Photographer and film
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Photographer and film

Jun 07, 2023

Arrest of pair capturing images of M25 protest condemned by British Press Photographers’ Association

The British Press Photographers’ Association has condemned the arrest of a photographer and documentary film-maker as they captured images of a Just Stop Oil protest.

Rich Felgate, a documentary maker, and Tom Bowles, a photographer, were arrested by a Hertfordshire constabulary officer as they caught the action on a footbridge over the M25 on Monday.

Bowles later claimed on Twitter that officers turned up at his home at 11pm before he had returned home, waking his wife and daughter and searching the property. However, both men were ultimately released without further action.

The association, which represents more than 400 photographers, said: "The BPPA strongly condemns the arrests of two photographers, and members of the BPPA, by Hertfordshire police this morning at a Just Stop Oil protest. News gatherers should be able to operate freely without fear of arrest."

The BPPA strongly condemns the arrests of two photographers, and members of the BPPA, by @HertsPolice this morning at a @JustStop_Oil protest. News gatherers should be able to operate freely without fear of arrest

Writing on Twitter, Felgate said the police had "no interest in seeing press ID and handcuffed us instantly".

"They said they needed to search me for items which could be used to commit criminal damage," he wrote. "Obviously, they found nothing, so an officer said ‘just arrest them for conspiracy instead then’."

Felgate said he and Bowles were held in custody for 13 hours and questioned by police who tried to get him to "reveal my journalistic sources and give them the pin to my phone".

"I had to spell it out to the police many, many times that I’m a film-maker, not a protester," he said, adding he had to provide "rigorous" details of his work. He said both men were released with "no further action".

Just Stop Oil started a campaign of protests mostly in and around London in April. The group says its supporters have been arrested nearly 2,000 times, with five activists in prison.

The Guardian understands Ben Cawthra, another BPPA-accredited photographer, was also arrested in similar circumstances on Monday by Hertfordshire constabulary and was detained for just under 16 hours.

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He is understood to have shown officers his press card but was arrested anyway.

A Hertfordshire constabulary spokesperson said: "As always, our priority remains to ensure public safety – we have a responsibility for the health and safety of all those involved and everyone at the scene, including emergency services, members of the public, members of the press and the protesters themselves.

"Our officers have been instructed to act as quickly as they can, using their professional judgment, to clear any possible protesters in order to get roads up and running and to prevent anyone from coming to harm.

"Seven people were arrested yesterday. Of these seven, two were subsequently charged and two were released on police bail with conditions. Three of them were released with no further action following extensive enquiries. Though as a matter of course we do not comment on the circumstances surrounding individual arrests, these circumstances did give us grounds to hold them in custody for questioning in order to verify their credentials and progress our investigation."

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