Senior officers ordered ‘unlawful’ arrests of journalists at Just Stop Oil protests

Review finds arrests of four journalists covering climate protests last month were directed by senior officers

Senior police officers ordered the potentially unlawful arrests of four journalists detained while covering climate protests on the M25, a review has found.

The review makes clear that the arrests of the LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, the press photographer Tom Bowles, the film-maker Rich Felgate and one other person who has not been named were not simply an overreaction or a mistake by police officers on the ground.

Their arrests were instead directed by more senior officers at Hertfordshire constabulary, who had formulated a policing plan that failed to take into account the likelihood that journalists may be on the scene, the review said.

“Police powers were not used appropriately,” said the review, carried out at the request of Hertfordshire constabulary after accusations that the arrests this month were a threat to press freedom.

“The review team believed that the bronze [policing] plan almost exclusively endorsed arrest as the only intervention available to officers,” it added. “This approach did not differentiate between people and did not consider the balance of rights.”

Furthermore, it said, “there is evidence to suggest the potential for the arrests to amount to an ‘unlawful interference’ with the individuals’ freedom of expression under article 10” of the European convention on human rights.

The review comes two weeks after questions were raised in parliament and a spokesperson for the prime minister expressed his unease at the arrests of journalists on the scene as supporters of Just Stop Oil climbed gantries over the M25.

All four journalists were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance in relation to the protests, despite their having been challenged by police while on a public footpath and all showing officers valid press IDs.

The review, by the chief superintendent of Cambridgeshire constabulary, John Hutchinson, noted that officers on the ground cannot exercise their powers of arrest simply on the say so of a senior officer, unless the superior has conveyed “sufficient information in order for the arresting officer to develop reasonable grounds”.

The review said: “The evidence in this case indicates officers were directed to arrest and did not develop sufficient grounds prior to exercising their power.

“Having reviewed the evidence and the information available to the officers at the time, there seems to be a disconnect as to how they arrived at the outcome they did. The interactions of officers suggest that arrest was the likely outcome regardless of the information obtained.”

Despite the widespread coverage of Just Stop Oil across the media, Hertfordshire constabulary’s plans for the M25 protests had failed to take into account the possibility that journalists would be on the scene.

“It was believed that officers had a lack of understanding as to the role of the media and how they operate,” the review said. “The Just Stop Oil activity spanned at least four other police forces, none of whom arrested members of the press.”

Kevin Blowe, a campaigns coordinator at Netpol, said he was not surprised that the arrests had been ordered by senior officers. He said Hertfordshire constabulary’s actions fit a template where police forces’ approach was to “disregard people’s rights to protest … and to deal with any fallout later”.

The review showed the actions of frontline and senior officers were potentially unlawful, Blowe said. “Yet nobody is individually accountable for what amounts to false imprisonment and that just leaves a civil action, which the police will settle in a couple of years’ time without admitting liability,” he said.

“Basic questions about how to protect the right to protest and the rights of those who monitor and report on demonstrations are rarely asked. All the police are interested in is what is convenient for them.”

The chief constable of Hertfordshire constabulary has written to the wrongly detained journalists saying he is “truly sorry” for his officers’ actions. He wrote: “While policing public order incidents is fraught with difficulty and there was no malicious intent from my officers, on this occasion we clearly got things wrong.”

Jun Pang, a policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said: “A free, independent press is a vital part of a functioning democracy and should not be interfered with. The actions of Hertfordshire police arresting journalists covering protests was a dangerous overreach – indeed, this report acknowledges that ‘police powers were not used appropriately’.

“But these recent arrests of both journalists and protesters must be placed within the wider context – they have been enabled and encouraged by a government that keeps handing out sweeping powers to the police, creating a hostile environment for protesters and an increasingly dangerous working environment for journalists.”


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hertfordshire police promise inquiry into arrests of journalists covering climate protests
Chief constable responds after minister condemns arrest of LBC reporter covering climate action

Damien Gayle and Pippa Crerar

09, Nov, 2022 @6:22 PM

Article image
Photographer and film-maker arrested at Just Stop Oil protest
Arrest of pair capturing images of M25 protest condemned by British Press Photographers’ Association

Jamie Grierson

08, Nov, 2022 @6:32 PM

Article image
Police in England and Wales to get new powers to shut down protests before disruption begins
Plans aimed at preventing tactics such as ‘slow marching’ part of Rishi Sunak’s public order crackdown

Rowena Mason, Aamna Mohdin and Emine Sinmaz

15, Jan, 2023 @10:30 PM

Article image
Hertfordshire police admit unlawfully arresting journalist at Just Stop Oil protest
Exclusive: Force says it falsely imprisoned photographer covering M25 climate action

Damien Gayle

21, Dec, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
Just Stop Oil protesters removed from Dartford Crossing bridge and arrested
Police use raised platform to bring down activists who had blocked route linking Kent and Essex for second day

Jamie Grierson and Nadeem Badshah

18, Oct, 2022 @5:48 PM

Article image
Suella Braverman tells police to get tougher on Just Stop Oil activists
Home secretary says it is officers’ duty to take a firmer line to safeguard public order

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

09, Nov, 2022 @6:22 PM

Article image
Rishi Sunak plans to crack down on ‘go-slow’ protests used by Just Stop Oil
PM aims to further restrict right to demonstrate by giving police powers to tackle fuel protesters’ latest tactic

Rajeev Syal

09, Jan, 2023 @5:22 PM

Article image
Just Stop Oil’s ‘spring uprising’ protests funded by US philanthropists
LA-based based Climate Emergency Fund donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to activists

Damien Gayle

29, Apr, 2022 @2:19 PM

Article image
Just Stop Oil protesters blockade central London petrol stations
Environmental activists stage sit-down protests, blocking entrances and gluing themselves to pumps

Damien Gayle

26, Aug, 2022 @8:19 AM

Article image
Public order bill to be amended to protect journalists covering protests
Suella Braverman will propose changes after arrests of reporters at a Just Stop Oil demonstration

Rowena Mason Whitehall editor

05, Mar, 2023 @2:55 PM