From Sally Murrer to David Miranda: Wouldn't we all be safer if police focused efforts on terrorists rather than journalists? - Press Gazette

From Sally Murrer to David Miranda: Wouldn't we all be safer if police focused efforts on terrorists rather than journalists?

The detention of the partner of a Guardian journalist for nine hours at Heathrow on Sunday night has shocked press freedom supporters around the world.

But sadly official intimidation of the media has become only too common in the UK in recent years.

Let’s not forget that over the last two years at least 59 UK journalists have been arrested as a result of police investigations into the way they have been getting their information. Those arrests have typically come in dawn raids on family homes and been followed by 12 hours or more in the cells and then at least a year or more in the hellish official limbo of police bail.

It should be noted that there is no suggestion that The Guardian paid US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden for his information.

The Guardian did not corrupt him, he chose to work with them. But regardless of your views about the rights and wrongs of the Guardian and Snowden's disclosures, the arrest of Miranda needs to be seen in the context of an increasing tendency to shoot the messenger in the UK when it comes to the disclosure of government information via unofficial means.

Miranda was ferrying information between The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald in Brazil and his documentary-maker partner on the Snowden story Laura Poitras in Berlin and computer equipment was confiscated by police which may include some of the Snowden NSA material.

Sadly, the treatment of Miranda was mild by current standards.

In 2007, Milton Keynes Citizen journalist Sally Murrer was arrested by police, locked up for 30 hours, questioned and told she could face life in prison. It was alleged that she had improperly obtained stories from a police contact. There was never any suggestion that money had changed hands. It later emerged that she had also been bugged and trailed by police. The trial against her and her alleged police source collapsed in November 2008.

Of the 59-plus UK journalists arrested since April 2011 on suspicon of computer and phone-hacking and making illegal payments some 23 have been charged and await trial.

A further 11 have been cleared after first facing the ordeal of arrest, questioning and in most cases a long period on bail.

Of the others, around 16 have been on bail now for more than a year.

We can’t comment on cases where proceedings are active but we know that some of those arrested and cleared were targeted on the most spurious of grounds.

Former News of the World journalist Bethany Usher was hauled in because News Corp’s Management and Standards Committee handed over one out-of-context email which referred to her transcribing a voicemail (she was later able to show that it was provided to her openly by its recipient to back up a story that individual was selling).

In at least two cases senior police officers have been arrested and charged with corruption over information given to journalists, even though there was no suggestion of payments being made.

In February this year, former Met Police detective April Casburn was jailed for 15 months for calling the News of the World in September 2010 to express her concerns about plans to divert significant police anti-terror resources towards investigating journalists.

Testimony from a reporter on the paper that she wanted to sell  the story was enough to secure her conviction, even though no money changed hands and no story appeared.

Perhaps a degree of official intrusiveness is a price worth paying to save lives and stop terror attacks.

But wouldn’t we all be safer if police and the security services focused their resources on terrorists rather than journalists and their sources?

Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette