing issue with their Legal Services Department, which is odd as I haven't put in a formal complaint of wrongful arrest yet - that is also ongoing.
My intention is to attend the public meeting at 10am, as is my right and without interference. Whether I choose to film or not is irrelevant as it is not against the law, if it was, I wouldn't do it.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Power before Priorities

There are worrying developments in the political farce known as Carmarthenshire County Council. The new Chair, Cllr Ivor Jackson (he of Private Eye fame) has now refused to allow two Motions to be debated. The first was to discuss the closure of the Day Centre in Llandeilo (can be seen on You Tube of course) which also included a request to review the Council's policy of removing quality elderly care facilities and pretending that the local charity run luncheon clubs are the same thing. The second was a Motion to discuss filming of meetings not only by the council but the public as well, also refused.

The true reason of course is less to do with the content of Motions and has everything to do with the context of a "ruling" group which is no longer sure of the support of all its members. Together with the loss of a seat to Plaid at the by-election last month they also have seen Independent and Labour Councillors voting against the coalition line on several occasions, the most celebrated being the successful vote to keep open the Llanelli care homes.

In my opinion, Cllr Gravell cannot afford to lose control of the council and the position of Leader and so will not allow any votes in full council she could lose. With party loyalist Ivor Jackson in the Chair she has doubtless given him the job of ensuring no Motions likely to split her group or the labour group are considered.

The financially lucrative position of Chair is theoretically elected but the "gentleman's" agreement in the council is that Plaid, Labour and the official Independent Party share the post on a rota. The vice chair always becomes the chair. No other candidates are ever put forward for either position as all three political parties are in support of this system. The groups select the chairs and vice chairs and the position always goes to a senior group member as a reward for political service.

Back briefly to the subject of filming, as assorted Freedom of Info responses trickle in from various parts of Wales it seems that Carmarthenshire Council are finding it all a little difficult. A request was supposed to be answered yesterday but wasn't; They should also take note of Westminster Council's recent decision to presume in favour of allowing the public to film, but it seems that the concept of transparency in local government has yet to be 'devolved' to Wales...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Local Views on #daftarrest

One of my local newspapers, the South Wales Guardian has a short column every week titled 'Bit's and Bob's'. Often critical of Carmarthenshire Council, here is this week's column;

"I see our old friends at Carmarthenshire Council have made the pages of Private Eye after calling in the police over the woman who was recording a meeting on her mobile phone.
Well done lads. What a better advert for west Wales than to tell the world we don't beleive in democracy or freedom of speech down here.
All part of Carmarthenshire's march into the past. They've always shied away from the public, probably because so many of their decisions are so daft. Indeed, only a select few councillors are allowed inside the wall of secrecy. Most are kept at arms length.
Once the Council held a meeting in Welsh with no translation facilities. Admirable, you might argue. Except my impresson was councillors only did it because they thought I, the only journalist present, wouldn't understand.
Contrast that with the community council that always met in Welsh that turned to English in front of me because it was proud that readers would get to know it's views.
Things weren't so bad before Carmarthenshire existed. Twenty five years ago I tape recorded a meeting of one of the constituent councils as an experiment for the Talking Newspaper for the Blind. A friend who was an HTV cameraman regularly filmed in council chambers with big lights and maximum disturbance.

And what's happening with the police investigation? When can we expect charges of wasting police time against the council representatives who called them in?

In the same newspaper, thanks also goes to 'name and address supplied' from lower Brynaman for their tremendous letter of support.

From the wider world, another article has appeared about me and the #daftarrest, this time in the E-Government Bulletin - Woman Seeks Legal Advice Over Council Filming Arrest 

As for news of my request for an apology from the Chairman, Cllr Jackson (on behalf of the Council) there has been a deafening silence. A little bird tells me though that there is something of a smear campaign against me going on in County Hall. This information is re-inforced by the recent correspondence I have had from the Chief Executive. His choice of words is not only personally abusive but highly unprofessional, I wonder whether he writes alone, in the confines of the Presidential Suite or whether he passes it by the legal department before popping it in the post? Judging by the tone I think the former is the only explanation.

Clearly I am going to have a fight on my hands. The Agenda for next week's full Council meeting has been published and I will be very curious to see, next Wednesday, whether any Councillors, with regards to Item7, refuse to 'sign off' as correct the Minutes for the meeting of the 8th June.
I am seriously considering taking up a suggestion left by one of my commenters, and that is to ask Dyfed Powys Police to escort me to the Public Gallery next week. Perhaps they will provide safe passage for me to exercise my democratic and human rights to attend the meeting without interference from the Council? I shall have to phone and ask.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

'Draft Error'? I don't think so

Following on from previous post here, I must mention again the strange 'draft error' claimed by the Director of Education, R Sully and Cabinet Member Cllr Wooldridge. The glossy, expensively produced (and possibly legally binding?) Consultation Document clearly stated that the responses had to be in by the 17th June and the information collated and a report prepared for the Executive Board in the Autumn, September I should imagine. The fact that the voluminous report (a snip at £25 if you want a hard copy) appeared on the Agenda by the 28th June, a mere eleven days later suggest two things to me. Firstly that the report was largely pre-programmed, ie already prepared before the responses were gathered and secondly, that the two gentlemen were being deliberately economical with the truth over the 'error', and had decided some time ago to have the meeting unexpectedly early to minimise further unwelcome opposition. I was reminded of the equally unseemly haste last year when the site specific design proposals were exhibited, before, apparently, the final decision on any of the proposals had been made. There is a third option, of course, that the Education Department work at the same breakneck speed that Dyfed Powys Police do when responding to a call to remove a dangerous phone bearing lady from the public gallery. I find this explanation remarkably unlikely though. Incidentally, I asked back in January this year for a copy of the site selection brief given to the consultants, Atkins by Carmarthenshire Council and for associated costs to date, I was told that there was no brief and, I reproduce again, for your information, the costs - these figures do not include the costs since January which must be considerable, and a brick has yet to be laid.

Whilst I'm on the subject of curious decisions, I have often mentioned the surprising frequency with which the public and press are excluded from the Chamber for 'exempt' reports. I fully understand the financial niceities and data protection issues which have to be observed but it appears that the exempt rules are often used to deliberate on uncomfortable financial agreements (stadiums, botanic gardens, evangelical bowling alleys etc etc). It becomes much easier to discuss these out of the prying eyes (or God forbid 'cameraphones') of the public. The next Regeneration and Leisure Scrutiny meeting has a perfect example; tagged at the end is the report by a 'Task and Finish Group' on the Action Plan for the Authority's Leisure Facilities. Now why this should be exempt I have no idea - is everything being sold off to the highest bidder? Have the charges become so high that no one is using them? Who knows - we'll just have to wait for the surgically crafted 'minutes' some weeks later.
It is slightly worrying thought that, should the Council ever livestream it's meetings, these exempt reports may become much more frequent.

Hat tip to fellow blogger Y Cniefiwr for doing some digging; The original PDF Consultation Document has now disappeared from the Council website and has been replaced by a rather scrappy word document, which appears to be a cut and paste exercise. The original wording regarding the timing of the Executive Board meeting is as follows;

July; 'Analysis of Responses to Formal Consultation document prepared for Executive Board'
September; 'Executive Board decision whether to approve publishing a Statutory Notice'
The re-hashed document now on Word says; 7-8 July share progress and agree implementation plan'
There is now nothing scheduled for September.

I am not suggesting anything but it looks to me like a hurried attempt to alter the original text to justify the Executive Board decision on Monday.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Caebrwyn Fights Back

I am, as I have said, very pleased with the filming and transparency debates that have been sparked by the actions of the police and the Council on 8th June. However, that doesn't address what happened to me on that day. I am making a formal complaint against Dyfed Powys Police in the very near future.

As for the Council; on the 27th June I asked the Chief Executive for an apology, to myself , on behalf of the Council - so far he has not had the decency to acknowledge my email. I am now emailing the Chairman, Cllr Ivor Jackson (I am assuming he is familiar with a 'computer') and asking for an apology (see below)

I am certain that both he and the Chief Executive, Mark James did more in those few minutes to bring Carmarthenshire County Council into disrepute than anything or anyone else has done for the past ten years. I also find it astonishing that the Police were instructed to remove me whether I was filming or not. The Chairman was prompted throughout by the Chief Executive, apart from the fact that the Chief Executive should not be Chairing the meeting, neither should he abuse his power via the coercive powers of the police.

I would also like the published minutes relating to the incident reworded, and an apology.
I hope I will have the support of some of the more reasonably minded Councillors over this.

I shall be attending the meeting on the 13th July, regardless of bans, undertakings or other non-binding attempts to prevent my legitimate access to the public gallery. If no apology is forthcoming I will pursue other avenues of redress.

To Cllr Ivor Jackson, Chairman, Carmarthenshire County Council

With reference to the incident at the meeting of the 8th June, I would like to ask you, as Chairman of the Council to make an apology to myself on behalf of the Chief Executive, Mr Mark James and Carmarthenshire County Council. I am also asking for Minute 7 from the meeting of 8th June to be re-worded, and a similar apology offered. I believe these are reasonable requests under the circumstances.

Although I welcome the Council's recent press comments promising to consider livestreaming meetings I would like assurance that procedures are now in place to prevent such an unfortunate incident happening again. I would also like reassurance that if any members of the public, including myself, wishes to quietly film, record or tweet from a public meeting they will be allowed to do so unhindered.

I quote the published minutes (which clearly refer to myself);


At this point in the proceedings the meeting was adjourned for 15 minutes in order to secure the removal of a disruptive member of the public from the public gallery."

I believe it was the unlawful actions of both the Chair and the Chief Executive which led to the interruption of proceedings and my subsequent arrest and loss of liberty. I was not, as my video evidence proves, 'disruptive'. I would like an apology for such a serious breach to my human rights.

It is also very worrying that the Police were told I was to be removed, whether I was filming or not, I would like to know the justification for this.

I ask you to please respond to this request. If no apology is forthcoming I shall pursue this matter through a different avenue.

I would be grateful if you could issue this apology at the next full meeting of the Council on the 13th July 2011, and I am also giving you advanced notice that I shall be attending the public gallery, as is my legitimate right, at the next meeting, to witness the proceedings.

Yours sincerely
Jacqui Thompson

UPDATE; No word today from Cllr Jackson, but I have recieved an email from Chief Executive, Mark James, in reply to my request for an apology sent on 27th June. Suffice to say it is looking extremely unlikely that I will be getting any sort of apology. There could also be an interesting situation when I attend the meeting next Wednesday. I think I need to get some legal advice on the correspondence between Mr James and myself following the incident on the 8th June - oddly, the email has been marked 'Legal Priviledge'.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Pantecelyn - Staggering Arrogance from Carmarthenshire council

Carmarthenshire County council excelled itself today as it quietly shafted the population of Llandovery. Not only did the Executive Board puppets put the seal on the closure of the town's secondary school, Pantecelyn, but the officer's 'post-consultation' report took a nasty swipe at the campaigners.
This Executive Board meeting had been advertised for September but lo and behold it was held today - a 'draft error' according to Education Director, Robert Sully. Rubbish. @AlexMurraySmith from the Carmarthen Journal informed me that Exec Board Member, Cllr G Wooldridge informed him on the 21st June that;
"A report is now being prepared taking all the information gathered through this consultation into account and it will go before the Executive Board in the Autumn"
Clearly 'draft errors' are contagious.
Do they not realise that people have a legitimate right to oppose any plans the council put forward? These campaigners were respectable folk, teachers, governors, Councillors (not, of course the town's representative in County Hall, Cllr Ivor Jackson, recently featured in Private Eye who kept very quiet about it all), parents and children.

It still remains the case that the only campaign group to have any success in Carmarthenshire was the action group against the Coedbach biomass plant, oddly enough it was loudly and publicly supported by the Council Leader, Meryl Gravell - now isn't that odd?

Clearly irritated that anyone responded to the latest ridiculous 'consultation' exercise with anything less than roaring enthusiasm, they have come up with this staggeringly arrogant 'explanation';

"35. This may have been influenced by an orchestrated campaign of opposition to the Council’s proposals by groups from the Llandovery area. Both the Governing Body of Ysgol Pantycelyn and the Save Ysgol Pantycelyn Action Group have been proactively encouraging people to register opposition to the Council’s proposals. Included in the Appendix to the Consultation Report are copies of letters written by the Chair of Governors at Ysgol Pantycelyn urging people to submit formal objections and a copy of an advertisement taken by the Save Ysgol Pantycelyn Action Group published in a community magazine circulating in the area, encouraging similar action.

36. Whilst these groups are free to promote their opinions of the County Council’s proposals it is of concern that the documentation circulated by them contains inaccuracies and offers misleading information to the public. Given the importance of this consultation exercise and its subject matter it is imperative that members of the public, in particular parents, have an objective understanding of the Council’s proposals and it is, therefore, appropriate that the misleading information in circulation is corrected. This is particularly important in that it appears from the written submissions received that a number of respondents have been guided by this misleading documentation

40. Despite the extraordinary lengths to which the County Council has gone to involve key school stakeholders it is unfortunate that some persons continue to erroneously accuse Council officers of manipulating the site selection process. Officers and advisers have offered numerous explanations in both private and public meetings but the persons concerned have not been receptive to these representations. The sole interest of Council officers in this matter is to secure the best available solution for the education of learners in the Dinefwr area and officers have approached their task diligently and honestly throughout. There is no evidence available to officers to demonstrate that the technical appraisal of the candidate sites conducted by Atkins or the transport impact assessment conducted by Arup have been anything other than objective and professional."

To accuse campaigners of 'orchestrating' opposition is farcical, that is what campaigners do isn't it? But to suggest it was 'orchestrated' implies dishonesty, which is an appalling accusation. Let's not forget the daily 'orchestration' of the truth from the Council PR department. With a child still attending Pantecelyn I have followed this closely, there was no 'misleading information' just carefully and fully evidenced arguments, and emails obtained through the Freedom of Information show that the site selection process was odd to say the least; coming in at a very late stage, the justification for the Ffairfach site was that it was a 'goer'. Enough said.

many previous posts including; or 

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Filming Debate continues...and that #daftarrest parking ticket again

I am very pleased that many Council's across Wales are reviewing their policies with regards to filming meetings, there are also good arguments emerging to support my call for members of the public and journalists to be able to film too. Ceredigion, Brecon Beacons and even Carmarthenshire are the latest to consider the matter and, as the Western Mail reports, 14 Assembly Members have now signed the shadow Minister for Local Government's Statement of Opinion (links in previous post), I hope this has some influence over the Minister, Carl Sargeant, who has given a  fairly positive but rather feeble response, this can be read over on the Photon blog as well as a warning from Carmarthenshire blogger Y Cneifwr that moves toward transparency need to be across the board rather than by piecemeal concessions. I am very grateful to all who have supported the issues I have raised but I do not claim to represent a consensus of opinion and am pleased there has been so much debate, Personally, I fail to see any logical argument against.
I must just mention Carmarthenshire who have managed, with careful spin, (otherwise known as twisting the truth to your advantage) to issue press releases about their 'new idea' for transparency without actually mentioning the events of the 8th June. Classic.

I would like to quote from a couple of recent blogposts on the issue of filming. This from Lib Dem Mark Jones, a Ceredigion Councillor;

"We've never had in my memory, such an embarrassing situation in Ceredigion as was experienced recently in Carmarthen. It does not do anything to enhance the reputation of local government and those within it to see what happened, occur"

and this from another Ceredigion Councillor, Plaid Cymru's Alun Williams;

"Talking to senior Ceredigion officers, it’s clear they would not have reacted in the draconian way that Carmarthenshire Council did in the first place. But it’s interesting how that over-reaction now looks likely to lead to positive change across Wales, with many other Councils and public bodies due to debate the issue in the next few weeks".

 And this from Conservative William Graham AM, speaking in the Senedd last week;

"The Welsh Government must do more to encouraging openness in Park Authority and Local Authority meetings, such as through internet broadcasting and embracing social media. Few people wish to see a similar scenario to those embarrassing scenes when police removed a blogger filming a Carmarthenshire Council Meeting last month."
I have to say though that, as Mr Graham states, this shouldn't be a party political issue, it has nothing to do with political colours nor, essentially is it a 'devolved issue'. Perhaps it is time for me to call on @EricPickles to join in the Welsh debate, as well as give me his views on Carmarthenshire County Council's actions? I have called on Mr Pickles' views before about the libel amendments to the County Consitution.

Interesting article from today's Wales on Sunday investigating the issues around filming council meetings and #daftarrest,  Behind the Headlines; Why are Local Authorities refusing to embrace the 21st Century?

Incidentally, I have mentioned that I had challenged the parking Penalty Notice so kindly presented to me by Carmarthenshire Council after I was wrongfully detained, at their instructions at Llanelli Police Station (for the avoidance of doubt, I had bought a three hour parking ticket)
It comes as no surprise to me that my challenge has been rejected however, I shall certainly not be dropping the matter.

More updates on the aftermath of the events of 8th June very soon.

Some Local News

Back briefly to some local news. Firstly, of local interest is that the planning application for a Sainsbury's supermarket, Llandeilo was submitted on Wednesday, I am particularly interested as to how the site was considered completely unsuitable for the new 'superschool' to replace Pantecelyn and Tregib, and to now observe how those obstacles will be overcome for a supermarket. I also wonder how the common practice of 'planning gain' particularly by large supermarkets (large donations or 'sweetners' to community projects etc as part of the planning decision process) will be viewed in light of the new Bribery Act.

The fight to save Pantecelyn School from closure by Carmarthenshire Council goes on. The Council's consultation period is over, many objections have been made and now in true Carmarthenshire style, I guess it's time for the Education Department to get the proverbial shredder out. The campaigners are still considering a Judicial Review which will hopefully be brought when a final decision is made. (many previous posts on this issue)

I also notice the Council, on it's website, is asking for suggestions for the 'Forward Work Programme' for Scrutiny Committees. I cannot imagine they're expecting much of a response so why not surprise them and get suggesting - there are a few things I would like scrutinised but I guess this is more on the lines of 'Review of Public Conveniences' as last year, rather than anything remotely controversial.

And lastly, a tale of a talking 'tombstone' from Llandovery - who's idea was that!? (have a guess)

Friday, 1 July 2011

Putting the Record Straight

Following on from my previous post and the Council's publication of the 'minutes' for the June 8th meeting, I was somewhat surprised yesterday afternoon to see yet another Press Release appear from Dyfed Powys Police. I was even more surprised by the tabloid-like title, 'Putting the Record Straight'. They are of course entitled to put forward their version of events, address criticism and perhaps pre-empt a complaint by publicly defending their actions, and so am I. However, I do not have, as both the police and the council do, the luxury of expert legal advice, so all I can do is say it how I see it..basically.

I would say that most of the criticism against the police is about decisions made by more senior management. The attending officers, (of which there were four, not two as in a previous press release) were clearly inexperienced in dealing with a situation such as this which I believe involved political and free speech issues. I would be interested to see exactly what directions were given to the police by the council when summoned, I hope I will in time, and as I have said before the response was so numbered and so quick, I really hope they weren't already parked around the corner 'just in case'.

Much is made in the article of previous 'incidents', I assume this refers to the singular, a previous 'incident', which readers of this blog will be aware I was the person who made the complaint of assault and not the other way round. This reference appears to be being used, wrongly, to try and paint a picture of myself as being a potentially violent person and to be giving the police and the council the excuse that I was likely to cause a breach of the peace. This is far from the truth and I would add that there were independent witnesses to the incident who will confirm that I remained calm, tried to quietly argue my point at no point indicated that I was likely to 'kick off'.

"The officers asked the council official whether if the lady stopped filming she would be permitted to remain and were advised in unequivocal terms that she would not be permitted to do so and they wanted her removed from the premises."

This is disturbing. I do not know who the 'council official' was, but if this conversation took place it is news to me. The police told me, upon their arrival, that 'council officials' had told them that 'filming was banned under their constitution' and I had to leave. My arguments were clearly pointless as the police were actually acting on an entirely different agenda - they had been directed by the 'council official' to have me removed, no matter what. The police even failed to take the name and address of a gentleman who had, at my request, remained as a witness and had declared this to the police officers.

The press release goes on to deal with the possibility that my human rights were breached by going to some lengths to defend their position. As it now appears there was a personal agenda to the demands for my removal, the question as to whether those rights were breached, becomes even more important. This is something I need to pursue. We can all be aware of our 'rights' and we can all make a stand, but being able to afford to defend such a stance another matter, but I will give it my best, I believe these two Authorities acted outrageously but an apology from either is looking increasingly unlikely.

Please have a read of this post by Carmarthenshire blogger, Y Cniefwr; Spin Unspun - Dyfed Powys Police and PR , who is spot on.
The two earlier articles concerning Dyfed Powys Police from the New Statesman are also relevant, here and  here .
And also an interview published in today's South Wales Guardian which perhaps says a little more about me.

Lastly, as reported in today's Western Mail, it looks like Brecon Beacons National Park Authority will be debating the issue of filming public meetings on Friday, this is good news and well done to Mr Stow, Chair of their Audit and Scrutiny Committee for taking the initiative.

UPDATE this afternoon: 
The Council have issued a press release which was reported on BBC online;  Carmarthenshire council may web stream its meetings apparently the Policy and Resources Scrutiny committee will do a feasibility study. This has been mentioned a few times over the past couple of weeks (Carmarthen Journal last week) but may have been discussed at Tuesday's meeting of the above committee. It's a step in the right direction and I hope it goes far enough. Next step, an apology

UPDATE 1st July;
More links;
Plaid's Alun Williams blog; Filming council meetings – Ceredigion set to join the revolution, Quote; "Talking to senior Ceredigion officers, it’s clear they would not have reacted in the draconian way that Carmarthenshire Council did in the first place. But it’s interesting how that over-reaction now looks likely to lead to positive change across Wales, with many other Councils and public bodies due to debate the issue in the next few weeks."
Western Mail; Moves to allow the public to film council meetings backed by 14 AM's 
The Photon Blog; Carmarthenshire - The Dinosaur Reacts with a response from the Welsh Minister's Office
The Photon Blog; Guest Post by Y Cneifwr; Re-inventing the Wheel, 25 Times  - with a reaction to the Welsh Minister for Local Government's response.