Police Pay Damages to Journalists for Breaching Right to Report

Scotland Yard have accepted liability for breaching Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and given an apology and compensation to two political journalists who were unlawfully stopped by Metropolitan Police officers from reporting a protest at the Greek Embassy, according to an announcement from the law firm Bindmans.

The firm says: 

Two well known and highly respected National Union of Journalist members, videographer Jason Parkinson and investigative photojournalist Marc Vallée, who are represented by Chez Cotton, Head of the Police Misconduct Department at leading civil rights law firm Bindmans LLP have received an apology and £3,500 damages each from the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis. Their legal cost will also be met. The Metropolitan Police have admitted that the journalists were unlawfully prevented from reporting by Metropolitan Police Officers whilst they were covering a political protest outside the Greek Embassy on 8 December 2008. Liability has been accepted by the police for breaching both journalists’ Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention of Human Rights.

On that date, despite co-operating fully and in no way interfering with any of the police’s duties, Mr. Parkinson and Mr. Vallée were physically prevented from filming and taking photographs of civil unrest and the policing of the demonstration outside the Embassy in London, resulting from an internationally reported incident in Greece where a young boy had been killed by Greek police.

The apology, signed by Detective Chief Inspect Adrian Baxter, reads: “On 8 December 2008 well-respected political journalists Marc Vallée and Jason Parkinson were reporting a protest outside the Greek Embassy, Holland Park, London. The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has accepted liability for breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The MPS apologise for this and have paid compensation. The MPS confirms its recognition that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and that journalists have a right to report freely. The MPS recognise that on 8 December 2008 they failed to respect press freedom in respect of Mr. Vallée and Mr. Parkinson.”

Their solicitor Chez Cotton said: “The media play a critical role in recording civil unrest, political events, including protests and demonstrations and, where it arises, police wrong doing.  It is of grave concern that an armed, diplomatic officer of the Metropolitan Police Force felt it was appropriate to call these journalists ‘scum’ and stop them from working and was happy to do so in full knowledge that he was being filmed. My clients were physically prevented from reporting on protest and political unrest of international importance. Just before he was frog marched by officers away from events, Mr. Parkinson filmed an officer punching a protester in the side of the head, although the protester appears to be already under the control of several officers. That the police appeared not to want these journalists to film what seemed to be extremely brutal arrests using force is a cause for further alarm. 

Further to this public acknowledgment that his officers have breached the fundamental right of journalists to report, and in light of wide ranging criticisms of how the press were stopped from reporting at G20 and other ‘politically sensitive’ events, it is very much hoped that the Commissioner will take immediate steps to ensure his officers act properly and support rather than obstruct the press in the important role they play in keeping the public informed, including of police wrong doing. The police need to pay more than lip service to supporting a ‘free press’ and the right of journalists to disseminate information into the wider public domain must be protected, through legal action where necessary.”

NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: “Professional journalists and photographers have detailed numerous attempts by police officers to stifle the reporting of protests. Today we have achieved a significant victory – it is right that the police admit liability, apologise and compensate those whose basic human rights were breached in such a blatant and aggressive manner.

The police need to quickly learn the lessons of these shameful events, recognise the importance of media freedom and take the necessary steps to recognise the press card during police training to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The result is a huge boost for media freedom and the rights of photographers”.

NUJ Legal Officer Roy Mincoff said: “The police need to learn that journalists and photographers have a right to report and photograph as recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. The NUJ has held the police to account before and will do so again unless all officers at all ranks abide by the law”

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