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Police watchdog urged to reconsider reporter’s harassment appeal

Press industry leaders have called on the police watchdog to reconsider a weekly’s reporter’s appeal against a police harassment warning handed to him.

As reported on HTFP last month, the Croydon Advertiser’s Gareth Davies was unsuccessful in his appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over a police information notice (PIN) given to him after a complaint from a convicted fraudster.

The Metropolitan Police previously rejected a complaint by the Advertiser about its decision to serve Gareth with the PIN, which was issued after Neelam Desai, who received a 30 month jail sentence after admitting frauds totalling £230,000, contacted the force to say she felt “persecuted” by the stories he was writing about her.

Gareth told officers at the time the harassment allegation was made that he had visited Desai’s house once and sent her a politely worded email, while Desai had made repeated calls to him pretending to be her cousin.

A cutting from a story in today's Advertiser showing support for Gareth

A cutting from a story in today’s Advertiser showing support for Gareth

In response, he claims one of the officers told him: “That’s what the News of the World phone hackers said.”

Now News Media Association chief executive David Newell has written to IPCC chief executive Lesley Longstone this week claiming PINs could be used against journalists simply seeking a response to a story.

He wrote: “It is a matter of the deepest concern to us and our members that journalists complying with their ethical and legal responsibility of seeking a right of reply to, or comment on, a story they are investigating could have PINs imposed on them for doing nothing more than complying with the requirements to which they will be held by the Courts as a matter of defamation or by IPSO as a matter of accuracy.”

“We accept, plainly, that such activity must have its limits. We encourage best practice by all our members and seek no carte blanche for the profession.

“However, what we do believe is clear is that no journalist acting in accordance with the provisions of the Editor’s Code of Practice should find him or herself on the receiving end of a document which is, whatever its nature and limits, a creature of the criminal law.”

A story showing the wealth of support for Gareth appeared in today’s edition of the Advertiser.

Gareth told HTFP: “I’m grateful for the support of the NMA and the 1,300 people who have signed the petition calling on the Metropolitan Police to cancel the harassment warning.

“While my case is very frustrating, of far more importance is the implications it has for journalism as a whole.

“Subjects of public interest journalism should not be able to obstruct responsible journalism by misusing a power that is meant to protect people from harassment. I hope the growing anger around this issue will convince the Met to see sense.”

The IPCC said any decision it makes could only be overturned by the courts through the judicial review process.

A spokeswoman added: “When considering the appeal, the IPCC found that the officers who issued the PIN had acted in accordance with the force’s guidance and therefore the appeal was not upheld.

“Whether the force breached Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights by issuing the PIN would ultimately be a matter for a court to determine were the matter to go to court.”