A Scottish press agency reporter has been cleared of impersonating a court official to secure an interview with an assault victim.
Lauren Crooks, 25, was charged by Lothian and Borders Police – despite handing over a business card during the interview which stated her name and position with Deadline Press & Picture Agency.
On Friday she was cleared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court following eight separate court appearances in the course of a year.
Crooks, who was a court reporter with the agency at the time and is now its news editor, said: ‘This is an important ruling for the media as a whole. Had I been convicted it would have been an extremely dangerous precedent.
‘I couldn’t have been any clearer in introducing myself as a reporter. During the interview I also requested photographs to be set up for a national Sunday newspaper and I handed over my own business card.
‘Yet, when the man I was interviewing and his family claimed they didn’t fully understand who I was, I found myself arrested, charged and summoned to appear in the court where I worked every day.”
Crooks’ troubles began while following up an assault case she had covered at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in August 2007. She called at the home of assault victim Jason Hildersley to request an interview on behalf of a national Sunday newspaper.
However, he was not in at the time and Crooks spoke to his father – explaining she was a reporter based at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and was
following up the proceedings. She agreed she would return later.
When she did return she was shown into the house, and interviewed Hildersley in the presence of his brother. They later contacted police claiming they had only agreed to the interview because Crooks introduced herself as a court official.
Shortly after returning to the office, Crooks was contacted by detectives who ordered her to attend Edinburgh’s Gayfield Square police station – where she was held for several hours, arrested, questioned and formally charged.
Her first of eight court appearances was on 30 August, 2007. Her case came to trial on Friday (8 August), when Sheriff Derrick McIntyre ruled there was no case to answer.
Scott Douglas, founder of the Edinburgh based media agency, said: ‘Lauren is a first-class reporter, both honest and committed. Frankly, it was outrageous she should have found herself in this situation at all.
‘She has been through a year of hell, worrying about the possible impact the court proceedings could have on both her personal and work life, all for doing her job in a totally honest and transparent way.”