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Police apologise after photographer is handcuffed beside canal

29 March 2011

A photographer who was manhandled to the ground and handcuffed by police has won compensation and an apology with the help of the NUJ. The attack on Robert Naylor happened when he attended a canal boat fire in Wiltshire in which someone had died.

He approached a police sergeant at the scene on the Kennet and Avon Canal at Honeystreet near Pewsey in Wiltshire and said he wanted to take a picture of the general scene. The policeman purported to refuse him permission, saying only that he "was in charge and would not allow it", eventually saying that this was "out of common decency and respect for deceased."

Bob Naylor decided not to take a picture and left the scene. But as he was doing so he was seized from behind, forced to the ground and handcuffed. The sergeant told him "I am arresting you for breach of the peace." He was eventuially released.

Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal officer, commented:

"This disgraceful case shows how all journalists doing their job can be vulnerable to attack, not just those covering major protests. The union is here to support them, and we are pleased that Bob Naylor has secured an acknowledgement from Wiltshire police that what was done to him was wrong and unacceptable."

Chez Cotton, of solicitors Bindmans, said:

"It is crucial in a democracy that the police respect and support a free press. Mr Naylor was working in his capacity as a professional journalist and taking photographs of an incident of legitimate public interest.
"Despite the police being fully aware of his accredited journalist status and his right to photograph, they refused to allow him to work, threw him to the ground and then handcuffed him, and all in the most public and humiliating of ways. This sort of violence against journalists is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. It is right that the Wiltshire Police have apologised and properly compensated Mr Naylor for their treatment of him."

The apology from Wiltshire Police states:

"On 22 May 2009, well-respected photojournalist Bob Naylor was reporting at a crime scene of a fire on a canal boat. Wiltshire Police has accepted Mr Naylor was prevented from taking photographs and unlawfully detained and that his Article 10 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights were breached.
"Wiltshire Police apologise for this and have paid compensation and given this apology. Wiltshire Police confirm its recognition that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and that journalists have a right to report freely. Wiltshire Police recognise that on 22 May 2009 they failed to respect press freedom in respect of Mr Naylor contrary to Wiltshire Police's own guidelines for working with members of the press."

Bob Naylor, who writes about the the Kennet and Avon canal, commented on the incident:

"This happened two years ago when photographers were all too often being attacked whilst going about their lawful work. I have worked with Wiltshire and other police forces for decades and I have never had cause to take issue with them until this incident.
"It was clear that neither the sergeant nor the inspector at the scene were aware of the Chief Constable's guidelines for working with the press. Not only was I stopped from doing my job, but the violent treatment meted out to me was wholly unacceptable.
"I understand that the necessary training has now been given to all members of Wiltshire Police and cannot imagine that an incident like this would happen in the future. The NUJ has been working with the Metropolitan Police and other forces to help to improve the working relationship between the police and the press with, I believe, great success."

Guidelines adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in 2007 state:

"Members of the media are not only members of the public… It is important that we build good relationships with them, even when the circumstances are difficult. They have a duty to report many of those things that we have to deal with – crime, demonstrations, accidents, major events and incidents. Members of the media have a duty to report from the scene of many of the incidents we have to deal with.
"We should actively help them carry out their responsibilities provided they do not interfere with ours.
"Members of the media have a duty to take photographs and film incidents and we have no legal power or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict what they record. It is a matter for their editors to control what is published or broadcast, not the police. Once images are recorded, we have no power to delete or confiscate them without a court order, even if we think they contain damaging or useful evidence.
"If someone who is distressed or bereaved asks for police to intervene to prevent members of the media filming or photographing them, we may pass on their request but we have no power to prevent or restrict media activity. If they are trespassing on private property, the person who owns or controls the premises may eject them and may ask for your help in preventing a breach of the peace while they do so. The media have their own rules of conduct and complaints procedures if members of the public object.
"To help you identify genuine members of the media, they carry identification, which they will produce to you on request. Members of the media do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places."

Tags: , police, wiltshire, acpo, press freedom, photographers, journalists arrested