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Police force journalist to delete images from phone at bomb scare scene

A weekly newspaper editor has hit out at “contemptuous” police officers who told one of her reporters to delete photographs of a primary school evacuation.

Kent Messenger trainee Joshua Coupe had to get rid of the images on his phone after a lengthy remonstration with three members of the Kent Police force, conducted as a crowd of parents looked on.

Joshua had shown officers his press card after arriving at the scene at Barming Primary School, in Maidstone, on Monday, where an anonymous bomb threat phoned in to the school led to the evacuation of 400 children.

He said he was approached by three officers who demanded he deleted the images from his phone after he began taking pictures of the police operation.

Joshua refused and continued to argue his case, insisting he had every right to photograph the unfolding drama and adding none of the images identified any of the children involved.

However, he eventually complied when one officer said they suspected he may have been taking the photos for his own personal use.

One of the officers approaching Joshua at the scene

One of the officers approaching Joshua at the scene

Said Joshua: “I’d never compromise anyone’s safety and I’m always happy to abide by reasonable requests, but there was no need for this intimidating behaviour.”

“One officer in particular was extremely obstructive and made reporting incredibly difficult.

“Anxious parents were approaching me for details as there was a lack of information and they weren’t allowed to see their children.”

Messenger editor Denise Eaton added: “I genuinely don’t understand why, in situations such as this, authorities fail to seize the opportunity to work in co-operation with the press rather than treat us in such a contemptuous and combative manner.”

A Kent Police spokesman said: “The incident was a difficult scenario for officers to manage, which involved securing the safety of a large number of children and adults and moving them from the location.

“More than one news organisation attended the scene but officers only had cause to address the actions of one reporter.

“After school staff raised concerns to the reporter about him photographing children, an officer acted as a mediator and asked the reporter if he would consider deleting some of the photos. The reporter indicated he was happy to do this.

“We routinely give advice to officers on how to facilitate reporters at scenes of incidents, and our media policy states that reporters are within their rights to record activity at scenes.”

25 comments

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  • May 26, 2016 at 8:31 am
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    Sounds as if the school was behind this and the police were playing, er, piggy in the middle. Either way, it is nothing to do with the criminal law and the school, as often happens, is making up the rules. The Code is quite clear on the situation but (assuming the reporter was not in private property) it is a matter for the journalist and his editor to conform, and no-one else. It is also an editor’s judgement as to whether a hoax should be publicised at all. Whatever, police cannot order a journalist to delete images. They have absolutely no remit in law to do this. Difficult position for the reporter but next time, dig your heels in young fella! Your editor will support you.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 8:45 am
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    “However, he eventually complied when one officer said they suspected he may have been taking the photos for his own personal use.”

    That’s absolutely disgusting behaviour from the police, thoroughly contemptible, the NUJ should do something about this – or the industry should come together and organise training so reporters are aware of their rights – this officer should face serious disciplinary procedures, in fact the newspaper should go to the IPCC.

    Three coppers effectively trying to bully a trainee reporter is absolutely disgusting, but well done to the lad for standing his ground as long as he did.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 8:54 am
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    I don’t know what to make of this. It needs a bit of journalism to make sense of it.

    The paper/reporter say that the reporter was told/made/forced to remove the pictures.

    But the police say.

    “After school staff raised concerns to the reporter about him photographing children, an officer acted as a mediator and asked the reporter if he would consider deleting some of the photos. The reporter indicated he was happy to do this.

    Surely the police wouldn’t lie so are we to assume the reporter is lying?

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  • May 26, 2016 at 9:22 am
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    Jeff Jones. You’ve beat me to my very next point. The “threat” from the police was very obvious and as you say, disgusting.

    Sadly, nothing surprises me with the police.

    The editor, the NUJ and the local MP should really be kicking off about this and the officers involved should face disciplinary action. There should also be an inquiry as to where the police press officer got the information in the quote above.

    As I’ve found to my cost on more than one occasion, pointing out the law to police officers generally makes them dig their heels in and become more economical with the truth.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 9:34 am
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    @Harry Blackwood:
    “Surely the police wouldn’t lie…”
    Surely you’re not being serious, Harry?

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  • May 26, 2016 at 9:45 am
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    Harry, you know first hand that the Po Po are paragons of virtue. Cough!

    What happens on the street doesn’t always match up with the police press office version of events, does it.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 9:56 am
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    On the facts only as stated above, surely former ACPO/NPCC guidance applies? (See McNae.) However, Salem-like hysteria unfortunately seems to have given the cops the lever they needed, viz: “After school staff raised concerns to the reporter about him photographing children…” . As a matter of principle, however, the Editor should formally complain to the cops.
    By the by, recovering deleted content from a memory card/phone is usually straightforward. Get the IT folks on it, blur the little ‘uns faces, and splash on “Police bid to censor bomb scare at school.”. That’ll concentrate their minds.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 10:15 am
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    Plod wasn’t censoring the “bomb scare at school”. They were harassing the reporter and his right to take photos, not censoring his right to report.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 10:18 am
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    Tell you what else does my head in about all this, the double standards. Schools crying the blues about the slightest thing – in my career towards the end they wouldn’t even name kids in photographs, absolutely pathetics.

    Meanwhile, you can’t go on Facebook without stumbling into picture after picture of someone’s kid. ‘Our little Billy Bob all dressed up for school! Feel free to save this picture and distribute it all over the world wide web, however, if the school reveal what he got in his SATs to the local paper alongside his first initial there will be HELL to pay!!!’

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  • May 26, 2016 at 10:24 am
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    schools are paranoid nowadays. On my paper we had the stupid request that we use first names of kids in photos but not surnames. That looks really amateur, so we didn’t use the pictures.
    This story sounds somewhat garbled.
    I remember once a plod telling me I could not photograph a crash scene because it was the “scene of a crime”. He had obviously declared himself judge and jury on that one.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 10:29 am
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    Just gone to the schools website they have a lot of pictures of children, is this just for the Heads personnel use and did they get parental permission to display them, or did the ploce again tell a few porkies.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 10:48 am
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    Haha they should have sent a professional photographer to the scene, a big big difference between a poorly paid trainee working for near nothing, and an experienced tog, cuts have consequences!!!!

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  • May 26, 2016 at 11:43 am
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    It was ‘so hard to manage’, they could only spare three officers to obstruct a reporter in the execution of his duty!
    Instead of apologising immediately for Plod’s mishandling of the situation, they try and blame the victim…

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  • May 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm
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    A formal complaint to the chief constable, MP and police crime commissioner. Who gave the police the right to edit what we can and cannot see/read?

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  • May 26, 2016 at 12:23 pm
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    Sadly happens far too often – I’ve heard of a number of officers pressuring reporters to delete pictures when they are at the scene of an incident. Luckily they have stood their ground and succeeded. Feel sorry for a trainee, must have been incredibly intimidating being rounded on by three officers. Even sadder is in the past a photographer would have been there to take the pictures and would have been more experienced with their rights, maybe even known by the police by sight as a staffer for the paper. The reporter would have had back up and the incident may have never occurred.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 12:55 pm
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    Karl. Yes, I was being sarcastic. When dealing with the police, experience has taught me to assume initially they’re lying through their teeth and work from there.

    Mr I. I’ve brought my three kids up to mistrust the police. ALWAYS. For a 60-year old professional paragon of virtue to adopt such a position shows there’s a big problem. My stance is based on a lifetime of professional and personal experiences. I could give you dozens of examples.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm
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    I have no sympathy at all with the Editor, only with the poor trainee reporter .That’s what happens when newspapers sack all their snappers and expect reporters to take the pictures. I am sure a professional
    photographer would have handled the situation and told the gang of heavy-handed PC plods where to get off!

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  • May 26, 2016 at 1:10 pm
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    Just looking at that picture, are they definitely plod? Look like PCSOs, at least three of them do anyway. I’ve seen PCSOs being chased by kids, true story.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 1:12 pm
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    Further to above, carry copies of the ACPO letter. Google “acpo letter re: photography”‘ – download and print off. Hand out when challenged. (Assuming cuffs or Tazer have not already been applied.) Also remember to NPCC has adopted position of legacy body ACPO. Good luck.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 1:14 pm
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    Whoops Sorry Ali – didn’t spot you had done the ACPO letter already. Good point about mobile too.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 2:06 pm
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    @ Harry B. I wasn’t contradicting you Harry, I know how badly you have been treated by the police and certain “politicians”.

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  • May 26, 2016 at 6:11 pm
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    Mr I. I know you weren’t but I always like to be open and honest in all things.

    As for the politicians and those pesky politicians, a minor distraction and I’m a better (and much stronger) person for the experiences 😉

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  • May 30, 2016 at 5:14 pm
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    A formal complaint, unfortunately, should be made to force HQ to try to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Load of nonsense. I also like the idea of frosted faces being published if IT experts can retrieve the pix. That will learn them.

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