Publisher Local World is taking the police watchdog to court in a bid to overturn a written harassment warning which was issued to a reporter who put questions to a convicted con woman.
Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies and his publisher Local World are seeking a judicial review of a decision from the Independent Police Complaints Commission which in June rejected a complaint from him.
Three Met Police officers visited Davies at his offices on 31 March last year and issued him with a Police Information Notice warning him that if he contacted Neelam Desai again he could be arrested.
At this stage, Davies had sent her one email and also called at her home on one occasion.
Desai, who at this stage had already admitted frauds totalling £230,000, alleged that the contact was more widespread.
Davies told officers at the time that he was simply doing his job and also disputed Desai’s version of events. They told him they weren’t there to argue the case and made a reference to the phone-hackers at the News of the World.
The Croydon Advertiser appealed against the harassment warning only for it to be upheld by Croydon police inspector Claire Robbins.
She said that Davies’ actions “went beyond what was reasonable”. Davies was investigating claims that Desai – who was later jailed – had conned readers out of tens of thousands.
IPCC caseworker Paul Berry rejected a further complaint saying that police officers are not obliged to investigate before issuing harassment warnings via a Police Information Notice.
He said: “I agree that is was possibly misguided for the officer to refer to the phone-hacking scandal but, in terms of the allegation under investigation, I am of the opinion the evidence shows the harassment warning was issued in order to bring to your attention the fact that your approaches to Ms Desai were considered to have gone beyond a reasonable course of conduct.”
Davies told the Croydon Advertiser: "I acted both within the law and the guidelines I am given as a journalist, but this case is about more than my conduct.
"It questions whether it should be possible to use PINs, or harassment warnings, to block or impede responsible journalism. It also asks whether these warnings are being fairly used when applied to the general public.
"I am very pleased that, in supporting me, Local World has recognised how significant these issues are."
A spokesperson for Local World said: "Currently the police are able to issue harassment warnings, which can appear on a person's record, without investigating whether the allegations are genuine.
"That cannot be right and for the benefit of all journalists across the entire industry as well as Gareth personally we hope the judicial review will confirm this very important point."