Photographers under attack

The Metropolitan Police Service has been accused of ignoring the press cards of photographers after one claimed he was assaulted at a demo and another said he had his mobile phone seized.

Marc Vallée is suing the force’s commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, for up to £50,000 over alleged assaults from police officers during the Sack Parliament protest in London’s Parliament Square on 9 October 2006.

And freelance photographer Mike Wells has complained that he was stopped and searched three times and had his phone seized while covering last week’s Defence Systems and Equipment International in London.

According to papers submitted to Central London County Court, while attending the Westminster protest Vallée was approached by two different police officers in half an hour. They asked if he had a lawful reason to be in the square and moved on after Vallée produced his press card.

The court papers allege that when protesters ran into the road in front of the Houses of Parliament and were seized by police, Vallée and other photographers were allowed to follow the action and take pictures.

As he stood with his back to a police van, away from the main group of protesters, Vallée ‘felt his right arm being grabbed’by an officer who ‘roughly shoved him”. Despite telling officers he was a photographer, he was then ‘propelled through a police line and on to the ground where he landed, both winded and shocked”.

Police medics treated Vallée at the scene and he was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital.

Vallée maintains he was clearly identifiable as a photographer throughout the incident.

The Met has until 23 October to enter a defence. A police spokesman said: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service has been served with a civil action alleging assault and breach of articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act following an alleged incident during a demonstration. Enquiries are continuing.”

Meanwhile, Mike Wells, is considering whether to take action after police searched him and seized his mobile phone at the London arms fair last week.

He may make a Freedom of Information request to the Met to establish whether any information – such as private contacts or text messages – was taken from his phone. He is also considering complaining over a possible breach of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

Wells claims officers told him he was being searched on the grounds that he was a person likely to cause criminal damage such as graffiti.

He also says that, despite having produced his press card, the police insisted on taking away his mobile phone – saying they had reason to believe it was stolen. They took it out of Wells’ sight for five minutes before giving it back.
Wells said: ‘It was intimidating and unnecessary, They said they were going to check whether it was stolen as one in four mobile phones in London are stolen. They plugged something into it then took it away. I showed them my press card but they didn’t accept that.

‘I find the taking away of a mobile phone extremely disturbing. Journalists will almost certainly have their contacts stored on it.”

Media lawyer for Wiggin, Caroline Kean, said: ‘The police would either have to be able to say credibly that they had grounds for believing that he was holding stolen goods or that he was intending to commit a criminal offence.

‘Whether or not in the circumstances of his behaviour they would have had such reasonable grounds would be a matter of fact but by telling him that that’s why they are doing it they have brought themselves under PACE, and its now up to him to challenge the basis of their belief.”

The Met said that all police officers were thoroughly briefed on the most appropriate, proportionate and legal way to exercising their power to stop and search and that officers had to be satisfied there was sufficient justification.

A Met spokeswoman said: ‘Anyone with concerns about the way they were allegedly treated during a search should bring that to our attention so the issues can be addressed.”

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