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NUJ member compensated over arrest for taking photographs

10 December 2011

NUJ member Jules Mattsson has received an out of court settlement and an apology from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.

On 26 June 2010, Jules Mattsson, at the time a fifteen-year-old student, was photographing the Armed Forces Day parade in Romford. Despite the public event taking place in the middle of the town centre, Metropolitan Police Officers claimed it was unlawful to photograph the parade. The officers, led by an Inspector, insisted he stopped taking photographs.

The Inspector told Mattsson he was a public hazard and said that photographing in public was "anti-social behaviour." He described the act of taking photographs as "silly" and "gay" and "stupid." When Mr Mattsson continued to state the lawfulness of his behaviour, the Inspector declared it was "dangerous" as he was "likely to be trampled on by soldiers" from the parade.

Jules Mattsson was represented by Chez Cotton, head of the Police Misconduct Department at the leading civil rights law firm, Bindmans LLP.

Chez Cotton said:

"The police had no legal power to stop him photographing in a public place. The Inspector attempted to justify his actions in shocking and absurd ways."

Jules Mattsson managed to record most of the conversation on his mobile phone. The dialogue was brought to an abrupt conclusion when the Inspector declared:

"You know what, I consider you a threat under the Terrorism Act, young man. I've had enough."

Jules Mattsson was manhandled down some stairs by a group of police officers. Wishing to have evidence of the police conduct, he tried unsuccessfully to film the treatment to which he was being subjected, but an officer stated that for him to be filmed was "breaching his privacy." Jules Mattsson was then arrested for breach of the peace and detained for 15 minutes before being released.

His lawyer was able to prepare a transcript of the exchange and use this as evidence to support representations to the Met Police Commissioner that his officers had falsely imprisoned Mattsson, assaulted him and breached his right to report, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1998.

The Directorate of Legal Services of the Metropolitan Police, on behalf of the Commissioner, agreed an out of court settlement. As well as paying compensation and meeting his legal costs, the Commissioner has also apologised to Mattsson for the treatment he received and has confirmed the force's recognition that journalists have a right to report freely.

Chez Cotton added:

"The treatment of the police towards our client, a fifteen-year-old, was shocking. The Inspector's comments were designed to belittle. Our client politely and reasonably maintained that the police were not entitled to interfere with his right to report. In response the Inspector used serious anti terrorism legislation, cynically telling Mr Mattson 'I consider you a threat under the Terrorism Act young man. I've had enough.'
"The police have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what journalist record. It is unacceptable that the police interfered with Mr Mattsson's right to report in any event, but for officers to attempt to intimidate a young reporter in this way is deplorable. It is right the Commissioner has promptly apologised and paid a suitable level of damages."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"We are pleased the police have apologised and compensated Jules. This case is the latest example of unacceptable police behaviour and it shows how valuable it is to have the backing of the NUJ."

Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal officer, said:

"This was very poor and unlawful behaviour by a senior police officer, trying to intimidate a young NUJ photographer. It is not acceptable conduct, has no place in the police force and is hardly likely to gain respect for the police amongst the youth of the UK. The police have now recognised this, apologised and compensated our member.
"The NUJ will continue to hold the police to account to ensure that the vital rights of journalists, enshrined in law, are upheld, to enable reporting and photographing to continue, as part of the democratic framework of our society."

The apology from the Metropolitan Police Service states:

"While reporting on the parade you were approached by Metropolitan Police Officers who prevented you from photographing the parade and subsequently arrested you for breach of the peace. The purpose of this letter is to apologise on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for the distress you have suffered as a result of police actions. The MPS confirms its recognition that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and that photographers have a right to report freely. The MPS recognise that on 26 June 2010 they failed to respect press freedom in respect of yourself."

Tags: , press freedom, metropolitan police, compensation, photographers, jules mattsson, european convention on human rights, terrorism act