PCC clears Express of witness payment breach

Express Newspapers has been cleared of breaching the Editors’ Code over a payment made to a woman who said she was assaulted by a police officer.

The Press Complaints Commission decided on its own to investigate the payment made to Nicola Fisher for an interview which appears in the Daily Star and Daily Express on 17 April, 2009. The PCC usually only acts on complaints received.

She claimed she was assaulted by a police officer on the second day of the G20 protests two weeks earlier.

Clause 15 of the Editors’ Code bans payments to witnesses in criminal trials.

The PCC ruled there was no breach because at the time of the payment the police officer involved had been suspended but not charged.

In the interview Fisher described the alleged assault in detail, claiming that the experience was “like [she’d] been whipped by the Taliban”.

The police officer involved was cleared of common assault at trial in March 2010. Fisher opted not to give evidence.

Clause 15 of the code prohibits paying potential witnesses in circumstances where proceedings are not active, but are “likely and foreseeable”, unless “the information ought demonstrably to be published in the public interest and there is an overriding need to make…payment for this to be done”.

The PCC said: ‘The central question was whether the published information was in the public interest. The Commission considered that it was.

‘Ms Fisher’s experiences related to the allegedly violent behaviour of police at a vigil for Ian Tomlinson (who had himself notoriously been the victim of alleged assault by a police officer), which left her with visible injuries.

‘Footage of the incident had been posted online, and the specific comments of the woman featured in it were – in the Commission’s view – a key part of an ongoing story.

‘There was no doubt that the behaviour of police at the demonstrations was a matter of intense and legitimate public discussion at the time, especially following the death of Mr Tomlinson.

‘In these circumstances, the Commission was satisfied that there was a public interest in publishing Ms Fisher’s own contribution, which she would not have apparently made without financial remuneration.”

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