Just Stop Oil — Press arrests unlawful?

Following UK Column News coverage on 9 November 2022 of Hertfordshire Police's unprecedented arrest and night-time house search of journalists (photographer Rich Felgate and documentary-maker Tom Bowles) who were clearly not part of the Just Stop Oil motorway blockade that they were reporting on from a flyover across the M25 near Hemel Hempstead, UK Column's policing correspondent Charles Malet gives this audio commentary on what went wrong.

As with recent cases from other British constabularies that he has covered, Charles concludes that politicised police priorities are the culprit, together with appallingly bad basic law training of junior police. Charles considers how the house search pursuant to the arrest is likely to have been justified internally at Hertfordshire Police.

The legislation discussed in this audio commentary is the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Sections 1, 4 and 18, although there is a question over how well understood each section was by the attending constables and their superiors at the police station) and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (see §78).

We include below congruent comments by a UK Column viewer on the Felgate and Bowles case.

Seriously? A photographer covering a newsworthy event has his house searched at night by three police officers (what were they looking for?) and yet the protestors are allowed to block the motorway for four hours? What would Hertfordshire Police have done if the photographer had blocked the motorway for just ten minutes?

(One of the constables attending quotes Section 1 of PACE, which specifically does not allow a search of someone’s home [Section 1(1)(b)]—although, from the brief video clip, we are left unaware of which section was used as justification for that home search).

In addition, the photographer and the cameraman were on a footbridge—which is a public highway—and were not obstructing anything or anybody (I see nobody else in the cameraman’s phone footage). Did Just Stop Oil object to being filmed in a public place (where they have no right to ‘privacy’ ordinarily, and certainly not when committing a criminal act of obstructing the highway)?

On what authority were Hertfordshire Police acting? I heard one of the officers say, “You are being detained under Section 1 of PACE ... (garbled by sloppy diction ...) Section 4 ...”.

The UK Govt website states here, under “Background”:

Section 1 of PACE provides the police with a power to stop and search a person or vehicle where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that they will find prohibited items, including offensive weapons such as knives, stolen articles, equipment related to the commission of certain offences and fireworks.

This link seems to be aimed at trainee police to familiarise them with the intention behind section 1 of PACE; clearly, it isn’t doing as intended!

I can’t for the life of me see that Hertfordshire Police had any reason to suspect two members of the press of possessing either stolen goods or offensive weapons, or indeed fireworks, while they were photographing actual protestors disrupting the lawful passage of drivers on the motorway—unless, of course, it has been decreed [UK Column note: see also segment commencing at 58:40 on 1 September 2021that Just Stop Oil must not themselves be obstructed in the commission of their work?

Section 1 of PACE 1984 states clearly that:

(3) This section does not give a constable power to search a person or vehicle or anything in or on a vehicle unless he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles [MY BOLD TYPE], any article to which subsection (8A) below applies [MY NOTE: this relates to Burglary], any substance to which subsection (8AA) below applies [MY NOTE: this relates to the Offensive Weapons Act] or any firework to which subsection (8B) below applies. [MY NOTE: this relates to any firework which a person possesses in contravention of a prohibition imposed by fireworks regulations].

Section 4 of PACE (in the garbled quote from the arresting constable) seems to relate to road checks of vehicles. If the constable meant to say subsection 4 (of section 1) then that relates to a garden or yard to a property and the constable suspects that the detainee does not live there.... i.e. is a burglar?! I see no houses on the motorway bridge !

I cannot see how Section 1 (3) gives the Police any power to detain these journalists. Perhaps this action is meant to prevent either a) reporting of what Just-Stop-Oil are doing or b) reporting of Hertfordshire Police's incompetence at being unable to stop the Just Stop Oil protests? “Peter” from West Dorset sums it up nicely in the Daily Mail comments: "What's the offence? Recording police incompetence?"