Thames Valley Police is up to its old tricks again.
In a letter to Milton Keynes Citizen reporter Sally Murrer, the journalist it attempted to prosecute for the ‘heinous’ crime of talking to a police source, the force has denied any wrongdoing and refused a claim for compensation.
For those who aren’t aware of the case, Ms Murrer had to undergo 19 months of hell during which police arrested her, seized her address book, mobile, laptops and bank statements, kept her isolated from her two daughters and autistic son for 24 hours, left her shivering in a cell, strip-searched her and told her she was going to jail.
Does Ms Murrer have connections to Al-Qaida? Had she been peddling international secrets to the highest bidder?
No, she had merely chatted to a copper on cases involving an MK Dons footballer and a local drug dealer to get stories for her paper.
For the crime of being a good, old-fashioned journalist she ended up facing spurious charges of ‘misconduct in a public office’ and ‘aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office’.
The copper – Mark Kearney – and his son, soldier Harry also faced charges, along with private detective Derek Webb.
Ms Murrer, backed by the National Union of Journalists, pleaded not guilty and the multi-million pound case was thrown out of court after it was revealed the police’s case relied on evidence gathered from a bug placed in the detective’s car.
Of course, the real concern for journalists up and down the country was that had Ms Murrer been found guilty, basic journalistic rights would have been trampled over.
Hence these relieved quotes after the case from her solicitor Louis Charalambous and NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear.
Charalambous: “Sally Murrer should never have been prosecuted. The safeguards enshrined in law for the protection of journalists have been trampled upon by Thames Valley Police – both at the outset and when they chose to bug Sally’s conversations under a warrant that failed to mention that she was a journalist and later when she was arrested and brought to a police station, where, following a strip search and a night in the cells, she faced a gruelling interrogation – while her home and office were searched, and all of her notebooks seized.
“Had the case against Sally gone ahead, it would have signalled a lurch towards a police state, a situation which is abhorrent in the minds of right thinking people.”
“This judgment sends a clear message to the authorities: they must recognise the importance of free and open journalism. Hard questions must now be asked of the police and CPS as to why these costly proceedings were allowed to get so far.”
Dear: “This is a major victory, not just for Sally but for all journalists. This case was yet another example of members of the police force believing they were above the law, able to trample over well-established journalistic rights and freedoms.
“Let’s be clear, this was an attempt to make a criminal out of a journalist for receiving information that the state didn’t want to get out. It was a misguided prosecution that sought to punish Sally for simply doing her job.
But it seems the verdict – and the recent compensation payout to Milton Keynes News photographer for Andy Handley after he was arrested for the equally abhorant crime of taking a picture – has had little effect on the philosophy of Thames Valley Police.
A letter from its solictors Barlow Lyde &; Gilbert, dated February 5 and seen by The Blog, has dismissed Ms Murrer’s claims for compensation and added that TVP did nothing wrong during its investigation.
The force might as well say: ‘We’re perfectly entitled to drag a journalist into our cells and charge them with anything we can think off if they dare to talk to people within the force and write stories on subjects we don’t want to talk about.’
And if that is the case, then there is every chance they will do it again.
Our basic freedoms and journalistic rights remain under threat from a controlling and overbearing state.
It is time for the world of journalism to unite behind Sally Murrer again.
Or else the next person might not be so ‘lucky.
State of Play: It’s not safe out there