NUJ in plea for 'common sense' over arrest of undercover journalist

The National Union of Journalists has urged the authorities in Scotland not to prosecute a BBC journalist who was arrested in connection with an undercover investigation.

Arifa Farooq was working on a Panorama Special called Britain’s Homecare Scandal in which she worked as a carer for Domiciliary Care, which had won the contract to provide at-home care in South Lanarkshire by charging just £9.95 an hour.

Farooq was arrested after voluntarily attending an interview at a police station in Glasgow and spent one hour in a police cell. It is understood that police received a complaint about her securing her undercover job using a false identity.

The Panorama programme, broadcast in April, found that carers were paid the minimum wage and often had little training.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “We are strongly urging the authorities to use their common sense and rule out prosecution. The work undertaken by Arifa Farooq was clearly in the public interest and it is now in the public interest for the case to be dropped.

“The only people who would benefit from legal action in these circumstances are those who want to stop the kind of vital journalism that has been undertaken by Arifa.

“The BBC has a proud history of supporting investigative reporters and I am sure they will be standing firmly behind their journalist. The NUJ also pledges its support to a member who will be going through an appalling experience simply because she dared to expose wrongdoing.”

BBC Scotland head of news and current affairs Atholl Duncan said: “This was an extremely important piece of journalism which highlighted widespread mistreatment of elderly people.

“We are very concerned about the action taken against Arifa and its consequences for the freedom of investigative journalism.”

Journalists working in England have previously been arrested for “obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception” after working in jobs as part of undercover investigations. But the charges in most cases have been thrown out if judges believe they were acting in the public interest.

This was the case in 2003 when Evening Standard reporter Wayne Veysey obtained a job working at Heathrow Airport to test security there.

In 2004 a judge threw out the charges against News of the World reporter David McGee after he went undercover as a prison guard and took photographs of Soham murderer Ian Huntley in his cell at Woodhill Prison.

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