Journalist Receives Apology From Police For Arrest For Photos Of Kent Barracks | freedom of the press
A journalist who was arrested after taking photos of a protest at a former army barracks used to house asylum seekers has received a full apology and payment from Kent Police, who admitted his actions were illegal.
Andy Aitchison was arrested at his home on January 28 on suspicion of criminal damage hours after he took and shared photographs of activists protesting against conditions at Napier Barracks near Folkestone.
Aitchison was held for more than five hours before being released on bail conditions that prohibited him from approaching the barracks. Officers searched the family home and seized her cell phone and a memory card from her camera.
A week after the arrest, the case against Aitchison was dropped, but he was subsequently given a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN), which was only withdrawn after his attorneys had him. threatened with legal action.
His lawyers said on Friday he received a full apology from Kent Police Chief Alan Pughsley, which included a confession that the arrest, property search and imposition of bail conditions and of FPN were all illegal.
Aitchison said: âIt seems like a very important result, that the police have recognized that photographers and journalists have the right to work. We must be able to work without fear of being arrested and be free to report independently on events. It is vital for our democracy that we can be accountable on all issues, especially if they are politically sensitive.
âI hope the Kent Police have learned from this situation and will work hard to ensure this does not happen to other official journalists. It was a stressful and totally unnecessary experience to go through, both professionally and personally, not knowing what impact it might have on my job and how painful it was for my children to have to witness it all.
Aitchison took the photos outside the barracks as the coronavirus was tearing its population of asylum seekers apart. Half of the roughly 400 residents have contracted Covid-19. A High Court ruling later found that housing refugees and migrants in the barracks was illegal. The Interior Ministry continues to refer asylum seekers to housing despite the decision.
In a letterhead letter from Kent Police, Pughsley said: “Following the damages received by Mr. Aitchison in compensation, I offer my unreserved apologies for his unlawful arrest, his arbitrary imprisonment and the violation of his human rights.
âI expressly acknowledge that there was no guilt on the part of Mr. Aitchison, who performed an important function in publicizing the protest in the public interest. I recognize the fundamental importance of freedom of expression and the independence of journalists; I accept that they should not run the risk of being arrested and having their equipment seized when they act legally in reporting matters of public interest.
Aitchison was represented by Jules Carey and Rachel Harger of Bindmans LLP, as well as Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers.