Carmarthenshire blogger arrest: how we broke the story

On Wednesday my colleague Graeme Wilkinson and I were at a full meeting of Carmarthenshire Council. We knew it had the potential to be newsworthy on a local level because campaigners were presenting a 1,500-strong petition to stop the closure of Llandeilo Day Club.

But this was overshadowed by the arrest of blogger Jacqui Thompson, who tried to film the meeting from the public gallery.

My story on #DaftArrest (a hashtag devised by lawyer and New Statesman legal correspondent David Allen Green) has since been followed up by two national papers and countless bloggers.

Set against a backdrop of the wider debate about bloggers and council transparency, it looks set to run and run.

I was on the steps of County Hall and saw the events unfold. You can read about what happened here but below is how we broke the story, and how the week has progressed:

Blogger Jacqui Thompson is arrested at Carmarthen County Hall. Picture by Alexander Smith

The main item on the council’s agenda that day, as far as we were concerned, was the petition to save Llandeilo Day Club. Graeme was covering the meeting, but about an hour after he had gone to County Hall a contact rang me to say Jacqui Thompson, who regularly criticises the council on her Carmarthenshire Planning Problems blog, had just been arrested in the chamber.

All of our photographers were on jobs so I grabbed one of the office compact snappers and ran the (thankfully) short distance to County Hall.

There were two police cars already in the car park. Carmarthen Unison branch secretary Mark Evans had left the meeting and was on the steps lamenting what he thought had been a fairly unsuccessful morning, the petition had but glossed over with no debate.

I can’t have been on the steps longer than five minutes when four police officers led Mrs Thompson, in cuffs, round the side of the building. They didn’t see me coming, but I only managed to take one photo before the blonde officer (pictured, right) grabbed my arm and tried to take the camera. I wriggled free and explained I was from the Journal. After showing my press pass I asked them what the arrest was for. One of the male officers replied: “That’s none of your business.”

I went back to the office, put in calls to the council and police, and started putting something together for next week’s paper (published the following Wednesday). I used Graeme’s quotes from inside the chamber. I also wrote a side-panel on UK Coalition attempts to reform policy on citizen journalists recording meetings (based on this letter local government secretary Bob Neill wrote to English authorities in February).

I did write a short piece for our sister paper, The South Wales Evening Post, which was published online the next day. But I thought we would be OK to hold off publishing the full story until we went to print.

But when I got a DM and then a phone-call from David Allen Green, of the New Statesman, saying he wanted to write something on the arrest and link to whatever we published online, it became increasingly clear the story wouldn’t hold.

Mrs Thompson then DMed me saying she had just spoken to the Telegraph, so we decided to publish online what we had immediately.

The story has since been followed up by The Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, as well as blog posts by Richard Wilson and tweets from Ben Goldacre. David Allen Green said he will post an analysis on his New Statesman page, questioning the actions of both the council and police.

Blogger Mike Rawlins has taken this one step further. He is asking people to submit their experiences of council heavy handedness and plans to publish a data spreadsheet of the results.

The incident has even sparked interest from Carmarthenshire’s erstwhile uninterested neighbour, Swansea. Tory council leader René Kinzett recently tweeted he has written to Dyfed-Powys Police chief constable Ian Arundale to complain.

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A return…

After a lengthy and inexplicable blogging hiatus I had been looking for a good reason to resume writing online.

Wednesday’s arrest of Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson, a story which the Journal broke and has now been followed up by The Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday among others, seemed the perfect opportunity.

Next post: the story of how #DaftArrest has so far progressed.