Sussex Police apologise to NUJ photojournalists
16 October 2015
Sussex Police have apologised to NUJ members after the police stopped and searched a group of journalists on Sunday 21 April 2013.
The NUJ condemned police action taken when the journalists were travelling to work in Brighton to cover a far right demonstration. The incident involved the police stopping the journalists’ vehicle. Nine NUJ members and other journalists showed their press cards and informed the police officers they were not part of the protest.
Seven journalists were subjected to a search for offensive weapons and the laws cited were Section 60AA of the Public Order Act and Section 60 of the Terrorism Act, which Sussex police later claimed was a mistake. The NUJ challenged the police and argued there had been an unlawful use of the legislation to detain and search journalists.
In a letter sent to NUJ members, Sussex Police, said:
"Whilst there was clearly reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle in which you were travelling, the officers should not have continued to search or detain individuals if they no longer had reasonable suspicion to enable them to do so.
"Furthermore, Sussex police acknowledge that media perform an important role in a state governed by the rule of law to impart information and ideas on matters of public interest – information that the public has a right to receive.
"Sussex police, and law enforcement officials generally, have a constitutional responsibility not to prevent or obstruct the work of journalists during public demonstrations unless they are acting otherwise than in accordance with the law."
Pete Maclaine, NUJ member and photojournalist, said:
"It took Sussex Police years to acknowledge that detaining and searching photojournalists under the pretext of a rescinded law was wrong. In the meantime elsewhere the Met have detained photojournalists on a number of occasions without good reason. Whilst it is important to congratulate the police when they get it right, it is essential to hold them to account when they get it wrong. The National Union of Journalists have shown that this is possible. A prime example of the importance of trade unions in the UK."
Jess Hurd, NUJ member and photojournalist, said:
"This is not the first time journalists have been detained during police operations. Since the incident I have been detained whilst covering a 'Black Lives Matter' protest at Westfield shopping centre (10 December 2014), several members of the press were held with protesters and photographed by police, apparently on suspicion of 'violent disorder'. Ironically the only violent disorder I saw that evening was being struck in the face by a police officer. The worry is that these operational failures are a more systematic attempt to disrupt the work of the media in some public order situations. It's great that the police have issued an apology and have agreed a settlement but really a change in policing attitudes is necessary and a respect for members of the press."
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"It is good news that Sussex Police have apologised to our members and this is the latest example of the union defending press freedom and supporting the right to report. We hope that Sussex Police officers are undergoing further training as a result of this incident so they can improve on how they interact with media workers."
Jules Carey, Partner at Bindmans LLP, said:
"The right to uninhibited reporting on demonstrations is as central to the right to protest as the demonstrations are themselves. The police clearly got it wrong on this occasion, but at least they have now acknowledged the vital work of journalists at demonstrations in a fulsome apology, and paid the journalists compensation for the ordeal they endured while carrying out their professional duties."
Roy Mincoff, NUJ legal officer, said:
"It's pleasing that the police have recognised that the rights of journalists exist, are important and that they were breached by officers on this occasion. The NUJ hopes that in future it is not necessary to have to take legal actions such as this to enforce those rights."