A local newspaper journalist who was subject to intrusive police surveillance for doing her job has urged people to sign a Press Gazette petition seeking changes to the Investigatory Powers Bill.
Milton Keynes Citizen reporter Sally Murrer was bugged by Thames Valley Police under police spying powers contained in the legislation which the IPB replaces. They also arrested her, viewed her bank records and text messages and filmed her at her home.
She is now backing a Press Gazette campaign to persuade the Government to adopt an amendment to the IPB lodged with the support of the National Union of Journalists and the News Media Association which would provide extra protections for journalistic material from state surveillance.
Recounting the ordeal she went through in the latest Press Gazette podcast, she said: “I was just pottering around doing typical local stories and in May 2007 eight police officers swooped at my home while eight swooped simultaneously at the office.
“They seized all my computer equipment, searched my house, phones, laptops.
“They took me into custody where I stayed for a couple of days, strip searched me. I honestly had no idea. They said the charge was aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office and it carried life imprisonment.
“It was only later when they interviewed me, which they did copious times, and played me tapes and showed me transcripts of texts that I realised I had been under surveillance for the previous eight weeks. It was just a ghastly feeling.
“You interview people all the time as a local newspaper journalist, rape victims burglary victims, and they use the term violated. I totally understand the meaning of that word now.”
Police had photographs of Murrer going into her house (taken, she believes, from a hidden camera in her shed) and text messages sent by her children
She said: “I was treated like a terrorist. The things they were investigating were absolutely bread and butter local paper stuff.
“The accusation was that [detective sergeant] Mark Kearney was telling me very sensitive stories and I was selling them on to the News of the World. So they scoured my bank accounts and there was no evidence.
“I had last phoned the News of the World nine years previously. The stuff Mark and I were talking about was 99 per cent domestic fluff.
“The stories that I was charged with were about a local GBH committed by a footballer and the murder of a local man where there was a link to cannabis and his wife was the secretary of the then MP.
“The stories were not only in the public domain they were in the public interest.”
After 19 months on police bail the trial of Murrer and Kearney collapsed after the judge ruled that the police had breached her Article 10 rights and the evidence was not admissible.
She said: “My biggest worry is that this snooper’s charter will allow the police and the state to do this to loads more journalists.
“If this charter’s passed would it condone the use of those powers?
“It absolutely terrifies me, I know what I went through – I’m no wimp. It destroyed everything – my life, my family, my kids, everything.
“I think everybody who cares about journalism should sign this petition – this has to be stopped. It’s the death knell for journalism and freedom of speech.”
Murrer said that the events of 2007 and 2008 still haunt her to this day.
“I still cannot walk into a police station. I never went to collect all my seized phones, computers, laptops – I couldn’t face going back.
“I do police stories but they terrify me. It’s affected me terribly but I am still working as a journalist and enjoying it and feeling passionately about this.”
The Investigatory Powers Bill outlines wide powers for the state to use electronic surveillance to monitor digital communications.
Thames Valley Police has never apologised to Murrer and refused to accept that it was in any way at fault in the way it treated her.