Priti Patel has refused to criticise the arrest of a journalist for photographing a peaceful protest outside a controversial asylum centre, despite the case being dropped.
In the Commons, the Home Secretary was urged to review police guidance after the detention of Andy Aitchison and agree he “should have a clean record as he has committed no offence”.
But, instead, Ms Patel appeared to back the arrest – before claiming she could comment no further for legal reasons, even though the journalist will face no further action.
“All decisions on arrests are an operational matter for the police and the police make arrests in line with their duties to keep the peace and to protect community,” she told MPs.
The arrest of Mr Aitchison sparked fears about press freedom after he shared photos of the demonstration outside Napier military barracks, in Kent, which now houses asylum seekers.
Signs were held saying ‘Close Napier now’ and ‘Priti Patel There will be blood on your hands’ after at least 120 men at the barracks tested positive for Covid-19.
Six hours later, five police officers arrived at Mr Aitchison’s nearby home and arrested him on suspicion of criminal damage in front of his children.
A media freedom alert was filed with the Council of Europe and submissions have been made to the UN special rapporteur on human rights over Mr Aitchison’s treatment.
During Home Office questions, the Conservative Damian Collins, the freelancer’s MP, raised his case, highlighting how he was “held for questioning for seven hours”.
“The police confiscated his mobile phone and photo camera car,” he told Ms Patel, “and last Friday the charges were dropped and case closed.”
He asked her to “agree there should be a review of the guidance given to the police. before action like this is taken against accredited journalists” – and that he had “committed no offence”
In reply, the Home Secretary argued it was a matter for Kent police, before claiming: “I’m afraid, at this stage, that’s all I can say because an arrest has been made.”
Ducking the call for new guidance, she told Mr Collins: “I have no doubt that Kent Police will continue to keep all interested parties, including my right honourable friend, updated.”