Police own up to snappers’ wrongful arrest
THAMES VALLEY police have admitted liability
for wrongfully arresting members Roddy Mansfield and Nick Cobbing
while they were reporting protests in Oxford against the Hillgrove
cat farm on 12 December 1999. They, and an Italian fashion photographer,
each received £6000 (€10,000) compensation.
The Force owned up to illegal use of handcuffs and false imprisonment.
"This is a very unusual, fantastic result," Roddy Mansfield
said, "after three years' hard work to bring them to justice."
Earlier, the Force had denied all charges and rebutted all allegations
made that the arrest was unlawful. They had stated that the claim
for damages was spurious and wholly without foundation.
But they forgot one small problem: the power of the camera. The
"discovery" stage of the court proceedings took place in
early November: that's where both sides present all their evidence to
each other. Thanks to Andrew Testa's photographs, and evidence
from Roddy's video camera and others - including their own - the Force
realised their case was deep in doo-doo.
A few years ago they offered £1250 without admitting liability.
Roddy says "that would have been the easy option. It's
vital that officers acting unlawfully are held accountable for their
actions. This result is particularly important for me. I've been
arrested a total of ten times whilst trying to carry out my job as
a working journalist, and had cameras smashed and tapes stolen."
The police have refused to admit "bad faith" - that
they knew who the reporters were before they were arrested or that
it happened simply because independent reporters are a thorn in their
Nick Cobbing's case was particulaly ironic, since he was arrested
for leaving the protest, under a law designed for corralling
football hooligans. The case "took a chunk out of three years
of my life to get this result," he says, "time spent wading
through video footage and in meetings with lawyers and meetings about
lawyers, persuading the Union to support me in using the right lawyers
for the case.
"If I'd spent that time taking pictures I could have earned
twice as much. So the result isn't about money, it's about
challenging bad policing, about being seen to do so, and about defending
the right to report.
"How could the Thames Valley force have given its officers any
useful training in how to deal with journalists," Nick Cobbing
asks, "and still have them ignore me when I repeatedly told
them on the street I was working for Der Stern, then take
my press card off me and put it in a sealed evidence bag without reading
it and without telephoning the number to verify it?" He "hopes
that this will make Thames Valley police, at least, change they way they deal
with journalists. But it may well take more."