Manchester based Cavendish Press has won an apology from the HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) after one of its journalists was ordered by security staff to delete pictures she took of a defendant as she stood on a pavement outside a courthouse.
Managing director Jon Harris made a formal complaint after the young reporter was confronted by two G4s guards outside Bury magistrates court in Greater Manchester when she used her mobile phone to take footage of an 87-year old man facing a gross indecency charge after he left the building.
During the incident the unnamed journalist was warned by the guards she was ‘acting unlawfully ‘ and told she could not take pictures as there was a ‘high profile case going on’ and was ordered to delete the footage. Following the warning she agreed to delete pictures but when she attempted to take further images of the defendant at a nearby car park, the reporter was followed by one of the guards who then stood in her way. Afterwards the guard then escorted her to speak to two police officers who were at court on another case.
The guard spoke to the two officers but no action was taken against the reporter. In his letter of complaint Harris accused the guards of ‘’bullying and intimidation’’ and said they had been ‘’unnecessarily high handed.’’ On receipt The HMCTS conducted an investigation over the incident on Nov 14 during which the two guards were removed from court security duties.
This week in a letter to Harris, an HMCTS regional manager claimed the reporter was ‘’stood within the precincts of the court’’ and should have been ‘’displaying ID.’’ But she apologised on behalf of the two guards in a three page letter and said training would now take place take to help security staff deal with the press.
The HMCTS also promised to make clear any arrangement that ‘’support’’ the press whenever they report on cases outside court. Harris who is also chairman of the National Association of Press Agencies said: ‘’Thankfully we have tended to find these sorts incidents are relatively rare, but hopefully it has served as a salutary lesson for the guards and illustrates that age old point that all journalists have no obligation to delete any material unless under threat of a court order.
’’ It’s a message that should drummed into all journalists at training college and newsrooms – it’s certainly something we now drum into our journalists at Cavendish.‘’ He added: ‘’On the day in question we had assigned a staff photographer to cover the case but unfortunately he was involved in a car accident whilst on his way to the hearing and as no other photographer was available, we had to call on the reporter herself to take some pictures on her mobile phone after covering the case.
‘’Unfortunately due to her relative inexperience and possibly misplaced fear of being arrested she agreed to delete the footage but that is no excuse for the way the guards behaved. Frankly for one of them to the follow the reporter and impede her view as she tried to take further pictures in a public car park simply beggars belief. I am grateful to the HMCTS for taking this matter seriously and as far as I’m concerned the matter’s closed.’’
In the letter to Harris, Clare Beech an HMCTS ‘’Cluster Manager-Crime’’ for Greater Manchester confirmed one of the guards did ask the reporter to delete the pictures and added: ‘’I can confirm that there should be no issues with regard to reporters taking photographs outside the court building, but it is a matter for court security and court management to identify a suitable place where reporters can stand to ensure the court entrance remains clear for the benefit and safety of all court users.
‘’It also assists court security if reporters can readily identify themselves with the required ID or have that displayed to support them going about their legitimate business and in the interests of protecting their safety and security.
‘’Whilst the reporter was within her rights to refuse to delete the photographs she should not have been asked by the G4s guard to do so and the HMCTS apologies that this happened and caused her to feel she was being bullied and intimidated.
''To ensure there is no repeat of such an incident, the following actions have and will be taken……immediate training to take place to ensure security guards operate in accordance with the court manual which details conduct expected when dealing with the press.
‘’The decision taken by G4s and supported by HMCTS to remove the guards from court security duties whilst this incident was fully investigated hopefully assures you that this matter was taken very seriously. I trust my reply assures you that HMCTS has taken the necessary steps to ensure G4s Security exercise their duties appropriately.’’