Video footage taken by a student journalist which was seized by police will be returned after an intervention from the National Union of Journalists.
Lewis Stainer, 20, was filming the Occupy Nottingham protests in the city centre when he spotted officers making an arrest. He filmed the scene but police took the tape from his camera on the basis that it contained evidence relating to a criminal investigation.
Police said the tape was regarded it as evidence under section 19 the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which states that an officer can request and, if necessary, seize an item if there are reasonable grounds for believing that it is evidence relating to an offence.
Lewis, who is studying a Btech in film and TV, said a CD version was returned to him a week after it was seized but it did not contain the arrest footage and was not compatible with equipment at the college.
Following an intervention from the National Union of Journalists the original tape which contains important course work will now be returned to Lewis.
Said Lewis: “I think it’s a bit ridiculous, I can’t really see what footage they could have for evidence, it was only an arrest so I don’t see how it is valuable.”
Diana Peasey, chair of the Nottingham NUJ branch, said: “The reason why the union has become involved is because Lewis has been a student member for nearly two years and knows that we have a set of guidelines on Police and Media at incidents, which the union negotiated with the Nottinghamshire constabulary several years ago.
“Section 7 of the Media guidelines state: ‘Police officers do not have the authority to prevent a person taking a photograph or to confiscate cameras or film, and such conduct could result in criminal, civil or disciplinary action.”
However Nottingham Police said the purpose for the officer’s request for the video tape was to investigate a crime and that request was made to the individual under section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).
A spokesperson said: “This section of the act clearly states that a police officer can request, and, if necessary, seize an item if he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that it is evidence in relation to an offence which he or she is investigating, and that it is necessary to seize it in order to prevent the evidence being concealed, lost, altered or destroyed.”
On Tuesday the NUJ wrote to the Chief Constable of Nottingham Police stating that he had not been given a good reason why the material was taken and that the copied tape was unusable.
In the letter Chris Morley NUJ organiser for Midlands and North said it was an unacceptable abuse of police powers and demanded the return of the original recording within the next 14 days.
He said failure to do so would lead to the NUJ reviewing other options for retrieval.
The police spokesperson added: “The request for the tape followed the arrest of four people on suspicion of theft and receiving stolen goods in Nottingham city centre on the afternoon of Monday 21 November. Two people have since been charged in relation to this offence.
“The officer who made the arrest had reason to believe that the recording being made by the individual had evidence of offences being committed and duly made the request.
“The investigating officer has been in direct contact with the individual to come to an arrangement for the return of the non-evidential material.”