Sussex Police have apologised to NUJ members that were stopped and searched on when they were travelling to work in Brighton to cover a far right demonstration on Sunday 21 April 2013.
Seven journalists, two of whom are PHNAT organisers, were subjected to a search for offensive weapons under Section 60AA of the Public Order Act and Section 60 of the Terrorism Act, which Sussex police later claimed was a mistake.
The NUJ challenged the police and argued there had been an unlawful use of the legislation to detain and search journalists.
In a letter sent to NUJ members, Sussex Police said:
“Whilst there was clearly reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle in which you were travelling, the officers should not have continued to search or detain individuals if they no longer had reasonable suspicion to enable them to do so.
“Furthermore, Sussex police acknowledge that media perform an important role in a state governed by the rule of law to impart information and ideas on matters of public interest – information that the public has a right to receive.
“Sussex police, and law enforcement officials generally, have a constitutional responsibility not to prevent or obstruct the work of journalists during public demonstrations unless they are acting otherwise than in accordance with the law.”
Photojournalist, NUJ and PHNAT member Pete Maclaine said:
“It took Sussex Police years to acknowledge that detaining and searching photojournalists under the pretext of a rescinded law was wrong. In the meantime elsewhere the Met have detained photojournalists on a number of occasions without good reason. Whilst it is important to congratulate the police when they get it right, it is essential to hold them to account when they get it wrong. The National Union of Journalists have shown that this is possible. A prime example of the importance of trade unions in the UK.”
Photojournalist, NUJ and PHNAT member Jess Hurd said:
“This is not the first time journalists have been detained during police operations. Since the incident I have been detained whilst covering a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest at Westfield shopping centre (10 December 2014), several members of the press were held with protesters and photographed by police, apparently on suspicion of ‘violent disorder’. Ironically the only violent disorder I saw that evening was being struck in the face by a police officer. The worry is that these operational failures are a more systematic attempt to disrupt the work of the media in some public order situations. It’s great that the police have issued an apology and have agreed a settlement but really a change in policing attitudes is necessary and a respect for members of the press.”