Belfast Telegraph

Snooping on journalists doing nobody any favours as six members of the NUJ launch legal challenge against Metropolitan Police

By Paul Connolly

Just when it seemed that relationships between police and journalists across the water couldn't get any worse - they have.

It's now emerged that six members of the National Union of Journalists have launched a legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police after finding that it keeps surveillance files on them in a database of Domestic Extremism.

Now, if you are an extremist who foments violence, or an actual criminal, then it's quite right that police record your details on a register. Journalist or no journalist.

But the six journalists in the NUJ action certainly don't appear to fall into any such categories. Many believe the case is the tip of a large iceberg.

One of the journalists is Times reporter Jules Mattsson who later wrote in Press Gazette: "When you later find out that an officer who interviewed you when you were a victim of crime was actually writing a report about you for a database, as I did, it really shakes your trust in being able to report things to the police.

"Notes over my use of recording equipment and some tweets (yes they were watching me on Twitter) isn't all that cops have decided they need to keep on me.

"They've also kept data about my 'pocket litter' found during a search, sexual orientation, known/past addresses, phone numbers, some old freelance clients, any time I've been a crime victim/witness, my childhood, college, father's work ..."

In fairness, the Met Chief Constable Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe appears - although he hasn't said it explicitly - to have conceded police shouldn't hold files on journalists unless they're criminal suspects.

Asked by the BBC's Andrew Marr whether journalists should be able to see the information held on them and that their files should be "destroyed", he said: "Unless they are a criminal. In which case they deserve no greater protection than you or I." Let's hope he's good to his word.

All this follows the admissions that police have used snooping powers to get access to legitimate journalists' phone records to trace their contacts.

The PSNI refuses to say if officers snoop on hacks locally - to do so would apparently undermine national security.

The snooping controversy was preceded by unease in GB over the handling of 6am raids on News International journalists that saw officers rifling sock drawers and children left bewildered and frightened. Before that, there was the Leveson-era clampdown on contacts between police and journalists that has meant effectively the only view communicated is that of officialdom within the force. (Directors of Communications can hardly believe their luck.)

This is all completely over the top. The corruption laws work: as seen in the prosecutions of the alleged phone hackers and bribers on a small number of Fleet Street tabloids.

Of course, the big losers when the media and police mistrust each other are the public. Not only because transparency is patently good for society, but because publicity helps the detection and prevention of crime.

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Apologies for an error in an article on rugby legend Jack Kyle. The captain who led Ireland to their "fabled Grand Slam" in 1948 was of course Karl Mullen, not Jack.

Sadly, Dr Mullen passed away in April 2009, but he was in Cardiff three weeks beforehand to watch Brian O'Driscoll's Ireland team be the first to emulate the Grand Slam of '48.

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