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SoE condemns arrest of press photographer

Posted on: February 2, 2021 by Ian Murray

The Society of Editors has condemned the arrest of a press photographer in front of his children by police after he covered a demonstration.

Freelance photographer Andy Aitchison was visited at his home by five officers after documenting a protest outside an army barracks housing asylum seekers.

The arrest on suspicion of criminal damage took place in front of his children and after being taken to the police station he was held in a cell for seven hours and had his fingerprints and DNA taken.

In a bizarre twist he was provided with a detective thriller as well as sporting and motorcycle magazines to keep him occupied.

Aitchison had been covering the protest outside the Napier barracks where protestors threw buckets of fake blood and the doors amid allegations of poor hygiene standards for refugees.

His photographs were bought and used by several news outlets. Police arrived at his home six hours after the protest.

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors said: “This is very concerning. We are constantly told journalists, including press photographers, are an essential part of our democratic system in this country and a free media is to be protected.

“But words are not enough. It is actions that count and arresting press photographers is not something that should be happening in a liberal democracy.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Aitchison said: “I really feel like they’re trying to clamp down on the freedom of the press. The government is cracking down on people who are saying things they don’t want them to say, and that’s not right.”

“From the start I just thought, what’s going on? I was there for work and haven’t committed criminal damage.”

“It feels like if you’re photographing someone doing something wrong, rather than doing something about it they’ve tried to shut it down,” he said.

Kent police said they were called following a report of a protest in Shorncliffe, Folkestone, at around 8am on 28 January. “Officers attended and a 36-year-old man from the Dover area was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage,” a spokesperson said.

“Further inquiries led to the arrest of a second man, aged 46, in Folkestone at around 3pm the same day. Both men have been released on bail until 22 February.”