Freelance to sue Met for May Day detention

"Festive atmosphere"

 The NUJ is preparing a case for London-based freelance photojournalist Julio Etchart against the Metropolitan Police for his unlawful detention at Oxford Circus for around five hours during the May Day anti-capitalist demonstration.

NUJ freelance organiser John Toner has been advised Etchart has a good case and has asked other freelances who suffered similarly on the day to get in touch. "We would like to take all the cases together," he said.

Etchart, on assignment to photograph the demo, missed his deadline to file to New York by two hours because of his detention. He is on a retainer for The Image Works, which distributes his work in the US, and as a consequence of his detention, lost a premium on his retainer of between $500 (£345)  and $800 (£550). The pictures should have been distributed coast to coast across the US.

He was penned in with other photographers and reporters for four to five hours, despite pleas to officers in the police cordon to let him through.

He told Press Gazette: "I was with lots of colleagues, arriving around 2.30pm at Oxford Circus. It was a peaceful demo at that point with jugglers and a festive atmosphere.

"By 3.30pm I felt I had enough pictures and wanted to leave, because I had a deadline of 6pm to meet. I wanted to go back and scan the pictures and send them to New York.

"I went to the police cordon and asked them to let me out but they wouldn’t. I was penned in with others against our will. In the end I found an officer who was willing to escort me back to my bicycle but by then I had missed my deadline. I did not get back until 8pm."

Etchart claimed he had tried to reason with police officers and had asked to speak to a senior officer – a request which was also turned down.

"I think it was irrational behaviour on the part of the police. It was totally unnecessary," he said. "I was very frustrated. It was not just the money itself but the attitude of the police.

"I found it hard to believe you couldn’t reason with a highly professional police force, which is supposed to be the best in the world."

Uruguayan-born Etchart, 51, who has dual nationality, has had a 20-year career covering social, industrial, political, cultural and environmental issues worldwide. His work has been published in most of the British broadsheets and magazines and newspapers in the UK, US, Germany, France, Spain and Belgium.

He was a co-founder of Reportage, a London photojournalistic agency and picture library, and was awarded a World Press Photo Foundation first prize in the environment category in 1993.

By Jean Morgan

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