The Metropolitan Police have been accused of abusing anti-terrorist legislation in order to intimidate journalists.
Freelance videojournalist Pennie Quinton has gone to the High Court, backed by pressure group Liberty, to seek judicial review over the matter.
Her complaint was raised as a result of stop-and-search powers used under the Terrorism Act 2000 by officers policing last month’s arms fair at the Excel Centre in London.
Quinton said she was searched thoroughly three times by police in the course of two days and felt so intimidated that she decided not to return to the event because she feared she would be arrested.
She said: “I had a valid press card and that should be enough to explain why I am there and what I am doing. “They are using the Terrorism Act against people who aren’t terrorists. I understand why the act was brought in but using it at a protest is like using a hammer to crack a nut.
“I just got to the point where I didn’t want to be arrested because I was going away to do some work that weekend.”I cover quite a lot of protests – I think the police just don’t want to be filmed doing what they are doing.”
Liberty took the case of Quinton, as well as a protester who was searched on 9 September, to the High Court last week. They have accused Home Secretary David Blunkett and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens of misusing “draconian” anti-terrorist laws. Two judges reserved judgment on the case and are expected to release a decision on the case within the next fortnight.
According to Liberty, under normal stop-and-search legislation police can only instigate a search if they have reasonable grounds to believe a person may intend to commit a criminal offence. Under the Terrorism Act they can stop anyone within a designated area.
Liberty spokesman Barry Hugill said: “When this legislation was introduced in 2000, [the then Home Secretary] Jack Straw gave an assurance it would never be used to curb possible demonstrations. “Many people would be deterred from going on protests by the prospect of being served with terrorist orders.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “The investigation is ongoing and it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”
By Dominic Ponsford