Journalist gets police apology for arrest over Kent barracks photos

Journalist gets police apology for arrest over Kent barracks photos

Press Freedom, Kent

10/22/2021 7:25:00 PM

Journalist gets police apology for arrest over Kent barracks photos

Force admits detention of Andy Aitchison after he covered protest at Napier barracks was unlawful

Last modified on Fri 22 Oct 2021 17.23 BSTA journalist who was arrested after taking pictures of a protest at a former army barracks used to house asylum seekers has received a full apology and payout frompolice, who have admitted their actions were unlawful.

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Andy Aitchison wasarrestedat his home on 28 January on suspicion of criminal damage, hours after he had taken and shared photographs of activists demonstrating against conditions at Napier barracks near Folkestone.Aitchison was held for more than five hours before he was released with bail conditions that prohibited him from going near the barracks. Officers searched his family home and seized his mobile phone and a memory card from his camera.

A week after the arrest the case against Aitchisonwas dropped, but he was subsequently issued with a fixed penalty notice (FPN), which was withdrawn only after his lawyers threatened legal proceedings.On Friday, his lawyers said he had received a full apology from the chief constable of Kent police, Alan Pughsley, which included admissions that the arrest, property search and imposition of bail conditions and FPN were all unlawful.

Aitchison said: “This feels like a very important outcome, that the police have acknowledged that photographers and journalists have a right to work. We must be able to work without fear of arrest and freedom to independently report on events. It is vital to our democracy that we are able to report on all issues, especially if they are politically sensitive.

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“I hope that Kent police have learned from this situation and will work hard to ensure that this does not happen to any other official journalists. It was a stressful and totally unnecessary experience to go through, both professionally and personally, not knowing what impact this could have on my work, and how distressing it was for my children to have to witness the whole thing.”

Aitchison took the photos outside the barracks at a time when coronavirus was tearing through its population of asylum seekers. Half of the roughly 400 residents contracted Covid-19. A high court ruling would later find that the housing of refugees and migrants at the barracks was unlawful. The Home Office continues to direct asylum seekers to the accommodation despite the ruling.

In a headed letter from Kent police, Pughsley said:“Further to the damages received by Mr Aitchison in compensation, I apologise unreservedly to him for his unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and breach of his human rights.“I expressly acknowledge there was no culpability on the part of Mr Aitchison, who was performing an important function publicising the protest in the public interest. I recognise the fundamental importance of free speech and the independence of journalists; I accept they should not be at risk of arrest and of having their equipment seized when acting lawfully in reporting matters of public interest.”

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Aitchison was represented by Jules Carey and Rachel Harger of Bindmans LLP, along with Jude Bunting of Doughty Street Chambers.

Read more: The Guardian »

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