IPCC says Met was right to issue reporter who asked questions of fraudster with harassment warning

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has ruled that officers were right to issue a reporter asked questions of a con-artist with a harassment warning.

Three Met police officers visited Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies on 31 March last year and warned 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 Inspector Clair 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.

Now IPCC caseworker Paul Berry has 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 Press Gazette: “It was very disappointing but I’m not surprised. I’m working with a member of the public who has a very similar case and has also had her appeal rejected.

"It can’t be right that police can issue a formal warning against someone that appears on an enhanced police records check without carrying out basic investigations.

“These PINs can be used to hamper or block basic responsible journalism.

“I’ve been contacted by a number of members of the public who have been subject to these things. They’ve raised concerns about the premise they have been based on and refuted the allegations made against them but have had no recourse to do anything about it.”

Davies used a subject access request under the Data Protection Act to find that the officers acted on Desai’s allegations after she made repeated calls to them.

The Croydon Advertiser reports today on an email from PC Coman to Sergeant Ehikioya on March 30 that said: "Please forgive the inconvenience of this request but this crime report has been brought to the attention of the GPC [Grip and Pace] supervisor following numerous phone calls by the victim in this case.

"I have discussed this with PS Parker and PS MacPherson who have asked me to email you and politely request you progress this by issuing the suspect with a harassment warning today."

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