The Mail on Sunday has accused a police force of subjecting its reporter to "humiliation and intimidation" after he was questioned under suspicion of criminal voyeurism.
The questioning came after the award-winning reporter planted cameras in a private home "with the full co-operation of the residents" in order to catch him taking drugs shortly before going on duty.
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The newspaper carried out its investigation after being approached by a concerned acquaintance of the doctor and said that it had taken legal advice before deploying the hidden cameras.
After exposing the doctor in January this year, the newspaper made its material available to West Yorkshire Police and the reporter, who the MoS has not named, offered to help with the force's investigation.
But he was last week called in to be interviewed himself under caution at a police station on suspicion of voyeurism and supplying drugs. According to the newspaper, he was also asked whether he made the film for “his own sexual gratification”. The allegations are denied.
The MoS reported the incident yesterday, condemning it in an editorial as “a disturbing new threat to our freedom” and accused the police of inflicting “humiliation and intimidation” on its reporter.
The newspaper said: “Both press and police serve the same public and share the same ultimate interest in seeing justice done and keeping our society open, safe and clean. They may reach the same aim by different methods but they are, and ought to be, allies.
“That, at least, was the theory until recently. Both co-operated in the interests of all. But in the strange atmosphere which followed the Leveson Inquiry, a disturbing change has taken place.
“Police forces have in many cases begun treating all contacts with journalists as suspect and potentially corrupt.
“They have even sought to use their investigatory powers to probe the private telephone records of journalists.
“They have accused reporters of harassment when they have simply been pursuing legitimate inquiries with reasonable persistence.
“Now, in a new and astonishing development, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police have subjected a Mail on Sunday reporter to an absurd interrogation. Following his exposure of illegal drug-taking by an eminent surgeon, he was asked insulting and ludicrous questions in which it was suggested that he might have been engaged in the supply of illegal drugs or in voyeurism.
“This humiliation and intimidation of an individual by the use of state authority is an abuse of power. Nobody involved can have had the slightest real belief that these suspicions were justified or that charges could ever have been brought.”
The Mail on Sunday said that its reporter faced 107 questions and that its lawyers have written to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, and Mark Gilmore, West Yorkshire Police chief constable, to express “grave concerns” over the handling of the case.
The lawyers have told the DPP: “It is intimidating to journalists and can only have a chilling impact on how they conduct their investigations, to the detriment of the public interest.”
The MoS said the doctor's acquaintance approached the reporter and "said they had met 20 times in a few months and consumed mind-altering substances each time”.
After the story broke in January, the doctor was suspended and West Yorkshire Police launched an investigation.
The paper said: “When detectives contacted the MoS, this newspaper offered to co-operate fully in their investigation, while protecting our sources.” The doctor was later arrested.
The Mail on Sunday said its reporter was informed he would face questioning at the beginning of this month. According to the report, police said the Crown Prosecution Service had suggested it, but the CPS denied this to The Mail on Sunday.
The reporter was not arrested, so was able to leave the interview at any time, but he was placed under caution and was told that anything he said could be used as evidence against him.
He was interviewed for 90 minutes last Wednesday, the MoS said, and was asked: “The camera was installed in the bedroom… was that done in any way for the purpose of your own sexual gratification?”
The MoS report said: “Cameras were placed in the kitchen and the bedroom because they were the two areas of the house where [the doctor] was going to spend his time, and focused solely on where drugs would be consumed. No sexual acts could be seen on the subsequent footage.”
He was also asked whether he had supplied the drugs which the doctor was allegedly filmed taking.
On the advice of his lawyer, the MoS said he had replied "no comment" to all questions.
The action of the police force was condemned by Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie today. He demanded an apology from chief constable Mark Gilmore.
A CPS spokesperson said: “In this case, the police identified a potential suspect and in those circumstances it is not unusual for them to want to interview that suspect.”