A reporter was kicked out of a council meeting and had his notes confiscated after councillors suddenly announced it was private – 45 minutes after the start.
Trainee journalist Chad Welch, from the Llanelli Star, was covering the meeting of the Llanelli Town and Rural Council meeting discussing proposals by the Community Health Council to close a local hospital’s accident and emergency department.
He had been been taking notes for around 45 minutes when councillors noticed he was there and declared the meeting was private.
Council clerk Mark Galbraith then demanded that Chad hand over his notes and leave, watching as he tore the notes from his notebook before confiscating them.
The case has attracted the attention of readers, MPs and media lawyers alike, with Twitter posts about the situation being re-Tweeted more than 200 times within hours of appearing online.
Editor Bede MacGowan said the paper had yet to have the notes returned, and said he would be seeking advice on the next step.
He said: “As a local newspaper, we are the eyes and ears of the people of Llanelli, as well as their voice, and our reporter went along as a representative of the communities we serve – those who stand to be affected by any changes to our health services.
“So for him to be kicked out, have his notes taken from him and the door locked behind him – well the facts speak for themselves really and it is not something we will take lying down.”
He said Chad had only been with the paper for a month, and it was only his second council meeting.
“He was caught off-guard by the demand. He is a very competent reporter but this isn’t the sort of thing that is covered in your NCTJ exams,” Bede added.
“It will never happen again and we are deciding on our next step in relation to getting the notes back.”
Bede said the clerk had since apologised to Chad for the “misunderstanding”, and said he had not been aware that Chad was a reporter at first – but still refused to hand over the notes..
He added: “I was shocked and angry when I heard how our reporter had been treated, and judging from the response to our tweets about it, so are many other people – it seems almost unprecedented.
“Let’s not forget that these were public servants discussing a matter of huge public interest in a building paid for by the public.
“We received invitations to attend the meeting and believed we would be made welcome, in fact I still do not really understand why it was private in the first place. But that’s a question for someone else to answer.”
As well as a group of councillors, the meeting included Welsh Assembly members Keith Davies, Joyce Watson and Simon Thomas
MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Jonathan Edwards labelled the move “disgraceful”, while others labelled it “bizarre” and “a farce”.