Police have refused to rescind a harassment notice issued against a reporter who sent two emails and door-stepped a woman who had conned readers out of thousands of pounds.
Croydon police have said that the actions of Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies "went beyond what was reasonable".
Police visited Davies at his office in March last year to serve him with a Prevention of Harassment letter following his approaches to Neelam Desai. They warned him that he could be arrested if he approached her again.
Davies was investigating allegations Desai had conned people out of thousands of pounds after meeting men on an Asian dating website under assumed identities.
In May, Desai was sentenced to 30 months in prison for fraud.
Davies contends that by contacting Desai he was simply giving her a right to reply and doing his job as a responsible journalist.
A request from solicitors for the Croydon Advertiser to have the harassment notice rescinded was ignored by the Metropolitan Police so Davies made his own complaint.
He said that the harassment warning was issued without any investigation and was an attempt to censor the press. He also expressed concern that it would appear on an enhanced criminal records bureau check in future.
Responding to his complaint inspector Claire Robbins of Croydon police said: “After reading the crime report accounts given by Ms Desai and the officers I feel that the contact by Mr Davies towards Ms Desai did go beyond what was reasonable.
"An approach to a suspect in a news story, to get their account, is a logical course of action to round off the story.
“However once Ms Desai made it clear of her wishes, the repeated texts, emails and even alleged visits to Ms Desai’s home address serve no obvious purpose.
“Ms Desai made it clear she was not going to give Mr Davies and interview and at this point his role should have been that of an observer and reporter of a news story.”
She said that the harassment warning meant that Davies was “advised to desist and there may be further investigation by police which could result in an arrest”.
The harassment warning was “unlikely” to appear in a police check of his records, she said.
Davies said the police made no attempt to contact him in advance of making this report and appeared to have relied on Desai’s inaccurate account of events.
He said there were no repeated text messages or visits to her home. He visited her house once and sent her two emails.
He said: "As the investigation developed, more victims had come forward and these polite emails detailed new allegations and gave her the chance to respond."
He said of the ruling: “I think it’s ridiculous. For them to take this woman’s account at face value is baffling.
“It means there is now an harassment warning against a woman on my record when I have done nothing wrong.”
I shouldn't be surprised by the results of my complaint – the Met demonstrated its aversion to being scrutinised by the press only this week in its response to Press Gazette’s RIPA questions.
But I won’t be dropping the issue either. The letter is currently with our solicitors and we have 28 days to ask the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate.