Media wins video footage battle

Asian Image: A protester is led away by police officers at Dale Farm near Basildon, Essex, on the second day of the eviction of the traveller site A protester is led away by police officers at Dale Farm near Basildon, Essex, on the second day of the eviction of the traveller site

Media organisations have won their High Court battle against orders forcing them to give police film footage of the high-profile evictions of residents from the Dale Farm travellers' site.

The production orders made by Judge Gratwicke at Chelmsford Crown Court in February at the request of Essex Police have been quashed.

The BBC, Independent Television News, BSkyB, Channel 5, Hardcash Productions and freelance video journalist Jason Parkinson joined forces to oppose the orders. Their lawyers said the media risked becoming seen as "coppers' narks" if they were required to hand over footage.

Quashing the orders at London's High Court, Mr Justice Eady, sitting with Lord Justice Moses, said Judge Gratwicke "failed to give sufficient weight to the inhibiting effect of production orders on the press".

The footage was shot over the two days of the evictions on the Dale Farm site near Basildon on October 19/20 last year. There were scenes of violence as the police dismantled barricades.

Gavin Millar QC, appearing for the media organisations, argued at a one-day hearing last month that the orders were excessive, unlawful and a disproportionate interference with the media's right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He told Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Eady the police were increasingly seeing production orders for footage of public disorder as a "convenient way to access evidence that may be used in court".

The ruling focused on key provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Pace), which says there must be reasonable grounds for believing that production orders will be "of substantial value" to police investigations before they can be made.

Essex Police said the Dale Farm orders were necessary because there were reasonable grounds for believing that the journalistic material being sought "would be likely to assist" investigations.

In a written judgment, Mr Justice Eady said it was difficult to dispute there was a real public interest in tracing people involved in public disorder or violence. But that had to be set against the level of interference with the media's Article 10 rights inherent in production orders.

He said it had been for Essex Police to demonstrate that the "degree of interference" and the wide scope of the production order was "necessary and proportionate" - but there was "nothing to justify any such conclusion".

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