Tuesday 21 June 2011

Playground bullying

Jacqui Thompson, the Carmarthenshire blogger arrested for filming part of a county council meeting on her mobile phone, has now been told by chief executive Mark James that she is banned from County Hall and may not attend public meetings there, presumably unless she signs her own gagging order.

In the last couple of weeks, the story has attracted a huge amount of attention in the media, including a prominent barrister who writes for New Statesman magazine and has taken up the case. His devastating analysis of the circumstances of the arrest can be read here. The conclusion is that Jacqui Thompson had not broken either the council’s own rules, which do not prohibit filming, or the law. She was arrested without just cause on the say-so of the council’s top brass.

Claims that she was disturbing a meeting have also been quietly dropped, as it was apparent to anyone there or anyone who has watched the video, that she was not making a sound.

Now the Council is trying a new tack by effectively claiming trespass. County Hall is our building, they say, and we will decide who and what we will allow. 

The row was sparked off by an attempt to get a debate on the closure of day clubs for the elderly by Cllr Siân Caiach, something I will write about later. The chair of the council and the chief executive used procedures to block any discussion.

Shortly afterwards, the meeting was suspended while the police were called to arrest Jacqui. The suspension itself contravened the council’s own rules because no motion was brought for the councillors to decide. Many other commentators have also pointed out that the chief executive, an unelected official, took over the running of the meeting from the hapless chairman as well as the council’s solicitor, who was sitting just a few feet away, to dispense legal advice. Again, this is not how council meetings are supposed to be run.

The decision to ban Jacqui Thompson from attending public meetings in County Hall also contravenes the law, which requires councils to allow members of the public to attend council meetings. The 74 elected councillors have not been consulted or asked to approve the decision to ban Jacqui Thompson either, something which sets a very disturbing precedent because this decision is about the democratic process and the rights of the public.

Jacqui Thompson’s real crime is to have criticised the chief executive and the way the council is run, and for that she is being bullied by the clique which has gained control of our county council. The clapping and jeering of some councillors as Mrs Thompson was led out in handcuffs is a disgrace and an example of playground bullying at its worst.