Police told a trainee journalist to delete pictures of primary school children being evacuated from their school off his phone in a bid to stop the images going to press.
Kent Messenger reporter Joshua Coupe was obstructed from reporting in full on a bomb scare at Barming Primary School, in Maidstone, Kent, on Monday.
At one stage the 18-year-old said police asked to see all the pictures he had ever taken on his phone and even implied he might have taken images of the children “for personal use”.
The incident came two days before the College of Policing published a draft of updated media guidelines for police, currently under consultation.
The guidelines, revealed yesterday, state: “There are no powers prohibiting reporting or filming from the scene of an incident provided it is conducted from a public place.”
Coupe told Press Gazette he handed his press ID and business card to the lead officer upon arriving at the scene and took a couple of photos on his phone’s camera with “no issues” from police.
A former ITV News apprentice, Coupe said that once a bus turned up to take the young pupils away he set up a shot so their backs were to him and began filming a short video. It was then that a member of school staff told him he couldn’t film the children.
“She was the one who was asking me to delete the pictures,” he said. “She then called the police over. The police were actually quite helpful in that respect because it became quite a heated situation with this woman and they were able to diffuse that.
“We then had a ten to 15-minute discussion where I explained I had these pictures and video and I will take it back and see if my editor wants to use it. They then said that they couldn’t let me leave with the photos on my phone.”
Coupe, who has been with the Kent Messenger for 10 months, said parents at the school had been ringing the newsdesk to see if the paper had any information about the incident, which turned out to be the result of a hoax caller.
“It was intimidating,” said Coupe, who said three officers had come over to talk with him. “It got to the point where the police were saying ‘we need you to show us all the photos on your phone’. It’s a personal phone that work part-subsidises so I said I wasn’t prepared to do that.”
After arguing the point, Coupe said he conceded only after police changed their tone. “They said to me, how do I know these won’t be for personal use,” he said. “That’s when I thought that I’m not prepared to deal with this any longer and I said ‘ok, I will remove the images’.
“I deleted the pictures and walked away. Then they asked me to delete them from my recently deleted folder.”
The trainee reporter said he had been writing positive news stories about the police in recent weeks, but that this last encounter had been “a shame”.
“Looking back on it, I wish I did argue it for longer, but when they started throwing accusations around I kind of had to give up.”
A spokesman for Kent Police said the incident had been a “difficult scenario for officers to manage” that involved “securing the safety of a large number of children and adults and moving them from the location”.
He said: “More than one news organisation attended the scene but officers only had cause to address the actions of one reporter.
“After school staff raised concerns to the reporter about him photographing children, an officer acted as a mediator and asked the reporter if he would consider deleting some of the photos. The reporter indicated he was happy to do this.
“We routinely give advice to officers on how to facilitate reporters at scenes of incidents, and our media policy states that reporters are within their rights to record activity at scenes.”
Coupe has since posted a reply to the police statement on Twitter, saying: “I’d argue a 15-minute argument doesn’t indicate I ‘was happy to do this.”
Kent Messenger won Weekly Newspaper of the Year (above 20,000) at this year’s Regional Press Awards