An editor has demanded answers after police and council chiefs blocked copies of a regional daily from arriving on its patch.
Portsmouth daily The News was not available in the city yesterday because delivery drivers were barred from leaving the plant where it is printed in Thurrock, Essex, due to a protest by environmental campaigners.
The protest, which started late on Sunday night, was part of a fuel campaign and not targeted at The News, but the road from the site was closed to all but what police deemed to be “priority traffic”.
Oil tankers and food delivery vans are understood to have been allowed through – but drivers delivering The News were among those prevented from continuing their journey.
Printing of The News was transferred to Thurrock last month after the closure of the press hall at The News Centre in Hilsea, Portsmouth.
Daily Mail publisher dmg media had taken the decision to close the Hilsea plant after purchasing it from JPI Media Print Holdings Ltd in 2020.
“This was due to circumstances well out of our control and a protest which was not specifically targeting us, but which we fell victim to.
“When I was alerted to the protest I was told police had the situation under control and there would be no distribution issues. However, this escalated into a key road to and from the site being closed to all but ‘priority’ vehicles.
“I’m told police were happy to let oil tankers and food delivery vans through but not The News drivers. Why was it deemed safe for some vehicles and not others? This is simply nonsensical.
“It also flies in the face of the Government’s position that newspapers provide an essential service to readers. On Sunday night we should have been treated accordingly.
“At the start of the pandemic journalists covering the Covid-19 crisis were rightly given the status of key workers as it was recognised the continued flow of information was vital to people’s lives.
“But The News is not just here in times of emergency. Since 1877 we have been informing our readers across our patch of what is happening, giving them the information they need, keeping them entertained and ensuring we play a part in bringing communities together.
“I need a full explanation into why the police and council officials stopped us from doing that.”
Efforts to mitigate the impact of the police decision by The News included making an e-edition available for free online, while the usual Monday Sport and eight-page puzzle sections were included in today’s edition.
In an accompanying editorial, Mark criticised the “group of police and council bigwigs” responsible for the decision.
He wrote: “As they tackled the protest into the early hours of Monday morning could their minds not recall that, during the pandemic, newspapers were considered by the government an essential service and journalists were granted key worker status as the purveyors of life-saving and accurate information?
“That they were ignorant of that says much about the leadership of this group but more alarmingly indicates how easy it would be to direct those in authority to silence the media at someone else’s volition rather than their own.
“Thankfully, we are no longer in the grip of an international emergency. But a time when politicians have lost much of the public’s trust and social media platforms spew out misinformation, a reliable press has never been more essential.
“We will not rest until we have answers from those in authority on how this was allowed to happen and how we can ensure it will not happen again.”
In a statement issued to The News on Monday, Essex Police said: “Last night, we responded to reports of a protest in Grays, where eight people were arrested. Following a risk assessment, the road was closed until around 3am (Monday).
“It was agreed by the Strategic Co-ordination Group (SCG) to limit vehicle access to the St Clements Way area.
“The SCG consists of police, Thurrock Council and strategic partners working together in an effort to maintain everyone’s safety, keep traffic moving and minimise the impact of disruption to critical businesses and infrastructure.
“A partial road closure allowed priority traffic to enter the area. To ensure the integrity and safety of the road, all other traffic was asked to avoid the area.”
The force did not answer a specific question by The News about who decided what traffic was deemed a priority, while Thurrock Council did not respond to its request for information.