Home Secretary Urged To Condemn Arrest Of Journalists Covering Just Stop Oil Protests
Journalists were arrested while covering protests on the M25 (Alamy)
The Home Office has refused to respond to concerns about press freedoms following the arrest of several journalists covering environmental protests on the M25.
Speaking in the Commons today, Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper called for Home Secretary Suella Braverman to make a Commons statement over the decision by Hertfordshire police to arrest several journalists who were legally covering the protests on Tuesday.
Despite concerns from MPs and industry bodies about threats to press freedoms, neither the Home Office or Braverman have commented directly on the actions by Hertfordshire Police on Tuesday.
LBC's Charlotte Lynch was handcuffed and detained by Hertfordshire Police while she was covering protests by the Just Stop Oil group on the M25 on Tuesday, despite showing her press card to officers.
Lynch said she was held in a police cell for five hours after being arrested for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance but was later released without charge.
Documentary maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were also handcuffed and detained by Hertfordshire Police on Tuesday while capturing footage of the protest which shut down the motorway.
Bowles claimed he was held by police for hours, with officers also conducting a search of his home following his arrest.
Cooper demanded that the Home Secretary address the incident directly, saying she was "utterly appalled" by the treatment of journalists.
"I think the House will agree with me that freedom of the press is paramount to a free and fair society," she said.
"Whilst being questioned by the police, Ms Lynch offered her press badge immediately, but within two minutes she was handcuffed, her phone was snatched away, she was taken to a police station and accused of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance. She was fingerprinted, photographed and had DNA samples taken."
Conservative MP Matt Warman had also called for answers following the incident, saying it was "extremely hard to understand why the police would arrest a journalist".
He added: "I hope a fuller explanation or an apology is provided very rapidly."
A Home Office spokesperson told PoliticsHome they were not going to respond directly to the criticism, and pointed instead to comments made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's official spokesperson on Wednesday who insisted "it's vital journalists are able to do their job freely without restriction".
"Operational decisions are a matter for the police but the Prime Minister strongly believes in championing press freedoms," they added.
"We wouldn't want to see those freedoms impeded whilst journalists are going about their day-to-day business."
In a statement, Hertfordshire Police said they recognised the "concerns over the recent arrests of journalists" and were "requesting an independent force to examine our approach".
But Cooper criticised the response, saying: "In other words, nothing to see here. We are not an authoritarian state, the ability of journalists to do their job unhindered is a vital part of our democracy."
Speaking to the Police Chief Conference on Wednesday, Braverman failed to address the incidents, saying instead that police should "take a firmer line" against climate groups who have ramped up protests in recent months.
"In recent months and years we have seen an erosion of confidence in the police to take action against the radicals, the road-blockers, the vandals, the militants and the extremists," she said.
"It is not a human right to vandalise a work of art. It is not a civil liberty to stop ambulances getting to the sick and injured.
"I want to reassure you that you have my, and this government's, full backing in taking a firmer line to safeguard public order. Indeed, that is your duty."
Labour's shadow home secretary Yvetter Cooper defended journalists covering protests. "Journalists have to be able to do their job. Freedom of press is vital in UK - that’s why there are long standing arrangements for police to recognise & respect role of journalists," she said.
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