Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The unanswered questions for Dyfed Powys Police

Last Wednesday, Dyfed Powys Police arrested activist and blogger Jacqui Thompson.

I blogged about it at the New Statesman.

On Friday I sent the following questions to Dyfed Powys Police.

It is now Tuesday and I am still waiting for a response to any of the questions.

This tardiness rather contrasts with the matter of minutes it took Dyfed Powys Police to turn up and arrest Jacqui Thompson. The police seemed to know their powers of arrest then.

The unanswered questions:

1. In what possible way is filming a public council meeting a breach of the peace?

2. Can the police confirm that filming a public council meeting is not actualy an arrestable offence?

3. Why was she taken to a police station? And why was she then kept several hours at a police station?

4. Why was she threatened with court if she did not sign an "undertaking"?

5. What possible offence was the police threatening with charging her?

6. Do the police realise that this is a free expression issue?

7. Will the police now apologise to Ms Thompson?

8. Can you please name the officers that arrested Ms Thompson?


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Dan said...

I've been reading this with interest, and am particularly interested in any reply...

There has been a some interesting posts made on the NS blog about the same. I suspect you can answer these questions for the Police in this instance, but their thinking will be intriguing.

Adambro said...

I'm not convinced that portraying this as an instance of someone being arrested for filming is entirely reasonable. Really the issue that the police dealt with was the refusal of Jacqui Thompson to leave the meeting after the chair of the meeting had judged Thompson to be disrupting it. Since Thompson had already on previous occasions been removed from meetings after being asked to stop filming, it seems understandable that the police chose to detain her to prevent her from returning to the meeting and continuing to disrupt it. Should Carmarthenshire Council allow where possible their meetings to be filmed? Sure. Should Thompson repeatedly film meetings despite the Council's objections? Let's be sensible, no. If she wanted the Council to change their policy then she could raise this properly. Simply ignoring the Council's requests not to film isn't helpful.

Simon Cooke said...

I am quite interested in the justification for the Council (or its representative) calling the police in this matter.

The Council's constitution section 3 concerns citizen's rights:

There is nothing in here at all that justifies the response - by comparison our Constition in Bradford makes specific reference (which I disagree with but that's by the by) to photography and filming.

Photon said...

I agree with Adambro: the arrest was not apparently for filming, but for 'refusing to cooperate' at a later point, after the meeting had been suspended.

It is of course possible that something happened that we do not know that warranted arrest, but no-one seems to suggest in any of the accounts that there was anything that really did qualify as an actual or potential breach of the peace.

What is at issue is whether the police ought to blindly accept a call from the council to remove someone who has, by all accounts, done nothing wrong. Nobody has shown me any evidence - and I have asked directly - that a rule or law was broken, so on what authority were the police relying in insisting Ms. Thompson should vacate the gallery?

Andrew said...

I guess the police will try to justify this by saying that the officers reasonably suspected that there was (or anticipated that there would be) a breach of the peace.

Perhaps the argument would be something like this:
(i) Presumably the council has the power to regulate the conduct of its own meetings (although I have not checked their rules).
(ii) If so, they could decide to prohibit filming at a meeting, even if their standing orders so not already prohibit it.
(iii) If the council (acting through the chairman of the meeting) asks someone to stop filming, and the person refuses, that could be considered disruptive, and the person could be asked to leave.
(iv) If the person refuses a legitimate request to leave the meeting, then (arguably) they are trespassing.
(v) Reasonable force can be used to eject a trespasser, and if the person resists then they could be arrested for breaching the peace.

I am not a criminal lawyer, and no doubt David will be able to explain where I go wrong.

Which is not to say that I support with this heavy-handed action, but I can see a way in which it could be justified in legal terms. Perhaps the only way to test it would be through an action for wrongful arrest and/or false imprisonment?

Kimpatsu said...

So police can see the future now, can they? Will they also take to preventive detention of people they psychically know are going to commit crimes in the future as well?

Sandrine Lopez said...

I'm surprised that still no-one comments on the reprehensible behavior of the Council Chair (Mr Ivor Jackson?) whose actions were the prime reason for Jacqui Thompson filming in the first place? Do the meeting minutes indicate he refused to open discussion about the closure of the Day Care centre that was being petitined to stay open? Probably not, and this is why the filming of such an incident is so important - it shows how little we can trust some in positions of power like this. The arrest was probably illiberal but then so was the behavior of the key person in Ms Thompson's video. Discuss.

Photon said...

Andrew's analysis is very good, and likely to be used 'later this week'!

Not withstanding this, I think it is required of any authority under the circumstances to explain what mischief was being addressed by the request to cease filming and vacate the gallery.

In other words, why do the council consider the undisruptive filming to be disruptive or otherwise unacceptable?

The point we keep returning to is that this meeting was fully open to he public, and that this openness is a crucial component of accountability.

So, why is a quietly-held camera different from simple human observation? Is it the same reason the police continue to react to cameras by trying to grab them?

Adam said...


Sorry, but I disagree with your analysis. If there were any council regulations prohibiting filming, then I think you would be spot on. But the point is here that no such regulations existed. It appears that the chair of the meeting was simply making up the rules as he went along. To do that, and have the police be complicit in it, is what I think is unacceptable.

Remember that the chair does not own these meetings. They are part of the democratic process, funded by the taxpayer.

Dic Dyffryn said...

It may be helpful to this discussion to explain the run-up to these events. Mrs Thompson has quite a lot of history with the council, and was successfully sued for libel by the Head of Planning (details are on her blog). She has been very critical about many aspects of the council's activities, and it is fair to say that she is something of a bĂȘte noire for the council's top brass.

Earlier this year, she filmed parts of a couple of meetings, and posted the clips on her website and youtube. There was no response from the council. Then in April, the chief executive spotted her in the gallery using her phone to send a tweet. He thought she was filming, and sent an official to ask her to leave. She denies filming on that occasion, and took the matter to the police. The chief executive then sent Mrs Thompson a letter, asking her to sign a declaration that she would not film any more meetings. That brings us to last week's well documented events.

There is an element of farce in all this, but as things stand it would seem that the council could eject anyone in possession of a mobile phone or other device merely because it suspects that they may have been filming.

The council has manoeuvred itself into a position which is not tenable, but it has gone on record as saying that there are "many legal and practical issues which need to be explored before there is any change in policy". In other words, they are trying to kick the matter into the long grass and hide behind dubious interpretations of the Human Rights Act and data protection.

To be fair to them, they do face one practical problem which English councils do not have, and that is the issue of language. If the council makes its proceedings available online, it will have to ensure that there is an interpreter service for people who do not understand Welsh, and for Welsh speakers wishing to listen in Welsh to speeches, etc. made in English.

I hope that clarifies a few points.

The Defence Brief said...

I love the fact that you expected an answer from a police force within a few days!

In my experience, it takes at least a few weeks with numerous follow ups to get any sort of response and usually longer to get a meaningful response.

The Defence Brief said...

The police are permitted to arrest somebody for causing a breach of the peace. From the media report in the link it looks as if the police may well have arrested the wrong person. I am not convienced that any breach of the peace did occur from the report, but if Ms Thompson was filming without interrupting the meeting then it may well have been that the meeting was being interrupted by the Chief Executive in which case as the police have the power to arrest the person causing the breach it would seem he is the correct person to arrest!

There was a case the name of which I forget. A man was giving a 'political' speech to a crowd that was causing the crowd much distress to the point where the police became concerned that a riot would break out so they arrested the speaker. He sued for false imprisonment and won, the court (it may have been a European Court, but was certainly an appeal court) stated that the potential breach of the peace would have been caused by the crowd not the speaker and so the police had no power to arrest the speaker; although nowadays they have powers under the Public Order Act.