The Society of Editors has written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to voice concerns following the arrest of freelance press photographer Andy Aitchison over coverage of an asylum barracks protest.
While the Society has welcomed news that Aitchison will not face any charges following the incident last week, it is seeking assurances that police forces will be reminded the media has the right to attend and cover events.
The arrest occurred after the photographer covered a protest at the Napier Barracks in Kent where fake blood was thrown.
Five officers arrived at Aitchison’s home where he was arrested in front of his children before being held in custody for several hours before release. This week he was informed there would be no charges brought against him.
SoE executive director Ian Murray said that while journalists had no protection when it came to breaking the law, there was a clear and recognised distinction between a photographer attending an event where a crime may have been committed and actually being involved.
“There are ways in which the police can interview members of the press when they are investigating matters. Turning up in force at a journalist’s home and arresting them in front of their family is not the way. Andy was obviously not a flight risk. He could have been invited to attend a police station if the police wished to question him.
“But at the heart of this disturbing incident seems to be a lack of understanding by the police of the role of a journalist to attend and report events.
“We are seeking assurances from the NPCC that guidelines on this issue will be reinforced with forces throughout England and Wales to ensure there is no repeat of this incident.”
Police attended Aitchison’s home in Folkestone around seven hours after he took photos of the protest at Napier Barracks that lasted only about 30 seconds.
The 46-year-old told the officers he was a member of the press and showed them his National Union of Journalists press card, but they responded that it “doesn’t matter”.
They seized the memory card from his camera and his mobile phone.