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Journalists demand action against officers who arrested media colleagues

Charlotte LynchRegional press journalists have called for disciplinary action against police officers who have arrested reporters covering a Just Stop Oil protest.

LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch was arrested and held for five hours by Hertfordshire Police while covering the demonstrations on the M25, while documentary maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were held for a total of 13 hours.

Charlotte, pictured, was holding a press card at the time of her arrest, while Rich and Tom had also offered to show theirs.

The arrests have sparked widespread condemnation and the force has defended its actions on the grounds that the officers needed to “verify their credentials and progress our investigation”, although it has now launched an investigation into the issue.

Journalists have been among those on Twitter to criticise the police’s actions.

Richard Ault, from the Reach plc data unit, wrote: “What the hell is going on? The officers involved must face disciplinary action. Disgrace.”

Rachel Mackie, crime reporter at The Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News, said of Charlotte’s arrest: “This is not the only case of this happening, and should absolutely chill everyone to the bone.

“Freedom of the press is essential, as, incidentally, is the freedom to protest. Police action around all of this is disgraceful.”

Wirral Globe digital audience and content editor Jamie Bowman described the arrests as “very worrying”.

And former Kent Live and MyLondon journalist Sian Elvin, now deputy news editor at London’s Evening Standard, wrote: “Very concerning – keep hearing about this happening more and more often. Freedom of the press is vital and no journalist should fear arrest while simply doing their job.”

The Society of Editors has also spoken out about the officers’ actions. Executive director Dawn Alford said: “The protests are a source of legitimate public interest and journalists, film-makers and photographers have a right to attend protests and report on behalf of the public.

“We strongly condemn the arrest of journalists in the course of their work and will be writing to Hertfordshire Police to seek an urgent explanation and seek assurances that its officers respect the rights of journalists and understand that such actions threaten press freedom.”

Despite the widespread criticism, Hertfordshire Police defended his actions yesterday.

In a statement, it said: “As always, our priority remains to ensure public safety – we have a responsibility for the health and safety of all those involved and everyone at the scene, including emergency services, members of the public, members of the press and the protestors themselves.

“These operations are very fluid and fast moving, with the potential to cause widespread and sustained disruption, that not only affects Hertfordshire’s stretch of the M25 but also the wider road networks.

“Our officers have been instructed to act as quickly as they can, using their professional judgement, to clear any possible protestors in order to get roads up and running and to prevent anyone from coming to harm.

“Seven people were arrested yesterday. Of these seven, two were subsequently charged and two were released on police bail with conditions. Three of them were released with no further action following extensive enquiries.

“Though as a matter of course we do not comment on the circumstances surrounding individual arrests, these circumstances did give us grounds to hold them in custody for questioning in order to verify their credentials and progress our investigation.”

In an updated statement this afternoon, the force added: “Chief Constable Charlie Hall recognises the concerns over the recent arrests of journalists who arrived at these locations and have been present with the protestors at the scenes. Additional measures are now in place to ensure that legitimate media are able to do their job.

“In addition, Mr Hall is today requesting an independent force to examine our approach to these arrests and to identify any learning we should take in managing these challenging situations.”