Photojournalist arrested after covering protest
A FREELANCE photographer was arrested in his kitchen on suspicion of criminal damage after photographing a protest outside Napier Barracks. The military camp in Folkestone, Kent is used to accommodate hundreds of asylum seekers.
Andy Aitchison, who had never been arrested before, was held at a local police station for over five hours and bailed to appear at a police station on 22 February. Andy's bail conditions prevent him from going near Napier Barracks, even though he lives locally and has been making a living selling photos of protests there to Getty and other outlets in recent months. As a result of his bail conditions, Andy missed the opportunity to cover a fire that broke out at Napier the following day (unrelated to the protests).
Much of his freelance work in recent years has been around the prison sector, and the Independent reported Andy as saying he feared that a criminal record would impact on his ability to earn a living.
Following a tip-off, Andy went to photograph a demonstration outside Napier Barracks on the morning of Thursday 28 January, in which protesters poured red paint over the fence and onto the road immediately outside the barracks and called for its closure. There have been protests by inmates in recent months over conditions at the barracks, with poor access to legal advice and healthcare. Hundreds have been locked into the barracks after a Covid outbreak started there, with 120 residents testing positive for Covid. Inmates received letters threatening them with arrest if they tried to leave.
After Andy's photos appeared on social media and in local press reports, five Kent Police officers turned up at his home. He had his Press Card on him, "Yes, the first thing I showed when they came into my kitchen. Didn't make any difference to them," according to his Twitter account.
Of his police interview, Andy said he told the police, "I'm a photographer. This is what I do for work. These pictures have already been published and I will be paid for them".
Legal assistance is being provided by the NUJ, whose Freelance Officer Pamela Morton told the Independent that the Union is "extremely concerned" about Andy's arrest. She added that "Andrew was present solely as a journalist and took no part in the protest... News gatherers are key workers and it is their role and duty to report on matters of public interest. The police should not be seeking to interfere, prevent or restrict what journalists record in this way."
- See here for the letter from the National Police Chiefs' Council reminding officers that journalists on assignment are key workers. Watch this space for developments in Andy's case.