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Posted by: John Brace | 14th May 2014

Martins (389 Upton Road) ask for an alcohol licence; the Merseyside Police Sergeant insists video of a public meeting is erased

Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee 8th May 2014 Martins 389 Upton Road, Noctorum (Martin McColl Limited) Councillor Mike Sullivan (Labour), Councillor Steve Niblock (Chair, Labour), Councillor Mike Hornby (Conservative)
Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee (Wirral Council) (Wallasey Town Hall, Committee Room 3) 8th May 2014 Martins, 389 Upton Road, Noctorum (Martin McColl Limited) Councillor Mike Sullivan (Labour), Councillor Steve Niblock (Chair, Labour), Councillor Mike Hornby (Conservative)

Martins (389 Upton Road) ask for an alcohol licence; the Merseyside Police Sergeant insists video of a public meeting is erased

                         

Sometimes public meetings take such a bizarre turn, I couldn’t do justice to what happened at them without providing a transcript. However you first need to know a little about this “public meeting”. As detailed in the published report a application for a licence (from Martin McColl Limited) to sell alcohol at a newsagents at Martins, 389 Upton Road, Noctorum (which is in Claughton ward although it is across the road from Bidston & St James ward and very near Upton ward) had been received by Wirral Council. Martins don’t currently sell alcohol and the shop is run as a newsagents/grocery store.

The application was to sell alcohol from 6am to 11pm (seven days a week) for consumption off the premises. There had been a representation from a local business and a petition signed by ninety-four people against the application being granted. Both the petition and representation related to existing problems with youths in the area of the newsagents.

Merseyside Police were also objecting to the application on the basis of a current problem with antisocial behaviour in the area of the newsagents and the likelihood that this would increase if the licence was granted. Another ground of objection from Merseyside Police was that they didn’t feel that the applicant had sufficiently demonstrated how crime and disorder would be prevented at the premises in the future should the licence be granted.

Unusually a representation had also been received from Wirral Council’s Environmental Health department which related to the prevention of crime and disorder and public safety.

The meeting was supposed to start at 2pm, although it didn’t. The councillors and council officers were in the room at 2pm, but they seem to insist on having a long talk with each other before the meeting officially starts. For some peculiar reason (which is different to all other public meetings held at Wallasey Town Hall) they insist everybody comes in at once and won’t even allow you in the room five minutes a few minutes before the meeting starts (which is necessary to set up a tripod and turn a camera on in time for the meeting to start). I’ve asked a Wirral Council officer why, they just state because of the regulations. There’s nothing in the regulations that states everyone has to go into a public meeting at once, in fact the regulations just state the hearing has to be held in public (subject to Regulation 14(2)).

Anyway after what was a long time of waiting of about fifteen minutes everyone was asked to come in (which takes a few minutes in itself as there was me, Leonora, two petitioners, Sgt Barrigan (Merseyside Police), the applicant’s representative, the “area manager” and a Wirral Council officer working in Environmental Health. The meeting started and here is a transcript. Officially the first two items are appointment of Chair and declarations of interest.

COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
I’m Councillor Steve Niblock and I’m the Chair of the Subcommittee this afternoon as are my councillor colleagues who will be determining the application. Could I first ask that all mobile phones are switched off or turned to silent please? Thank you and also before we open it’s not the planned fire drill so if the alarm does go off go out of those doors, turn right immediately and assemble in the car park over the road, ok?

There is an issue that has been raised a number of times within the Council with regards to filming of committee meetings and therefore I need to ask all those present if they consent to being filmed and if not errm, the reasons where they do not wish to be filmed and then it’s up to the Committee to make a decision with regards to that particular recommendation.

So, the issue being round if we could introduce ourselves, and then we could deal with that ..

MARGARET O’DONNELL
Chair, sorry to interrupt, just I think the film is running now, so that might defeat the purpose.

COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
OK, is it possible to pause that film?

JOHN BRACE
OK.

END OF TRANSCRIPT OF PART ONE

The applicant’s representative raised an objection to the meeting being filmed and said he was at the meeting with the Area Manager. He said he had not been told about the filming issue before the meeting and had not received instructions on this from his client.

Sergeant Barrigan of Merseyside Police said he had no objections to the meeting being filmed. The Wirral Council officer from environmental health said he had no objections to being filmed. The petitioners said they had no objection to being filmed.

The Chair asked Merseyside Police, the petitioners, the Wirral Council officer from Environmental Health and the public to leave whilst the councillors received advice from their legal adviser on the filming issue.

=======================================================================================================
Everyone waited outside in the corridor. Margaret O’Donnell came out and spoke with the applicant’s representative out of earshot. After talking with Margaret O’Donnell the applicant’s representative talked with Sergeant Barrigan about police officers wearing cameras. Sergeant Barrigan said in the corridor that he didn’t wear a camera or body armour as both pieces of kit would slow him down if he was chasing after a suspect and put him at a disadvantage.

Eventually after a long period of time Merseyside Police, the petitioners, the Wirral Council officer from Environmental Health and the public were invited back in to Committee Room 3.
=======================================================================================================

COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
Once the errm the Committee has decided whether or not to make this meeting in camera.

EITHER APPLICANT’S REPRESENTATIVE OR AREA MANAGER
There are two issues that cause me concern in relation to the errm, to the errm, to the errm, filming, not knowing what would happen to the film afterwards. Personally there is a matter which is referred to in two of the representations, more than one, errm, which is, errm, in two of the representations, which is currently I think it’s a matter before the courts in relation to those two issues affecting business. I’m not sure what questions you want to ask, in relation to that, but it’s not a matter that I have confidence on. Others the potential for prejudice if widely reported it could prejudice of that matter.

The second errm, is that, one, arising from that I have assumed that on were there any questions regarding security at this, these particular premises err as a result of that other issue which we believe err will address some of the concerns that were expressed, hopefully all those concerns that were expressed by Environmental Health and again that going into the public domain it would potentially defeat the the the security element so on that basis you will adjudicate the matter based on our concern that that could leak into the wider public domain. So for those two reasons around, I would prefer not to do it. Obviously it’s a determination for the Committee to decide on the regulations on what would be the overall regulation that would cover the matter. I would prefer that the matter wasn’t recorded and reported externally.

COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
OK, Sergeant Barrigan, do you have any other objections or a view errm with regard to this matter being an exempt item?

SERGEANT BARRIGAN (Merseyside Police)
I think the point Mr Grant makes in relation to the potential sub judice issue is valid, although it’s not a prosecution errm that is being conducted by Merseyside Police. Errm, the other issue in relation to security I think is more valid. The enforcement action that is being conducted by Environmental Health resulted out from some issues in relation to security that is not subject to the representations and some proposals from Mr. Grant and his guys and I don’t think it’s appropriate that that information goes into the public domain because it could muck things up in the future errm and on reflection taking that into consideration I would request that the Committee hold it in camera.

COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
OK?

Mr ???? (Environmental Health)
We’ve established that.

COUNCILLOR STEVE NIBLOCK (Chair)
OK, that’s closed, now there there’s no one else objecting? I’m going to ask for another adjournment now.

=======================================================================================================

Merseyside Police, the petitioners, the Wirral Council officer from Environmental Health and the public left to the corridor leaving the three councillors with some Wirral Council officers. After a long wait, people were invited back in (for the third time!).
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When everyone returned, the Chair Councillor Steve Niblock said that they had heard representations from the applicant and Merseyside Police and were excluding the public (see regulation 14(2) from the rest of the subcommittee meeting due to court proceedings.

For the purposes of this decision (see regulation 14(3) Sergeant Barrigan, the petitioners, the applicant’s representative and the area manager are all classed as “members of the public” and should have left. However they didn’t. Leonora and I proceeded to the door only to find my way blocked by Sergeant Barrigan insisting that before I left (since the redesign of Wallasey Town Hall Committee Room 3 has only one way in and out) that I delete the video footage on my camera of the public meeting! I deleted the second clip but refused to delete the first. Sergeant Barrigan wouldn’t let us leave until he got the ok from Councillor Steve Niblock that this was alright! I wonder if after we left Sergeant Barrigan (as is recommended) made a note of this conversation (conducted loud enough that everyone in the room could hear) in his notebook and if so what he put in these notes! A transcript of the second deleted video clip is above. This is a letter from 2010 Andrew Trotter, Chief Constable of the ACPO Advisory Group. I will quote from the relevant parts:

“There have been a number of recent instances highlighted in the press where officers have detained photographers and deleted images from their cameras. I seek your support in reminding your officers and staff that they should not prevent anyone from taking photographs in public. This applies equally to members of the media and public seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places. ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officer’s) guidance is as follows:

  • There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.
  • We need to cooperate with the media and amateur photographers. They play a vital role as their images help us identify criminals.
  • We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.
  • Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether for the casual tourist or professional is unacceptable and it undermines public confidence in the police service.
  • Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order.

If you require further guidance please refer to the ACPO website or contact my Staff Officer Robin Edwards at robin.edwards@btp.pnn.police.uk.”

I know this ACPO guidance was agreed at a national level, but does anybody know of any locally agreed policy of Merseyside Police that applies to the situation of being instructed by a police officer to delete video footage from a camera without a court order? Should I keep a copy of Andrew Trotter’s letter on me for future meetings and will politicians just use the reason of excluding the public from a public meeting to circumvent the regulations in the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 (which will have the force of law at some point in the next few weeks) which place a legal requirement on local councils to permit filming at their public meetings?

I am reminded of rule 1 of the National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct which states “A journalist:

1. At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.”

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Responses

  1. G’day John

    Don’t you just love openness and transparency?

    Keep up the great work.

    Ooroo

    James

  2. […] BRACE No, sorry the other week when I was asked to stop filming I did and then we went out and came back in and it wasn’t clear then as to whether that carried on […]


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