LBC journalist arrested by Hertfordshire police while reporting on Just Stop Oil M25 protests

Charlotte Lynch was arrested while covering the protest.
Credit: Just Stop Oil/LBC
Charlotte Lynch was arrested as she covered the protests for the radio station LBC. Credit: Just Stop Oil/LBC

A police force has admitted the arrest of a journalist who was handcuffed and held in custody for five hours after covering an environmental protest was unnecessary.

Charlotte Lynch of LBC had been reporting on the activists from a road bridge over junction 21 of the M25 in Hertfordshire on Tuesday for around 45 minutes when she was approached and questioned by two officers.

She described her “terrifying” five hours in a police cell, a day after documentary maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were arrested for reporting on the activists on the M25 in Hertfordshire.

Hertfordshire Police, in a statement released on Wednesday evening, acknowledged that while the actions of its officers at the scene were “understandable”, the arrest “would not have been necessary”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had earlier joined police chiefs in calling for press freedom, saying it was "vital" that journalists were able to do their job freely "without restriction".

Mr Sunak's official spokesman added: "Operational decisions are a matter for the police but the prime minister strongly believes in championing press freedoms. We wouldn't want to see those freedoms impeded while journalists are going about their day-to-day business".

Ms Lynch's ordeal came after a photographer and filmmaker said they were held in police custody for around 13 hours for covering a protest staged by the group.

She said she was searched on the side of the road, before officers seized her devices and took her to a police station in a custody van.

“Got to Stevenage police station, that journey took over an hour because of the M25 being closed. I was in the back of a police van, handcuffed - my hands were in front of me, handcuffed the entire time - on my own... The two police officers were behind the glass cage.

“That’s when it dawned on me ‘gosh, I could be charged here’ and everything runs through your mind. ‘Have I actually committed this offence?’ even though I knew I hadn’t.

“We got to the police station and I thought I’ll answer their questions and I’ll be on my way.”

She then described how she was taken to a cell and detained for five hours before officers released her with no further action.

They wanted to know how Ms Lynch knew about the protest, she said. “It was absolutely terrifying being in a cell with a pad for a bed in one corner and a metal toilet in the other," she added.

“I was just doing my job. What’s also terrifying is what this means for press freedom. It was blindingly obvious I was a reporter.”

Documentary maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles had been capturing the activists on a footbridge over the M25 near Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, at close to 11am on Monday when they were handcuffed.

The pair, both of whom said they had no affiliation with the group, had their equipment seized and were taken to a police station, despite efforts to show their press cards.

Mr Bowles, 47, from Hackney, east London, told PA he was held until 1.30am, hours after his wife and 14-year-old daughter were woken up as three officers searched their home.

The action from Hertfordshire Police has drawn condemnation from government ministers and senior journalists.

Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “The society is deeply concerned by reports this week of a number of journalists being arrested while reporting on protests by the campaign group Just Stop Oil.

“The protests are a source of legitimate public interest and journalists, filmmakers and photographers have a right to attend protests and report on behalf of the public.

“We strongly condemn the arrest of journalists in the course of their work and will be writing to Hertfordshire Police to seek an urgent explanation and seek assurances that its officers respect the rights of journalists and understand that such actions threaten press freedom.”

Just Stop Oil protesters have blocked the M25 at various points for three mornings in a row. Credit: Just Stop Oil

Former shadow attorney general Baroness Shami Chakrabarti told LBC: “If the police are now going to start arresting journalists for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance – in other words for knowing that a demonstration is about to take place – then they are effectively shutting down the free press, the free media, in this country.

“And that means the public don’t get the opportunity to judge for themselves whether the police have policed a particular demonstration well or badly, or indeed whether the protesters behaved well or badly.

“So this is very, very serious.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan also said: “Journalists shouldn’t get arrested for doing their job.”

Matt Warman, Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness, and a former journalist, said on Twitter: “It’s extremely hard to understand why the police would arrest a journalist. I hope a fuller explanation or an apology is provided very rapidly.”

In a statement, Hertfordshire Police said they had made seven arrests and held the individuals until their credentials could be checked.

"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," the force said in a statement.

The force said its priority was public safety - including the safety of the press and protesters themselves.

It added: “These operations are very fluid and fast moving, with the potential to cause widespread and sustained disruption, that not only affects Hertfordshire’s stretch of the M25 but also the wider road networks.

“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 arrests were made in total, with two people later charged and two released on police bail with conditions. Three people were released with no further action "following extensive inquiries", said police.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know