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A journalist phoned me on Friday and I picked up some interesting information about Kent Police charging me with the harassment of Councillor Maxine Fothergill. The conversation went something like this…
I’ve been reading your blog and I cannot see what you are supposed to have done wrong.
Well I’ve reported on past misdemeanours [the Code of Conduct case, the house extension for which there was no permission and the reporting of at least two employees to the police] and most recently a High Court case. So many reports and returning to the subject over a handful of days makes it harassment according to Kent Police.
No it doesn’t.
Actually I was in touch with the Councillor while reporting her libel settlement but even before doing so she was emailing me to ask me to take everything off the web. She did that as soon as I referred to the Court listing and before the details were known. I was not unsympathetic, in fact I felt quite sorry for her and that is why I got the whole business over so quickly [16th to 19th November] and wrote to tell her so. She was still not happy, nothing less that complete removal of every reference to her was acceptable. She wrote to tell me so.
She has no right to do that. People do tend not to appreciate being in the headlines but that is the nature of news I am afraid. Did you know that there are absolute exemptions in law when reporting Court cases?
No, what is that all about?
Basically, unless the Judge directs otherwise, everything that is said in Court and the evidence presented may be reported without fear of retribution. It’s a bit like Parliamentary Privilege, you cannot be in trouble for saying things in Parliament nor can you be prosecuted for reporting it. If for example the discussion in Court might run foul of data protection laws no sanctions could arise from reporting that discussion. The police really have no case against you.
Does that all hold true for blogs like mine? Or is it only the established media that can claim the exemption?
Oh no, it covers you, there have been test cases to establish that.
So you don’t think the police will be able to make a successful case against me?
No chance. From what I can see there are a lot of journalists who would love to be in your position.
How come? I don’t like it one little bit.
Well they would probably be keen to, err .
Make monkeys of the police?
Something like that.
Where do you think I should go with this next?
Not sure. All my contacts are in national news and they won’t be very interested in local squabbles. I’ll have a think about it.
If Kent Police can get away with suppressing news reports you won’t know what trick may be pulled next.
Yes, that is potentially very worrying but I think they are just being very silly.
Full Disclosure. This is not a verbatim report, some bits are but it is mainly my best recollection.
The journalist is my daughter, she is qualified to degree level and has worked for a news organisation everyone has heard of for the past 20 years or more.
She counts among her closest friends a university lecturer in media law. He has advised me from time to time in the past when things have become a little tricky.