A review in the UK has found that the arrests of four journalists covering Just Stop Oil protests by Hertfordshire Police earlier this month may have constituted “unlawful interference” in their freedom of expression.
The Press Gazette reports that the review, carried out by another police force, found the operation’s commanders gave officers “direction to arrest” but no alternatives for dealing with anyone present at the M25 protest.
According to the review, plans drawn up before the operation did not anticipate the appearance of reporters at the incident. This made arrests “the likely outcome” of officers’ interactions with journalists.
The review by the chief superintendent of Cambridgeshire constabulary, John Hutchinson, makes five recommendations to Herts Police, including that officers complete a joint National Union of Journalists and College of Policing training package on interacting with the media within 30 days.
Hertfordshire police launched an inquiry after four journalists covering Just Stop Oil protests on the M25 across 8 and 9 November were arrested accusing them of conspiracy to commit public nuisance.
Jun Pang, a policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, told The Guardian: “A free, independent press is a vital part of a functioning democracy and should not be interfered with. The actions of Hertfordshire police arresting journalists covering protests was a dangerous overreach – indeed, this report acknowledges that “police powers were not used appropriately”.
“But these recent arrests of both journalists and protesters must be placed within the wider context – they have been enabled and encouraged by a government that keeps handing out sweeping powers to the police, creating a hostile environment for protesters and an increasingly dangerous working environment for journalists.”