A Nottingham photographer who helped draft the guidelines used by the police for dealing the press has been found guilty of obstructing a police officer while photographing an armed incident.16 August 2007 Alan Lodge, 54, was sentenced at Nottingham Magistrates Court to a nine month conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £400 in court costs. It is not yet clear whether he will appeal the verdict.
His case, which was backed by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), spanned 12 court appearances over an 18 month period.
At an earlier pre-trial hearing, Paul Dhami, representing the defendant, told the court: “Alan Lodge was photographing a police armed response unit on Alfred Street, Nottingham, on Saturday 18th March. He was arrested firstly for assault, then de-arrested. He was then arrested and de-arrested for breach of the peace, before finally being arrested and later charged with obstruction.”
Lodge had stopped to photograph an incident in the Mansfield Road area of central Nottingham on March 18th 2006, which involved a number of armed police officers and a police helicopter.
Shortly after Lodge began photographing the incident from the street, he was asked to stop by a police officer. Lodge refused to do so, citing the police-press guidelines which had been agreed a month earlier.
Defence solicitor Paul Dhami told the court: “It would appear that the officer in question was either not aware of these guidelines or chose to ignore him.”
“The officers took exception to his presence, and one took it upon himself to physically impede Alan and then arrested him”.
More than a little frightened”
Last year Lodge told EPUK: “The constable..was shoving me in the chest and pushing me about and advancing on me.”
“The man with the gun turned me round – assaulted me, essentially…and then I have a sub-machine gun in my back, so I’m more than a little frightened at that point.”
Lodge was then informed that he was being arrested for assaulting a police officer, and his camera was taken off him. However, he was then immediately released because of the ongoing police operation, but his camera was not returned.
“I persisted that I would like my camera back, they ignored me, I persisted again, then they arrested me once more for breach of the peace. I was taken down to the police station are charged with obstruction of a police officer”
The prosecutor told the court “By standing so closely in front of the armed response officer, Mr Lodge was obstructing his line of view needed to carry out his duty”
“Astonished” by the outcome
NUJ Nottingham branch secretary Kevin Stanley told Press Gazette: “We believe that this case raises important questions about the relationship between journalists and the police.”
“We particularly call on Nottinghamshire Police to ensure that guidelines issued to police staff and journalists more than eighteen months ago; are properly followed by officers. The guidelines, endorsed by the Chief Constable, state that journalists should not be moved on or arrested simply for doing their job.”
“Despite the best efforts of the corporate communications department of Nottinghamshire Police, we feel that not enough rank-and-file officers fully understand the need for these guidelines or why they are so important. We therefore call upon the chief constable to reiterate the letter and the spirit of the guidelines to all officers.”
John Toner, the NUJ’s freelance organiser attended the whole trial and said he was “astonished” at the outcome. “In my opinion, our barrister Ben Mills was excellent and I remain convinced that the weight of evidence supported the defence. Alan was dignified and truthful throughout.”
“I would, though, urge photographers not to panic over this judgement. It was an unusual case, and the elements of one case cannot easily compare with the elements of another. The outcome should not deter photographers from going about their business as normal.”
“I remain convinced that the weight of evidence supported the defence”.
John Toner, NUJ
EP-UK 16 August 2007