Photographer criticises police after ‘unlawful’ Covid-19 fine rescinded

Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent
·2-min read

A photographer who was slapped with an “unlawful” Covid-19 fine after reporting on a protest outside Napier Barracks says he is “deeply concerned” about the freedom of the press.

Freelancer Andy Aitchison was arrested by police on suspicion of criminal damage after simply attending the outside of the barracks to report on the demonstrations.

During the protest, demonstrators threw fake blood at the barbed-wire topped gates of the controversial site in Folkestone, Kent.

Following his arrest he was detained for a number of hours, interviewed and released on conditional bail not to go to Napier Barracks, his lawyers said.

Police later refused charges on February 5 but days later he was handed a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN), which Kent Police has now said was issued erroneously, his lawyers said on Thursday.

Bindmans LLP said the FPN was “unlawful” and criticised what it called a “flagrant disregard of all journalists’ ability to report on events”.

It comes as the Home Office faces criticism for its continued use of the site, including a suggestion that it rejected Public Health England’s advice that the dormitories were not suitable to house asylum seekers.

Mr Aitchison, 46, said he was “really relieved” that the fine had been dropped, saying it had felt “unbelievable” that it was issued in the first place.

He added: “This was an unnecessary stress and concern for myself and my family and cause for concern for all journalists.

“I am grateful to Bindmans and NUJ for their support in getting this resolved quickly.

“I am still deeply concerned about the freedom of press during these unprecedented times and wonder how many other journalists have been incorrectly issued with these fines, especially as there was no clear mechanism to appeal the fine.”

General secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Michelle Stanistreet, said: “We are still waiting for an apology for Andy from Kent Police and the force still has questions to answer.

“It needs to explain why Andy, who was acting completely within his rights and just doing his job, was wrongly arrested and wrongly had his journalistic material taken.”

A Kent Police spokesperson said: “On 28 January 2021 Kent Police officers arrested a 46-year-old man following reports of criminal damage in the area of Napier Barracks and following an investigation he was released without charge.

“A Fixed Penalty Notice was initially issued which has been reviewed and rescinded.”