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Weekly reporter files complaint against police over house fire cordon

Corutney FridayA weekly reporter has filed an official complaint against the police after they erected a cordon in front of him at the scene of a house fire.

Courtney Friday, of the Reading Chronicle, accused Thames Valley Police of trying to”dictate” to the press, claiming they prevented him trying to get an interview with the family at the scene.

Courtney says he was told to “show some respect” by an officer when he tried to approach the family concerned, before the cordon was erected in front of him.

He had attended the scene in the Woodley area of Reading on Monday afternoon, but the road where the incident took place was blocked by emergency service vehicles.

Courtney cut through an alleyway in a bid to access the family, before being challenged by the officer, who radioed for backup.

The cordon was then put in place to stop him form going further forward, but Courtney explained to the officer that he wanted to take some pictures and speak to the residents outside the front of the house.

He claims the officer said: “They’ve just had their house burned down mate, they don’t want to speak to you”, to which Courtney responded it wasn’t the officer’s job to decide who did and didn’t want to speak to him.

The policeman then agreed to speak to the family on his behalf, but was told they didn’t want to be interviewed.

In his complaint to the force, Courtney wrote: “The point is the officer had no right to deny me from approaching or speaking to the family on a public highway, and as far as I’m concerned I think my approach would have been much better than an officer saying there’s a journalist here but don’t worry I can tell them to go away (I don’t know exactly what he said, but I would assume it’s along those lines).

“The officer stayed with them for a further ten minutes or so, and I was unable to get through the cordon.

“Furthermore, when I asked for his badge number he was obstructive and told me to ‘read it’.”

Courtney also cited Association Of Chief Police Officers and Metropolitan Police guidelines which state that media should have freedom when photographing and speaking to parties at a crime or investigation scene.

He added: “I have the highest respect for the brave work that your officers do, and I want to maintain the relationship our newspaper has with Thames Valley Police.

“I simply want it relayed to the officers that they do not have the power to dictate the actions of the press.”

HTFP has requested a comment from Thames Valley Police on the issue.

31 comments

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  • November 4, 2015 at 9:05 am
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    I lost count of the number of times this happened to me at the scene of something or other. Police standing orders say they should help the press in these circumstances unless there is an operational reason not to. The other thing about fires is the person in charge of the firescene is actually the senior fire officer, not the police, for obvious reasons. Many police officers don’t know about the standing orders or don’t care. This is a problem of course but if I was this reporter’s editor I wouldn’t let him escalate it like this. What do they expect to get out of it? An apology? A guard of honour at the next fire? A story? Far better to find a way round it at the time, or when the police have gone away, and not to let it get to you. The readers don’t care, and why should they?
    PS: you used the fusty old word “furthermore” in your letter of complaint? Really?

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  • November 4, 2015 at 9:24 am
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    I think if I had a fire at my house I,too, would tell him to go away.
    Health note for all young reporters: I knew one media person who went through life permanently exasperated at what he saw as officialdom. He developed very high blood pressure and dropped dead at 50, leaving behind a wife and three children.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 9:49 am
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    I can understand the frustration, but hang on here, aren ‘t we talking about a weekly? Usually means you get a bit more time to solve a difficulty like this (the article doesn’t mention right on deadline eg). Far better to have a word later with the powers that be than inadvertently give yourself an unwanted reputation for confrontation. But let’s hope the matter ends here.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 9:50 am
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    A naive young reporter. Get over it mate

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  • November 4, 2015 at 9:59 am
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    So Jupiter we should just let them get away with it every time and just be told information they want us to hear? That’s not journalism and not the way to get the best story. This is indicative of police in the Thames Valley region who have told me on several ocassions the public highway to stop what I am doing or stop taking pictures. No. We are doing our job and as long as we are not hindering theirs then all should be fine. Even if this family didn’t want to speak to the reporter then he might have wanted to door knock neighbours to find out more if outside the cordon. But to deliberately stop him and then unroll the tape in front of him – terrible.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 10:16 am
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    Amazed at some of the comments above – lazy journalists who should be ashamed.
    1. The police had no right to do what they did, and so should be informed as such.
    2. Whether it’s a weekly, a daily, a TV reporter or radio journo, they all have the same rights.
    3. Fear over damaging the press-police relationship is not a reason not to hold the police to account.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 10:35 am
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    Seems this reporter is getting in the neck for trying to do his job well. Leave it out, chaps! He’s battling against jobsworths and is determined to do his job to the best of his ability – good on him. Maybe it’s because of spineless folk like the ones criticising him that the regional newspaper industry is in such a mess.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 10:45 am
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    Likely the most absurd use of ‘terrible’ – ever.
    Stunned that a minor incident (and barely deserving of that tag) should have escalated to the level of an official complaint, and amazed this wasn’t headed off by the news editor, deputy editor or editor. A polite and private chat with the force PR and/or a mid-ranking officer would have been the far better option.
    The letter makes the reporter sound a pompous prat, who thinks his ‘requirements’ trump all other considerations.
    If he’s not, he needs to wise up, and have no idea how this letter, or this article, will help.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 10:49 am
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    Disappointing message for Courtney here that seems to be a pat on the head and ‘know your place young man’. Is that what we want our juniors to do? Certainly wasn’t what I was taught by proper pros. He was trying to find an alternative route that did not compromise the legitimate cordon and was then obstructed from doing his job by an officer acting outside his jurisdiction. It’s a bit dismissive to say he was only working for a weekly when he no doubt would have had to cover for this web. Thames Valley Police have a history of doing this and it is absolutely right for Courtney and others to challenge it with senior officers each and every time as good journos do, rather than slink off and just copy and paste some more press release nonsense.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 11:04 am
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    Blimey, they have bees in their bonnets down there in Reading, don’t they?

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  • November 4, 2015 at 11:28 am
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    I’m surprised the Police didn’t take their own picture and interview the family, get it on a press release and email it to the paper within the hour. That’s the way it works these days. I know reporters at dailies who sit at a desk, never go to a scene because they know they will get something from the emergency services sooner or later. Its a control of information, a cleansing of the press and its becoming more frequent. Ive lost count of how many times I see a professional reporter tweet the police “can we use this picture please”. But in this case, well done for being there and using traditional nouse.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 11:39 am
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    I’ve always been rather dubious about the advent of police liasion officers who are (I assume) meant to act as some sort of bridge between bereaved families and the press.
    Some years ago one told me my request to approach one such family had been denied – fair enough, I thought…
    After my report appeared I happened to bump into one of the bereaved relatives who expressed disappointment they had not been approached for a comment – turned out the police liasion officer had never even passed on my request…

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  • November 4, 2015 at 11:41 am
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    ‘A naive young reporter.’

    Undoubtedly. But no doubt under pressure to put the story online. Thus making the point that it’s a weekly a bit irrelevant. They are in competition with a TM online only outlet.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 11:55 am
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    @journosub
    It might well be a weekly, but this would need to go on the interwebs ASAP wouldn’t it? Or are you a non-believer?

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  • November 4, 2015 at 12:12 pm
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    Learn from it. Make a name for yourself among your peers by showing how you overcome obstacles like this, rather than forging a name as someone who could be troublesome and unapproachable.
    Carry on like this and you may never know how many times people in authority didn’t give you a blinding story because you complain over what are, let’s face it, the trivial little hurdles which have been thrown in front of us for decades without complaint.
    You got your name in the trade press. Good PR for an up-and-coming reporter. Well done. Now go and do it for the right reasons.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 12:16 pm
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    He might only work for a weekly but I expect there will be a website demanding instant news.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 12:38 pm
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    The real story here is that the reporter was allowed time away from his desk.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 12:41 pm
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    I’ve covered many fires and crime scenes in my time. At some point in the operation there usually is a cordon set up. In this case the officer did the decent thing and asked the family if they wanted to be interviewed. This reporter is in for a long and sad career if he gets upset at such minor irritations!
    And official complaints are made by the editor not a junior reporter.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 12:50 pm
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    Hang on a minute! I assume the fire (not huge one) is the tale I’ve just read on the Reading Chronicle website. In which case our young reporter claims that the police said the family didn’t wish to speak with him….but on the website report there’s a slightly different version: “One of the families who lived in the damaged properties said they were “alive and well” but did not want to talk.”

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  • November 4, 2015 at 12:54 pm
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    If I can add my own ‘furthermore’ here, what’s this lad’s editor doing? Isn’t this his/her department?

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  • November 4, 2015 at 1:40 pm
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    Lots of talk about “rights” what about responsibility ?

    Problem with common sense , it is not very common these days.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 1:52 pm
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    Sarah, we all admire a journalist for his enterprise, but we are not uncovering a major political scandal here, are we?
    Reporters must be bold, but they must also be tactful to retain integrity and trust of readers.
    In fires, police cannot have onlookers wandering all over the place in case they become victims. The site must be secured.
    A sense of proportion is required. I note that neither the newspaper concerned nor its editor is taking up the complaint, only the reporter.
    To read some of the comments on HTFP, you’d think the police were just a bunch of spoilsports. They have to check the victims, calm hysterical people, etc etc. The last thing they need is stroppy journalists to have to deal with.
    If you had unrestricted access, you could imagine the scene in other tragedies. Some journalists would be asking: “Can we have a photo of your dead baby? We’ll give it back!”
    “How old did you say he was?”
    “Just stand there while we get your wrecked home in the background….”

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  • November 4, 2015 at 2:05 pm
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    Slate Grey, I wish we had worked together. A common sense approach to an age old issue. Courtney clearly lacks experience in handling such situations and with his attitude will never have either trust or respect from the Police. Go ask any photographer who has the uncanny ability to always get good images.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 2:58 pm
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    Perhaps when you hear Slate Grey that the paper has been taken over by Newsquest then you can work out where the editor and news editor are. If I was his news editor I would tell him to complain to the force – seems many of the people who comment have never dealt with Thames Valley Police – and make a fuss. If you don’t tackle things like this they will walk all over journalists every time, Seems like a tenacious young man to me who wants to do a proper job. Sounds like some people on here have forgotten that the skills learned on small jobs, regional fires, relate to big national jobs.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 3:41 pm
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    The Thames Valley Police has a well-known reputation for this kind of thing. It appears to be determinedly anti-media, and has been for many, many years. The public are not being well served by the organisation they are paying for.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm
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    Ex JP and happy again – You are clearly wise. I suspect we would make a dynamic team.

    Anne Baker, Berks – I hear you, but I will have to refer you to my first comment. There’s a world of difference between a journalist who uses tenacity in the right way, and a journalist who can’t navigate their way around a molehill without treating it like a mountain.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 4:03 pm
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    The golden rule when attending house fires is never to interfere with the work of the emergency services. This young reporter was naïve in the extreme and is lucky not to be the subject of a complaint himself. Let’s hope a senior colleague has a word in his ear because what he did was not clever.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 5:13 pm
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    Smart journalists learn quickly to be sweetness and light to the police and it works. Start making complaints and writing letters and seeking redress and they will have all the backing they need when they stand in your way Learn fast.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 5:31 pm
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    Reporter would probably have achieved more in the long run if he’d politely thanked the PC for his help and engaged him in some inconsequential chat. He could have gone back later once the emergency crews had wound down. That’s the way to build contacts, not by putting the officer’s back up and making things more difficult for other reporters.

    Apart from that, it should be up to his editor to make a complaint if one is thought necessary.

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  • November 4, 2015 at 8:35 pm
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    There is a hint of arrogance about this. The needs of the family come first, not filing a quickie for the website. Doorstepping fire victims is hardly investigative journalism and I doubt the public gave a toss about the reporter getting a good quote.

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