Success for high profile journalist stopped from reporting by police who say “we can do anything under the terrorism act”
Date: 9 December 2010
Jess Hurd, a well respected photojournalist and member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), complained to the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC) in relation to a stop and search by Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) officers under the controversial Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Chez Cotton, head of the Police Misconduct Department at leading civil rights law firm Bindmans LLP has received correspondence from the IPCC stating, “The IPCC… believes that the use of stop and search powers are highly intrusive and where they are not perceived to be fair, effective or maintain public confidence, may risk undermining individual and community confidence in policing.”
Ms Hurd, one of the founders of the ‘I am a photographer, not a terrorist’ campaign and Chair of the NUJ London Photographers’ Branch, was stopped by police officers under Section 44 whilst filming a wedding reception of a traveller couple in the City of London, as part of an on-going documentary project. This is despite confirming she was a member of the press and showing a valid Press Card confirming this. Section 44 does not require an officer to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ in order to carry out a search and has now been found by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to breach Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights on the grounds that the powers were too broadly drawn and there were inadequate safeguards against abuse.
Since this incident and further to the ECtHR finding of incompatibility with Article 8, the Government has intervened and amended the power of a stop and search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act, pending the outcome of a review of counter-terrorism powers, including the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography.
The IPCC acknowledged that in relation to the suspension of the use of Section 44 “it is cases such as this that have helped in bringing about such changes.”
Ms Hurd’s solicitor Chez Cotton said:
“It is critical that the police are not allowed to use very serious counter-terrorism measures as a general stop and search provision as has happened in my client’s case and has happened in many other cases involving NUJ members and amateur photographers alike. The use, or threatened use, of terrorism powers against journalists has had a chilling effect on their ability to report freely and without fear of arrest. The current review of key counter terrorism and security measures must be used to ensure any powers given to the police cannot be misused in an arbitrary and discriminatory way, otherwise such powers will not enjoy the support or confidence of the public.”
NUJ Legal Officer Roy Mincoff said:
“We welcome the IPCC’s findings in Jess Hurd’s favour. These events should never have taken place in the first instance. The role of journalists, including photographers, as the public watchdog, must be respected. It is one of the essential elements of a democratic society that journalists are entitled to inform the public, which itself is entitled to be informed. In addition the police should not store information on journalists who are doing their job and have committed no crime.”
NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, said:
"NUJ member Jess Hurd was detained for more than 45 minutes by police during a wedding in London’s Docklands, her camera was forcibly removed and she was told the police can do anything under the Terrorism Act. The NUJ believes legislation should not be abused and no journalist should be singled out by the police. The police service has no legal powers or moral responsibility to prevent or restrict photographer’s work. The NUJ will continue to take action in support of our members when they are targeted by police, we welcome the judgment from theIPCC, especially the acknowledgement that the use of stop and search powers are not seen as fair or effective.”
The complaint made by Ms Hurd:
Police officers, who were aware that a wedding reception was taking place at the hotel in London Docklands, and had seen Ms Hurd filming guests as they were leaving, approached her to see ‘what she was doing’. Although Ms Hurd could see no legitimate reason for their interest, she wished to co-operate and resolve matters swiftly, and explained to the officers that she had been professionally engaged to cover the wedding and was an accredited photojournalist. She offered her Press Card so that her credentials could be checked by the police, there being in force nationally agreed Guidelines between the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and media organisations (see resources at the end of the press release). Each accredited NUJ member has a unique PIN number and photographic ID, and the police have access to a 24 hour ‘hotline’ that they can call to verify the personal details and identity of a legitimate member of the press. The Guidelines set out that the police will recognise the holder of a valid Press Card, issued by the UK Press Card Authority Limited, as ‘a bona fide news gatherer.’ The Guidelines are comprehensive and should be known and followed by all police officers.
A second officer, aware of Ms Hurd’s status as a journalist and that her footage had been obtained through legitimate journalistic activity, said he wished to view the film. He said she was being stopped under ‘Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.’
Ms Hurd protested that she was clearly a journalist and as the footage was professional they could not interfere. Ms Hurd was then told that she could have been ‘doing hostile reconnaissance,’ although this was entirely at odds with the circumstances confirmed by Ms Hurd and supported by the evidence of the reality of the situation.
Ms Hurd’s camera was forcibly taken from her by the officer, despite her protests that there were safeguards in place to ensure a free press. The officer’s response was: “We can do anything under the terrorism act.”
A third officer took the camera and watched footage with a further officer who was still in the police car, some distance from Ms Hurd. She was fearful that her entire day’s work could be wiped and was by now feeling intimidated, as she was in a dark car park being questioned in an intimidating way by police officers.
Ms Hurd was informed that she could not use any footage of the police car or police officers and that if she did there would be ‘severe penalties’, although these were not specified.
The officer concluded the matter confirming to Ms Hurd that if she did want to use the footage then she would have to go through the Metropolitan Police press office, as it was ‘his copyright’, and, although the officers were not undercover at that point, they might be at some point in the future.
In relation to Ms Hurd’s complaint, the IPCC accepted that:
“Arguably with the assistance of hindsight the officers could have handled this incident differently, from a public confidence and satisfaction perspective.”
Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) – Media Guidelines
(Nationally adopted in April 2007 having been first introduced by the Metropolitan Police in March 2006).
Members of the media are not only members of the public; they can influence the way the Metropolitan Police Service is portrayed. 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. This guide is designed to help you take the appropriate action when you have to deal with members of the media.
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.
Where it is necessary to put cordons in place, it is much better to provide the media with a good vantage point from which they can operate rather than to exclude them, otherwise they may try to get around the cordons and interfere with police operations. Providing an area for members of the media does not exclude them from operating from other areas to which the general public has access.
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.
To enter private property while accompanying police, the media must obtain permission, which must be recorded, from the person who owns or is in control of the premises. We cannot give or deny permission to members of the media to enter private premises whether the premises are directly involved in the police operation or not. This is a matter between the person who owns or is in control of the premises and the members of the media.
Giving members of the media access to incident scenes is a matter for the Senior Investigating Officer. The gathering of evidence and forensic retrieval make access unlikely in the early stages and this should be explained to members of the media. Requests for access should be passed to the Senior Investigating Officer who should allow access in appropriate cases as soon as practicable.
Advice and assistance in dealing with members of the media is available 24 hours a day via the Press Bureau at New Scotland Yard.