An agency reporter who covered the trial of an attempted murder of a police officer has criticised police for refusing to release bodycam footage of the incident to the public, despite it being shown in open court.
Barry Keevins, a journalist at Sussex News and Pictures, said the decision raised serious questions about when it is appropriate for police and the Crown Prosecution Service to choose not to release footage to the media.
“Open justice must mean exactly that and the principle of aiding public understanding should be applied consistently,” said Keevins, 49, who criticised the decision to withhold the footage from the press.
“While I sympathise with the officer, this video was available to be seen by anybody who attended court. Even though numbers are restricted at the moment, due to Covid regulations, the principle is the same.
“This video shows the kind of thing police have to deal with every day and should be seen by the wider public.
“If [it’s] suitable to be shown in court many times to as many people as could be there as evidence in a trial, why should the police have the authority to withhold it from the press and wider public?”
PC Dan Rollings was attacked with a knife by solicitor Jack Chao, 37, on 17 December 2020. Chao, of West Green Drive, Crawley, was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity at Lewes Crown Court last month.
The CPS told Press Gazette the decision not to release the footage was made to protect the victim from further distress. “We are committed to the principle of open justice and assist journalists with evidence requests daily.
“However, we also have to consider the well-being of victims. This case involved a terrifying knife attack which could have been fatal had the assailant not been restrained.
“Following consultation with Sussex Police, it was decided that releasing the requested footage to the media would cause significant further distress to the victim.
“We are committed to open justice and usually provide material shown in court, refusing only in the rarest of circumstances,” police said. “However, the body-worn video shown in court in this case is of extremely distressing content.
“We consulted with our Command Team and the Crown Prosecution Service in making the decision, which was not to issue it in the interests of the wellbeing of the officers involved and their family and colleagues – with a clear view this [would] cause further trauma…”
But Keevins, who has been a journalist for some 25 years, said: “If video had been used in court, I don’t think the police should then be making the decision about whether they should release it or not. It’s an editorial decision about whether or not it gets used.
“If a judge thinks it’s OK for a jury to see over and over again, then it’s fit for the public to see.”
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