You can’t film our meeting: More secrecy at Greenwich Council

Stewart Christie remonstrates with a Greenwich Council security guard over filming the meeting

Stewart Christie remonstrates with a Greenwich Council security guard over filming the meeting with his tablet

Very strange goings-on at last night’s Greenwich Council meeting – which overshadowed what seemed to be an amicable end to the row between Labour and the Tories over a scheme to boost the living wage.

A security guard tried to stop one of last year’s council election candidates from filming at Woolwich Town Hall – apparently on mayor Mick Hayes‘s order, and despite new laws aimed at ensuring members of the public can film in town halls.

Stewart Christie, who runs the Royal Greenwich Time website, was trying to film the meeting with his mobile phone when a guard approached him telling him Cllr Hayes had ordered him to stop, or he would call the police.

Christie, whose website is named after Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper – one of only two left in the country – is a former Liberal Democrat candidate who ran an aggressive campaign against the ruling Labour group in the Shooters Hill ward, based around Labour’s backing for a new road river crossing at Gallions Reach.

The guard approached Christie yet ignored me videoing the meeting within the mayor’s eyeline. Christie stopped filming, but later resumed using a tablet propped up on the shelf of the public gallery.

Again, the guard approached Christie and told him to stop. This time, the guard was ushered away by Robert Sutton, Greenwich Council’s committee services manager, as can be seen in the video below.

Rules allowing council meetings to be filmed have been in force in England since last summer. Before then, members of the public had been warned for even taking dictaphones into the council chamber, while former council leader Chris Roberts had resisted suggestions that meetings might be recorded or broadcast.

In November 2013, then-mayor Angela Cornforth refused a TV crew permission to film a meeting. It turned out to be journalists for a BBC programme investigating bullying accusations against Roberts.

Christie used the new freedom last month to ridicule the “schoolboy politics” of the Greenwich Council chamber.

Greenwich’s rules for recording meetings simply state that people are welcome to film or take photos, and that members of the public should be aware that footage could be publicly available.

greenwich_filming640

Council staff are unhappy about what happened, while there’s also embarrassment on the Labour benches.

With Greenwich Labour – or more accurately, the council leadership – under fire for “machine politics” over the way it claimed credit for a Conservative motion recommending it adopt a scheme to promote the living wage which began in Labour-run Brent, last night’s incident is a reminder the old bullying culture still hasn’t quite gone away.

There are welcome signs of change in the council – but last night’s row was an example of how the old guard can still scupper progress in Woolwich Town Hall.

12 comments

  1. clogsilk

    This is the relevant section, sorry for the odd C&P:

    Can I be asked to leave a meeting because I’m taking photographs, filming or audiorecording
    the meeting or using social media?

    Generally, people attending public meetings must be readily able to film, audio-record,
    take photographs or use social media. Councils and other local government bodies must
    take steps to ensure this is the case. However, those undertaking these activities must not
    act in a disruptive manner, which could result in being excluded from the meeting. 8

    What is disruptive behaviour?
    Essentially, this could be any action or activity which disrupts the conduct of meetings or
    impedes other members of the public being able to see, hear or film etc the proceedings.
    Examples can include:
     moving to areas outside the areas designated for the publicix without the consent of
    the Chairman,
     excessive noise in recording or setting up or re-siting equipment during the
    debate/discussion,
     intrusive lighting and use of flash photography; and
     asking for people to repeat statements for the purposes of recording.
    You may be excluded from a meeting if you act in a disruptive manner.

  2. Chris

    Aren’t we seeing here a security guard who doesn’t know the rules have changed? As you point out, on the second occasion he is ushered away by a Council officer who then presumably explains to the guard that filming is now allowed.

    What is your back up for the ‘apparently on Mayor Mick Hayes’s order’? That would make difference in that the security guard could claim he was acting under orders. If the police had been called I’m sure they would have let everyone know filming is allowed.

  3. Stewart

    Chris – I’d be inclined to agree with you apart from the fact that it happened twice, nobody else given the same instruction and I was told by the first one that, “The Mayor has told me to get you to stop”.

  4. clogsilk

    OOI The plain English guide says “Any area designated for the public should be appropriate for filming, audio-recording and photographing.” In fact the council have to make sure facilities are available for those who wish to film, and the guide suggest desks should be available.

    The guide does say that it is advisable, but by no means required, to tell the council in advance that you plan to film the meeting. Mainly so they can make sure facilities are available….

  5. maryorelse

    Look – whatever this is about – and there does appear to be some confusion. I would be concerned that the porter, a relatively junior employee of the Council (and I also suspect relatively new), is not being put in a position of blame by this discussion.

  6. Chris

    This is what I’m worried about Mary. The guy was either told to ask Stewart to stop filming or he wasn’t. If he was told to ask for filming to be stopped, who instructed him and why? If he wasn’t told, then he was acting incorrectly, although this could be because he had not been made aware of the new rules regarding filming.
    Either way Darryl has raised a point which should be addressed.

  7. Deborah

    Stewart has quite clearly stated in his comment that two separate porters asked him to stop and that the first said he that was acting on instructions from the Mayor. No confusion.

  8. maryorelse

    It is more complicated than that, and I am not really sure of the exact rules. In the conduct of the meeting the Mayor – I think – has to act on the advice of the Chief Executive. Now the Chief Executive wasn’t there and sitting in his place was the Chief (can’t remember her title – what used to be the Borough Treasurer). The Chief Legal Officer (who would be expected to define the exact ruling) was sitting in front of her. Now who advised the Mayor? Did they need to advise the Mayor? I guess all that will become clear. The next thing is that the (again can’t remember his title) the Committee Clerk intervened. Now I don’t know what remit he has to act in the conduct of the meeting although he generally sets it up and keeps an eye on things. So it really, really isn’t clear. Sorry. All I was saying is that the person least to blame is the porter.

  9. Stewart

    For what it is worth, I agree with Mary here. I made a point of saying the same thing to both the first porter and Robert Sutton. Robert was very helpful, apologetic and suitably embarrassed by the two incidents.

    I’ve lodged a formal complaint with RBG and informed the DCLG.

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