A chief constable has told a journalist wrongly arrested while covering Just Stop Oil protests he is “truly sorry” for his officers’ actions.
Charlie Hall, who leads Hertfordshire Police, wrote to LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch admitting “on this occasion we clearly got things wrong”.
The force was heavily criticised after Ms Lynch described being handcuffed and left in a cell on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance – despite showing officers officially recognised media accreditation.
She had been reporting on the activists from a road bridge over junction 21 of the M25, in Hertfordshire, for around 45 minutes on November 8 when she was approached and questioned by two officers.
Yesterday I was arrested by @HertsPolice whilst covering a protest on the M25.
I showed my press card, and I was handcuffed almost immediately. My phone was snatched out of my hand. I was searched twice, held in a cell for 5 hours, and I wasn’t questioned whilst in custody.
— Charlotte Lynch (@charlotterlynch) November 9, 2022
Documentary-maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were arrested the day before for trying to capture footage of the activists.
A fourth journalist who has not been publicly named was also arrested on November 7 on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. No further details were available.
Mr Bowles and Mr Felgate said they had also received apologies from the force.
Amid outrage, and senior officers as well as the Prime Minister emphasising the importance of press freedom, Chief Superintendent Jon Hutchinson, from Cambridgeshire Police, was called in to review the force’s actions.
Mr Hall’s letter said: “He ultimately concludes that your arrest was not justified and that changes in training and command need to be made.
“The review, however, found no evidence to indicate that officers engaged maliciously or deliberately behaved in a manner which fell below that expected of police officers.
“I fully accept, however, that we made mistakes we should not have made.”
He added: “Whilst policing public order incidents is fraught with difficulty and there was no malicious intent from my officers, on this occasion we clearly got things wrong.
“I recognise the significant impact that an arrest can have, and on behalf of my organisation I am truly sorry.
“I hope the actions we have taken indicate how seriously we have taken this matter and our clear intent to prevent this from happening again in the future.”
The review found the officers were directed to make an arrest and did not establish sufficient grounds for doing so.
It said: “The interaction of officers suggest that arrest was the likely outcome regardless of the information obtained.”
— Tom Bowles (@tomsdinner) November 23, 2022
The review said the officers lacked understanding of the role of journalists.
“The JSO (Just Stop Oil) activity spanned at least four other police forces, none of whom arrested members of the press,” it found.
The force has carried out a review to make sure all public order officers have undergone awareness training about the work of the media, and an assessment of the number and experience of its public order commanders.
It is also bringing in measures to make sure commanders have access to public order advisers and mentors when carrying out operations.