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Photographer Andy Aitchison receives apology from Kent Police following unlawful arrest


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A photographer has spoken of his relief after receiving an apology from Kent Police over his unlawful arrest and false imprisonment.

Officers also carried out a search of Andy Aitchison's family home - in front of his terrified children - and seized his mobile phone and memory card from his camera.

Photograher Andy Aitchison has received an apology over his unlawful arrest. Picture: ©David Noble
Photograher Andy Aitchison has received an apology over his unlawful arrest. Picture: ©David Noble

His arrest came after he took photos of a protest outside Napier Barracks in Folkestone in January which saw activists throwing fake blood at the gates of the military site.

The demonstration was held over the conditions at the barracks, which have been used to accommodate asylum seekers since September 2020, but has been plagued with issues ever since.

Mr Aitchison, 46, was arrested - based on an unfounded witness account - on January 28 at his Folkestone home on suspicion of criminal damage, just hours after he had taken and shared the photos.

After officers searched his home and seized his equipment, he was taken to the police station and held in custody for over five hours before being released with bail conditions which prohibited him from going near Napier Barracks.

The case was dropped a week later, but Mr Aitchison was then was issued with a fine for breaching Covid restrictions.

His arrest came after he took photos of activists throwing fake blood at the gates of Napier Barracks. Photo: Andrew Aitchison
His arrest came after he took photos of activists throwing fake blood at the gates of Napier Barracks. Photo: Andrew Aitchison

This was only withdrawn after Mr Aitchison’s lawyers threatened legal proceedings.

His lawyers also sent a pre-action letter of claim for damages to Kent Police.

He has now received an apology from Chief Constable Alan Pughsley, and will receive compensation too.

In a letter, Mr Pughsley said he apologises "unreservedly to him for his unlawful arrest, false imprisonment and breach of his human rights".

He added that he acknowledges "there was no culpability on the part of Mr Aitchison who was performing an important function publicising the protest in the public interest" and that he recognises "the fundamental importance of free speech and the independence of journalists"

Mr Aitchison said said he was relieved the situation is over and said it was important that the police "acknowledged that photographers and journalists have a right to work".

He said: "We must be able to work without fear of arrest and freedom to independently report on events.

"It is vital to our democracy that we are able to report on all issues, especially if they are politically sensitive.

"I hope that Kent Police have learnt from this situation and will work hard to ensure that this does not happen to any other official journalists.

Chief Constable Alan Pughsley
Chief Constable Alan Pughsley

"It was a stressful and totally unnecessary experience to go through, both professionally, and personally, not knowing what impact this could have on my work, and how distressing it was for my children to have to witness the whole thing.

"I would like to thank everyone who supported me during this challenging time, it has made a significant difference throughout."

A spokesman for the National Union of Journalists said: "We are delighted with the outcome, in particular the acknowledgement by Kent Police that journalists should not be prevented from carrying out their jobs.

"A victory for journalism and journalists!"

Rachel Harger, from Bindmans solicitors, said: "Andy should never have faced criminal charges for reporting on a demonstration in his capacity as a freelance photographer and I am relieved that the Chief Constable of Kent Police has accepted this and acknowledged the fundamental importance of freedom of speech and that journalists should not be at risk of arrest or having their equipment seized whilst reporting on events."

The protest in January was one of many held at the former army site since it opened last year. Photo: Andrew Aitchison
The protest in January was one of many held at the former army site since it opened last year. Photo: Andrew Aitchison

A statement from Kent Police said: "Kent Police’s Chief Constable has issued an apology to a 46-year-old man who was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of criminal damage in Folkestone on January 28, 2021.

"The man was also wrongfully issued with a fixed penalty notice in relation to coronavirus restrictions which was rescinded when it became clear he was working in his capacity of being a photo-journalist.

"The force accepts that a witness account which led to the arrest was without foundation, and information available to officers before the arrest was not fully considered. Accordingly, the arrest, detention and search of the man’s home were unlawful.

"The force recognises that there was no culpability on the part of the man who was carrying out an important role as part of his work in publicising a protest in the public interest, and has apologised unreservedly to him and his family for these matters."

Napier Barracks is still open and accommodating asylum seekers. Picture: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
Napier Barracks is still open and accommodating asylum seekers. Picture: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration

Napier Barracks remains open and is still accommodating adult, single men who have come to the UK to seek asylum.

Despite repeated calls for its closure, protests, a fire, arrests, court cases and inspections calling it unsuitable, the Home Office says it could remain in use for five years.

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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