'She shouldn't be arrested for doing her job': Minister blasts cops who nicked LBC reporter covering Just Stop Oil
9 November 2022, 7:26 | Updated: 9 November 2022, 12:23
A minister has hit out at police for arresting LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch as she covered Just Stop Oil protests yesterday.
Charlotte was arrested on the side of the M25 on Tuesday and held for five hours, despite the fact she had her press identification with her.
Hertfordshire Police defended their actions, saying officers faced "very challenging circumstances" and they had "reasonable grounds at the time to make an arrest in order to ascertain the circumstances surrounding [the journalist's] presence at the location".
However they later said ordered an independent investigation of their approach, saying they recognised "the concerns over the recent arrests of journalists" and added that "additional measures are now in place to ensure that legitimate media are able to do their job".
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "Journalists shouldn't get arrested for doing their job."
She added: "We are defenders of free speech."
Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour peer, activist and shadow Attorney General, said there are "balances to be struck" between the right to protest and public order, but "everybody has a right to fair reporting".
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"All listeners will understand that the police do a difficult job and there are balances to be struck on a daily basis between the right to protest on one hand and road safety, public order on the other, but this is a different question because everybody has a right to fair reporting," she said.
"And if the police are now going to start arresting journalists for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance - in other words for knowing that a demonstration is about to take place - then they are effectively shutting down the free press, the free media, in this country.
"And that means the public don't get the opportunity to judge for themselves whether the police have policed a particular demonstration well or badly, or indeed whether the protesters behaved well or badly.
"So this is very, very serious."
Just Stop Oil have staged protests on the M25 for the last two days.
Protesters climbed gantries in multiple locations, bringing England's busiest motorway to a standstill.
Activists scaled gantries again on Wednesday - and a police officer was injured setting up a roadblock.
Charlotte, who has been a reporter for five years, was at junction 21 of the M25 in Hertfordshire yesterday with her press pass, an official form of identification carried by all reporters.
"I'd been there for around 45 minutes before two male officers approached me and questioned what I was doing as I was taking pictures and videos of the protester," she said, recounting her story to Nick on Wednesday morning.
"I was on a road bridge over the motorway... well clear of the demonstration.
"I was not down on the motorway, I wasn't with the protester.
"I immediately showed these officers my press card and explained I worked for LBC... and I explained I was there reporting on the protest."
Charlotte said the officers asked how she got there - by car - and how she knew to be there.
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She said Just Stop Oil had posted on their social media about the protests, but two minutes later "handcuffs were banged onto my hands" and her phone was "immediately snatched away".
Charlotte was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance, searched and taken in a custody van to Stevenage police station.
"My rights were read to me so at that point I kept my mouth shut," she said.
She said she knew she had not committed an offence but it was still a frightening experience.
Upon arrival at the police station she was searched again, samples of her DNA, her fingerprints and a mugshot were taken, and she was escorted down a cell.
"That's really when it hits," she said.
She was released with no further action after five hours, at around 3pm.
Charlotte said the only line of questioning was how she knew to be there, with the suggestion she should have reported the demonstration to the police if she'd known it was going to take place.
"We do have a free and fair press in this country," she told Nick.
"It's not the job of journalists to do the police's job for them."
A Hertfordshire Police spokesperson said: "The M25 protesters are causing significant disruption and potential harm to hundreds of thousands of people and taking police resources away from keeping the people of Hertfordshire safe.
"Motorways are very dangerous places and our priority is to ensure public safety as well as the safety of officers and protestors.
"The awful incident in Essex today where an officer has been injured underlines this.
"Our officers are facing very challenging circumstances and have been instructed to act as quickly as they can, using their professional judgement, to clear any possible protestors in order to get roads up and running and to prevent anyone from coming to harm.
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"However, Chief Constable Charlie Hall recognises the concerns over the recent arrests of journalists who arrived at these locations and have been present with the protestors at the scenes.
"Additional measures are now in place to ensure that legitimate media are able to do their job.In addition, Mr Hall is today requesting an independent force to examine our approach to these arrests and to identify any learning we should take in managing these challenging situations."