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 side.

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."

Last modified: 12 December 2001 - © 2001 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editor of the time
Send comments to the editor: editor@londonfreelance.org