A police force has admitted seizing equipment belonging to an investigative journalist without first gaining judicial approval, in contravention of legal protections for journalists and their work.
Brian Morgan, 78, of Cardiff, (pictured) was arrested and charged with harassment on 6 May last year and had his smartphone, laptop, desktop and a hard-disk drive confiscated by South Wales Police.
They had acted on instruction from Essex Police, who Morgan said should have been aware of his profession as a freelance investigative journalist having previously interviewed him on a voluntary basis.
Police seized his equipment under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but failed to get a judge to clear the warrant beforehand – against clear guidance protecting journalistic material.
He was later released and the charges dropped, however he said it took nine weeks to get his equipment back and only after he had sought assistance from his local MP.
Essex Police Professional Standards Department has since upheld two complaints made by Morgan, including that his equipment was wrongfully seized and that he was treated with “incivility” during an interview.
He said: “I should feel extremely happy, but I’m terrified.
“When the doorbell goes I go and have a look to see who is out there because I feel the police are going to do it again. That worries me tremendously.”
He told Press Gazette that Essex Police should have been aware of his profession. He also claimed to have shown his press card to South Wales Police at the station in Cardiff where he was taken after his arrest.
Morgan said: “Under PACE, section 19, they have to go through court and the journalist can be present. That was the problem with the seizing of my equipment – they got it done without going through the proper route under PACE to do it.”
Morgan has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years and has worked with the likes of the Observer, New Scientist, Times Education and Channel 4’s Dispatches team.
He said he had been investigating someone, whom Press Gazette has chosen not to name, in the course of his work when arrested.
Morgan’s arrest followed a claim by a person, again whom we are not naming, that he had attempted to befriend them on Facebook – which Morgan denies. This earned him a harassment warning known as a Police Information Notice.
He said the PIN was used alongside a report he had filed with social services over concern for the welfare of this same person, which was ultimately passed on to police, to make up a harassment charge against him.
A spokesperson for Essex Police said: “Three complaints were received by Essex Police on 7 June, 2017, following the arrest of a man and the seizure of equipment.
“The complaints were dealt with by the force in line with procedure and legislation as set out by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
“The man was arrested by South Wales Police on behalf of Essex Police on 6 May, 2017. He was subsequently released and told he would face no further action.
“When the complaints were received, they were assessed as suitable for the local resolution process, which has been recognised by the Independent Office for Police Conduct as ‘a proportionate, flexible and timely way to resolve many complaints that would not justify formal disciplinary or criminal proceedings’.
The spokesperson said “two officers received management advice as a result of the complaints”.
Morgan’s appeal against the issuing of the PIN notice was not upheld by the Professional Standards Department. He has said he plans to appeal again.
A South Wales Police spokesperson said: “On 7 March 2018 a complaint was received by South Wales Police’s Professional Standards Department concerning allegations of an unlawful search of a property which took place on May 2017.
“This complaint has since been resolved locally and the complainant has been advised of the outcome.”