Last August I wrote about being arrested while at work.
To quickly re-cap: In May 2017 a police officer with some sort of agenda, against either me or the press in general, arrested me while I was working at the scene of a road accident. He initially gave me a “recorded police warning”, which I contested. The warning was then cancelled and I was reported to the Procurator Fiscal (the criminal prosecutor here in Scotland) for prosecution.
Now I can finally update you on what happened next.
Over six months later, at the beginning of December, two police officers knocked on our door early on a Saturday morning. They told me they had paperwork to serve on me, relating to a driving offence. I had no idea what that could have been about, and they asked if I’d been stopped by the police recently. I told them no. They said they had to serve the paperwork anyway.
It was nothing to do with a driving offence. I was being prosecuted for resisting arrest and breach of the peace.
Among the documents were police statements alleging that I’d entered a police cordon, attempted to push past the officers, and assaulted one of them by placing my hand on his body armour.
The National Union of Journalists was on the case immediately, and I’ll take this opportunity to remind any journalists reading that you simply must join your union. Even if you never need their help personally, just pay your monthly subscription to support them. Our profession is going through some very tough times, and as individual journalists, challenges like this can be insurmountable, even just from a financial perspective. If you were arrested tomorrow, could you afford a few thousand pounds to defend yourself? I was allowed to choose my own solicitor, who was recommended to me by other local journalists, and the NUJ paid his fee.
As I write this, I realise that it would probably be quite boring for me to relate everything that has happened since December. It was all a very big deal to me, but to you it would just be a list of meetings, emails, phone calls, and court appearances. There were five court dates. Most cases are dealt with in two.
The most interesting thing to happen in that six-month period was in January, when a retired police officer warned me that either the arresting sergeant, or one of his colleagues, was going to arrest me and charge me with something else. In his words, the police wanted to “make things difficult” for me. This warning actually came as a surprise, because I’d been noticing a huge improvement in the police’s attitude to the press around here, myself included. I took the warning on board though.
So, let’s jump forward to yesterday, 12 June 2018. There’s something rather important that I didn’t mention in my previous blog post, and I’m sure you’ll understand why.
We had a recording of the arrest.
The recording disproved pretty much everything the two police officers had written in their statements. It also caught the sergeant apparently boasting about how he’d planned the arrest in advance with someone in the Procurator Fiscal’s office, who had agreed to prosecute me. (“I fell out before and I was not in a position to arrest you before. I physically went back and confirmed with the PF that I was right. I am right. She’s happy for you to be arrested and presented at court.”)
A trial date had been set for 12 July. Yesterday was an “intermediate diet” where you basically go and sit in court for half a day, aren’t allowed to say anything, and then the Sheriff tells you to come back in a month to stand trial.
Ahead of yesterday’s hearing, my solicitor had played the recording to the Fiscal. We expected the Fiscal to tell the Sheriff that he was abandoning the prosecution. But the case wasn’t even called. After two hours, my solicitor came over to me and said that’s it, case dropped, you can go.
But of course that’s not the end of it. The Fiscal must now investigate and possibly prosecute the two police officers. I need to get the record of my arrest expunged, and to get compensation from the police. And goodness knows what will happen to the person in the Fiscal’s office who was apparently party to this ridiculous conspiracy.
All of this pales in comparison, though, to the overriding message that everyone must take away from this story: The courts MUST exercise great caution in accepting police testimony as evidence. It cannot be considered indisputable.
While I waited in court yesterday, another man was on trial for assaulting two police officers. He was convicted because the two officers said he’d done it. Now, if I’d been sat in that court room 13 months ago, I’d have trusted the two officers implicitly. I’d have believed 100% that the man was guilty. But I was naive. Now I know for a fact that police officers do conspire to arrest innocent people, they do give false testimony, and they are willing to commit perjury. Personally I’ll never again have any faith in a conviction secured solely on police testimony.
In closing, I also want to take a moment to discuss the stress and worry that a case like this can put you through.
As you’ll know if you read my previous blog post, I was intending to join the police myself last year. But you can’t do that if you have a pending prosecution, so that was delayed by a year. Hopefully I’ll now be able to do that at the end of this year.
The biggest concern for me throughout this whole case has been that I wouldn’t be able to drive if I was convicted. That doesn’t make sense, does it? But you see, most insurance firms won’t give you either car or home insurance if you have a criminal record. They won’t even insure members of your family. There are a few specialist insurance companies that will insure you, but they charge a fortune. I’ve read one account of a man whose car insurance policy went up from a few hundred pounds to £4,000 per year after he was convicted of a non-motoring offence.
Not being able to drive would obviously end my career in journalism. But what worried me most was that I wouldn’t be able to drive my daughter to nursery on the other side of town. Would we have to take her out of her current fantastic nursery and move her to a nearer one that isn’t as good? This was what weighed most on my mind. Were these two lying police officers actually going to have a negative impact on my daughter’s life? The thought of it made me so angry and depressed.
Months of sleepless nights. This stupid case being on my mind all the time. I couldn’t apply for work in America. I’m getting married this year, but we couldn’t make any definite plans because what I was accused of carried a possible prison sentence, and we had to plan for the worst.
And if it wasn’t for that recording, I’d almost certainly have been convicted.
How many innocent people are being dragged through the court system without the safety net of a recording that proves their innocence?
I’ll sign-off now, with another quick reminder of how important it is for journalists to support our union.
Back in February, in an email to the NUJ’s legal officer who has been supporting me throughout, I discussed the impact of the case on my life. This is how I concluded the email:
My daughter was 5 months old when I was arrested — she’s 15 months old now, so for more than half of her life her dad has been this anxious, stressed wreck of a person. My only hope through all of this has been that I knew the Union was there to help me, so at least I might have a chance.
Journalists: Support your union. Support our profession. Protect yourself.