Kent police must be investigated after seizing photographer's phone and memory card, says NUJ
Andy Aitchison, who was arrested while covering a protest at Napier Barracks, Folkestone, has now had his equipment returned.
Kent police has returned the mobile phone and camera memory card to Andy Aitchison, who was arrested while covering a protest at Napier Barracks, Folkestone.
The freelance photographer was supported by the NUJ and Bindmans law firm following his arrest and confiscation of journalistic material. He was kept in a police cell for seven hours despite him clearly attending the demonstration, to publicise the treatment of asylum seekers, as a member of the press.
His arrest caused huge concern from members of the union, the News Media Association and questions were asked in the House of Commons of the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. Andy Aitchison was offered support from his local MP Damian Collins.
Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said:
"The NUJ welcomes the return of the property, but remains deeply disturbed by the actions of the Kent police. Our member was treated in an unacceptable manner. The police force's behaviour must be fully investigated as it is at variance with the strong cooperation in many areas where the police recognise the legitimate role the media and the special status of journalists who present the UK press card."
Kate Goold, partner at Bindmans, said:
"It is of great concern when the police arrest journalists and photographers for simply doing their job and has a chilling effect on press freedom. Public interest journalists are essential to our democracy to document and publicise events as they unfold, especially during Covid lockdown when the public cannot witness such protests themselves.
"Through the support of the NUJ, we were able to act swiftly to ensure that Mr Aitchison had no further action taken and his phone and memory card returned, without the police viewing this confidential journalistic material."
Andy Aitchison said:
"Today I received a call from the arresting police officer on my case. She said that I had been refused charges as there was no evidence to charge me with criminal damage and that my bail conditions were cancelled. I attended the police station to retrieve my equipment and when asked for ID I again showed my NUJ press card.
"The NUJ has been fantastic with their support during a week of my life which has been a very tricky time for me and my family. I cannot thank them enough and for working with Bindmans, one of the top solicitors in their field, to ensure I received the best legal support possible.
"I'm in discussion now with the legal team about what should be my next move with my case but will continue to discuss things regularly with the NUJ. Their advocacy as well as support has been immense, to have a question put to a minister about my arrest in the House of Commons just blew me away!"