I run a news website in SE London and have done since September 2009. My MP
has said it is the best source of local political news in her constituency (Erith &
Thamesmead). However the police have told me that any news that might cause
anyone to feel uncomfortable will be regarded as criminal harassment if the subject complains.
This attitude has the potential to bring every news outlet to a standstill. Think of Damian Green in the recent past and Kier Starmer/John Worboys today.
On 14th November 2017 a Bexley Councillor Maxine Fothergill was in the High Court in the Strand where she had admitted lying in a widely distributed letter and agreed to pay a total £70,000 to the two litigants. Legal costs were estimated to be in the region of £280,000.
I provided brief details the same day.
On the 16th November I received the News Press Pack from one of the litigants and was able to provide more detail and documentary evidence on that day and the following two days by which time I felt the story was exhausted.
On 30th November Cllr. Fothergill’s letter of apology began to reach interested parties and that fact was also noted.
No more happened until 8th December when I received a letter from Cllr. Fothergill’s solicitor. It asked only that I did not link to the local UKIP website which had carried the same story but went further and suggested the libel case implied corruption.
I had made no judgment at all, no opinion on the morality etc. of the Councillor whatsoever.
The solicitor presumably recognised the restrained nature of my news reporting.
On 18th December I was commanded by Kent Police to attend Swanley Police station or be arrested. I was interviewed under caution for doing what you do every day. Publishing simple news but in my case without any significant comment.
The latest information is that they are considering charging me. (On 5th January 2018 they called to say they had done so). They appear to be conflating Harassment with Hate Crime. If the subject perceives Harassment then it is Harassment.
If this is allowed to go forward every news outlet might be subject to the same rules.
This is not the first time I have been attacked by Bexley Councillors. I was threatened in writing by the Met. Police that I would be arrested if I ever “criticised Councillors”. The IPCC made them withdraw that threat.
More recently I was accused of Harassment of a minor who was the daughter of a Councillor who had himself been spoken to by the police because of noisy house parties. I had used a photograph (attached) to illustrate a story on a related subject.
The photo had been taken from the Councillor’s own Facebook page and the decision to blur it was entirely mine. I did not say who was in the photo or mention the relationship with the Councillor or in fact give any clue as to why the photo was included in the story.
I was accused of “revealing all the personal details of a minor” even though no one outside her own family circle would have any idea who it was.
It took seven months for the police’s legal advisers to conclude that no offence had been committed.
The police (Kent in this case) are out of control and politicised. I could tell you of cases where Councillors have committed criminal offences against me. In one case the CPS lost the evidence and the other is still rumbling on nearly seven years later.
Making simple news reporting a criminal offence is a step too far which should be tackled at every level.