Croydon Advertiser reporter Gareth Davies, left, was issued with the notice after Neelam Desai, who received a 30 month jail sentence after admitting frauds totalling £230,000, contacted the police to say she felt “persecuted” by the stories he was writing about her.
The Metropolitan Police previously rejected a complaint by the Advertiser about its decision to serve Gareth with the police information notice (PIN), so the paper took the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
However the Advertiser reports that the watchdog has now told the paper that the warning was “properly issued.”
In a letter sent to the paper on 19 June Paul Berry, casework manager at the IPCC, said: “Significantly, there were supporting grounds to the harassment detailed in the statements of (investigating officers) PS Ehikioya and PC Parker.
“The evidence would suggest that the warning was properly issued and no misconduct concerns have been identified.”
“Whilst I acknowledge the concerns that you have raised, the issue of the PIN is not based on, or suggestive of, any guilt on your part.”
“You were issued with the warning as a result of concerns raised specifically regarding your repeated contact with Ms Desai, not to stop you writing a news story in our newspaper or to censor the press.”
Gareth, who won the Weekly News Reporter of the Year award for the third time at last month’s Regional Press Awards, said he told officers at the time the harrassment 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.
In response, he claims one of the officers told him: “That’s what the News of the World phone hackers said.”
Mr Berry said in his letter: “I agree that is was possibly misguided for the officer to refer to the phone hacking scandal but, in terms of the allegation under investigation, I am of the opinion the evidence shows the harassment warning was issued in order to bring to your attention the fact that your approaches to Ms Desai were considered to have gone beyond a reasonable course of conduct.”
Gareth said today that the case showed that police information notices could be used to block responsible journalism.
He told HTFP: “I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the IPCC’s decision, which reaffirms how broken these powers are.
“It is clear the police are able to issue harassment warnings without having to establish the facts or the possible motivations behind the allegations.
“It is very frustrating that neither a formal complaint or an appeal to the IPCC can prompt these circumstances to reconsidered using basic critical thinking you would expect of the police.
“It cannot be right that the police have the power to issue a formal warning, which may appear on an enhanced criminal records check, without subjecting the allegations to even the most basic of investigations.
“This case shows that PINs can be used, by the people we write about, to hamper or block responsible journalism. If a door knock and an email is “beyond what is reasonable” then hundreds of journalists across the country are guilty of harassment on a daily basis.”
“But it goes beyond journalism. Since being issued with the warning I’ve been contacted by many people who have been given a PIN in dubious circumstances and are distressed to learn they have no way of challenging it.”