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Journalists slam police ‘threats’ after crime scene stand-offs

James HoltRegional journalists and photographers have opened up on “threats” they have faced after fighting back against police obstruction at crime scenes.

James Holt and Adam Vaughan, both of the Manchester Evening News, have both revealed their frustration with Greater Manchester Police after recent incidents where their presence was repeatedly challenged.

Reporter James, left, was told by officers at a road collision on Sunday he was “not allowed to take photos” and quizzed on who he had “cleared” his attendance with, while photographer Adam says police threats to seize equipment are now regular occurences.

Other reporters have also come forward as a result to share similar experiences they have faced, while industry calls have now been made for police forces to ensure their staff are aware of journalists’ rights.

Speaking to HTFP, Adam said: “Having covered hundreds of crime scenes over the years I’ve become particularly alarmed by the attitude of GMP towards members of the press recently.

“It is now a regular occurrence to be threatened with seizure of equipment and to be told that we should not or cannot be at the scene.

“When challenged officers often refuse to accept that it is perfectly legal and legitimate to photograph and report from public areas outside of the cordon. They go straight to threats without talking to us first. We are regularly asked ‘who authorised’ our presence there despite there being no requirement for permission.

“This behaviour is particularly noticeable at scenes where there are a lot of police officers but no other witnesses apart from myself. It has also become much more frequent recently, as if officers have been instructed to be aggressive with press.

“Officers are either ignorant of the law and of the rights of the press and public, or they know the law but don’t care about it. Either is deeply disturbing.

“I arrive at every scene now worrying that I will be arrested for absolutely no reason other than the police want to control what we do or do not report.”

On Sunday, James posted on Twitter: “I’ve been to yet another scene tonight where officers from Greater Manchester Police tell me I am not allowed to take photos and they need to ‘check with the appropriate people’ as well as asking me who I ‘cleared it with’ to be there.

“I explained there was no issue – and that I was well within my rights to be there and take pictures. I was not within the cordon, I was stood outside, not obstructing, doing my job.

“Eventually the officer at the scene came round, as I continued to take pictures regardless and continuously explained I was within my rights to do so.”

Others to relate their own similar experiences included his colleague Nick Statham, a local democracy reporter who covers Rochdale and Stockport councils for the MEN.

Nick wrote: “I remember making some notes at an RTC scene, once. I was confronted by an unfriendly copper demanding to know why I was ‘taking car registrations down’. Yes, that well-known crime.”

The latest incident has prompted University of Central Lancashire journalism trainer Kevin Duffy to call for police forces to act and ensure their staff are aware of journalists’ rights.

Kevin told HTFP: “Early career reporters have long been required to do what used to be senior journalist stuff and, with such limited experience, it cannot be easy for them to face down a police officer who is threatening to arrest them.

“The right to communicate and receive information is enshrined in law – Article 10 of the Human Rights Act – but it seems that the authorities need to be given a regular reminder of this fact.

“The right to film and photograph in public places is the first topic I cover with each new intake of journalism undergraduates at the start of the academic year, because it is so fundamental and so important. Student journalists need to know what their rights are from day one.”

A GMP spokeswoman said: “Greater Manchester Police follows national guidance (College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice) on engagement and communications, including media relations.

“The force’s corporate communications branch also provides training for officers of all ranks and a 24/7 service for advice, support etc.

“Whilst we encourage our officers to work with media in a way which maintains and enhances a positive relationship between the force and the press, our officers are focussed on caring for victims, keeping people safe and delivering outstanding service to those involved in incidents and emergencies.

“We appreciate cooperation with officers whilst they’re responding to incidents and emergencies.”