Stalker law jail threat for photographer

A freelance photographer threatened with jail after receiving a High Court injunction has warned that the "intimidating" tactics could set a worrying precedent.

Adrian Arbib, a photographer for 20 years, was issued with the injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which was intended for use against stalkers.

Arbib has been covering an ongoing protest at Radley Lakes in Oxfordshire for The Guardian and BBC Wildlife magazine.

Local campaigners have been protesting for two years against utility company Npower's plans to bulldoze 30 acres of land, fill in two lakes and dump 500,000 tonnes of waste ash from nearby Didcot power station.

Npower was granted an injunction last week from the High Court which bans protestors from photographing or videoing its employees or contractors, although photographing other protestors or police is allowed.

The power firm argues the injunction is necessary to protect the safety of its staff after threats were made by protestors.

The anti-stalker law carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment on a summary conviction at a magistrates court and up to five years after trial at crown court, although it is a defence to be acting to prevent or detect crime.

Arbib arrived at the site on Thursday last week to take pictures of Npower contractors cutting down trees and was approached 20 minutes after he arrived by two solicitors and four security guards wearing scarves across their faces, who handed him the injunction.

Arbib told Press Gazette: "I was just doing my job. The Guardian and the BBC won't publish the pictures now, so I have lost income because of this.

"Their actions were intimidating. They are using this as a perversion of the law to stop anyone taking photographs. This looks like a taste of things to come — companies one day will decide which photographers can come on site and which ones can't."

Oxford Times editor Derek Holmes said it was "amazing" that the High Court had passed the injunction, but said it had not stopped the Times covering the story.

He said: "There are concerns here about civil liberties and press freedom. It's not stopped us reporting what's going on down there, but my main concern is that some of my readers have been served with an injunction.

Every protest group should be worried about this, as should every newspaper."

Caroline Kean, media expert at law firm Wiggin, said more companies are using legislation such as the Harassment Act to stop bad press, but that reporters who disagree with orders like this should challenge them.

She said: "The law was introduced to stop people stalking people but it is not limited to that — it can be used by anyone. People have a right to go back to the court and challenge orders. If they have a legitimate story, they should."

A spokeswoman for Npower said: "The injunction was not meant to stop the media going about their business. It is meant to protect our staff from harassment, and we are working with the local media to try and find a way forward."

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