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Support grows for reporter in ‘harassment’ row

A groundswell of support is growing for a regional journalist who was threatened with arrest after approaching a convicted conwoman for a comment.

Civil liberties experts and an international body dedicated to press freedom have backed Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies after he was served with a ‘prevention of harassment’ notice.

The threat has provoked national media attention, as well as surprise and condemnation from civil rights groups, other news organisations and lawyers.

Three police officers visited the newspaper’s offices on Monday and issued Gareth with the notice for trying to contact fraudster Neelam Desai.

Now the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, based in Paris, has told the Times the case was “an embarrassment to the authorities and damages the international reputation of the UK”.

The paper said the harassment warning had “prompted fears that the authorities will overreact to Lord Justice Leveson’s call for stricter regulation after the hacking scandal”.

Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism at Cardiff University and a former head of the BBC, said: “In a post-Leveson climate it’s important we all remind the public and the authorities that the vast majority of journalism is legitimate and necessary”.

James Welch, legal director of human rights group Liberty, said: “The police seem to hand out harassment notices without adequate investigation or consideration of the validity of complaints.

“The police should be wary of discouraging good journalistic practice with these chilling warnings.”

Gareth approached Ms Desai, who has already pleaded guilty to a string of frauds, as part of an investigation which has traced her to a series of dating website scams, which cost one victim £35,500.

Kirsty Hughes, of Index of Censorship, said: “The police need to show that they fully respect the role and responsibilities of a free media.”

He had visited her home once and, in the following weeks, sent her two politely-worded emails.

As previously reported, solicitors acting for the Advertiser are writing to the Metropolitan Police to urge them, in the strongest possible terms, to withdraw the notice.

Advertiser editor Glenn Ebrey previously told HTFP that the police’s treatment of Gareth had been “heavy-handed and unnecessary.”

The newspaper said police told Gareth if he continued his investigations he may face arrest.

Croydon borough police commander David Musker said officers had served the notice “to ensure that the reporter was fully aware that allegations of harassment were being made against him”.