Belfast paper protests as police seize raid pictures

News: splash with blank spaces

The Easter edition of the Andersonstown News in Belfast appeared with blank spaces after police seized a digital disc from one of the paper’s photographers after he took pictures of a customs raid on a garage.

Police claimed pictures of the raid, part of an operation against the smuggling of diesel fuel, could endanger custom officers and the tanker drivers who work with them.

But the nationalist Andersonstown News claims that police ignored the pleas of its photographer, Niall Carson, not to take the digital disc from his camera as it contained important pictures for other jobs he had done for the paper.

The News, in a protest at the seizure, left out pictures and told readers they had been confiscated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and were being held in New Barnsley Barracks.

The paper’s splash headline was "Censored", with a blank space where a picture of a health minister addressing a West Belfast conference was meant to have been carried.

A police spokesman said: "Police did seize a camera flashcard under the Terrorism Act 2000 near a petrol station on the Springfield Road in West Belfast. Photos were taken of custom officers, tanker drivers working with them and police officers. The custom officers and tanker drivers feared for their safety if the pictures were published." He added that the police had taken legal advice and had given the News the opportunity to delete the pictures of the raid.

The pictures on the disc not connected with the raid were returned to the paper 24 hours after they were seized but missed the paper’s deadline.

M‡irt’n O Muilleoir, managing editor of the News, told Press Gazette: "Our feeling is that we can’t let the Police Service edit our paper for us or instruct our photographers not to take pictures of PSNI or Customs and Excise operations."

He said the police had wanted to view the pictures in the paper’s newsroom to decide which should be deleted and he regarded that as unacceptable. The News has launched legal proceedings to have the seized pictures returned.

Kevin Cooper, chairman of the NUJ’s Belfast branch, said he had tried unsuccessfully to resolve the problem between the police and the paper. He said the union would make a formal complaint against the police if members wanted it to do so.

Cooper added the standard practice for the press in Northern Ireland was not to use pictures in a way that would put individuals at risk.

O Muilleoir said: "We use our common sense and and don’t go out of the way to put people in danger."

By Jon Slattery

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