Ten Years On: Fighting The Dale Farm Production Order

Below are two articles written during the time of the legal challenge against the Dale Farm production order. Dale Farm was an Irish Traveller site at Cray’s Hill in Essex that in October 2011 was brutally evicted by hundreds of riot police. The first article was released on the NUJ London Photographers Branch website, the second released in the March 2012 edition of The Journalist magazine.

The eight month legal battle was fraught with multiple obstacles, from preparing to be raided after midnight one winter’s night, to having to fend off false accusations from a very small and specific group of people that my footage had already been handed over to Essex police.

Even though ten years have past since the eviction and the subsequent legal battle many of the concerns raised in these articles still hold true today.

12 December 2011: Why I’m resisting the Dale Farm Production Order

Tomorrow morning, Tuesday 13 December 2011, I will head to Chelmsford Crown Court to oppose a sweeping application by Essex Police to seize all my footage from the Dale Farm eviction.

The production order that calls for all footage shot on 19 and 20 October is also being served on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BSkyB and Hardcash Productions, who made the moving Panorama documentary on the largest ever eviction of Irish Travellers.

I am resisting the order with the full support on the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), as well as legal support from Bindmans Solicitors. The handing of material, either published or unpublished goes against the NUJ Code of Conduct.

I strongly believe a journalist should protect confidential sources and material gathered in the course of their work. If I comply with the production order I am being forced into breaching my own union’s ethics code. 

I also believe it will have serious consequences on my ability and the ability of those in my profession to report future events. We are already seeing a growing trend of intimation and violence against members of the press in such situations, based on a wide mistrust of the media. This has coincided with the increase of the use of production orders we have seen since the student protests at the end 2010.

The impact of this continuing trend of production order use will have dire consequences on press freedom in this country, to the extent that eventually we may not be able to report some from events at all. UK courts have previously recognised the vital role of the media as the public watchdog, but with the press unable to operate a fundamental pillar of our democracy crumbles.

The irony is that the restrictions on the press to work freely will not come from the authorities, as has been feared in the past with the misuse of anti-terror and other restrictive laws – press freedom will be disrupted by public mistrust, in effect the people doing the state’s job for them.

The press need to be totally independent of the state in order to get to the truth behind incredibly dangerous and sensitive situations. If no one was able to analyse the recent UK riots or talk to the people on the ground as it happened then we would only have the government response as to why the riots happened.

I have operated in countries like Egypt and Mexico where the press are under physical control of the state and I have experienced first-hand the tactics deployed to stop the press reporting. Beatings in the street, journalist material seized and destroyed or used to apprehend protestors, or a police sniper trying to put a bullet in the head of the people carrying the cameras, in order to eliminate any witnesses to the atrocities they intend to commit. Is that the route we want to head towards here in the UK?

When I began filming just before dawn on 19 October 2011, as several hundred riot police armed with batons, shields and tasers stormed the Dale Farm Irish Traveller site at Cray’s Hill in Essex, I never could have imagined that five months later the footage would be at the heart of a legal case that could alter the future of press freedom in the UK.

For the past 18 months I have watched the increase in production orders being served on the press to obtain their unpublished material. Now the main broadcasters are saying enough is enough and have joined together with the NUJ to oppose the Dale Farm production order by applying for Judicial Review.

The increase in seizing journalist material came around the same time we saw improvements in police and press relations. Gaining passage through police cordons was no longer a problem, press cards were being respected and overt surveillance by Forward Intelligence Teams had stopped. It was also the start of some of the worst unrest this country has seen for many decades.

8 March 2012: NUJ Code of Conduct – A “Very Extreme View”

On Tuesday 1 November 2011 I received an email from Essex police stating I was being served an order to obtain all my footage from the Dale Farm eviction, two days worth of footage. That email came 38 minutes after a separate email, also from Essex police, tried to obtain the footage for “training purposes”.

Within a week production orders were served on every professional news and film camera that covered the eviction. All opposed the order on the grounds of protecting journalist impartiality, free from state interference, and the effect that interference would have to the safety of all journalists in the future.

The union’s own code of conduct lists the protection of sources and all journalistic material as a fundamental part of journalist ethics. When this was raised at Chelmsford Crown Court during the application hearing, prosecution QC Mr Lofthouse said I held a “very extreme view” for defending the code of conduct.

Judge Grathwicke, who presided over the hearing, said in his judgement he did not believe being forced to comply with the court order would breach the code of conduct.

Just as ITN received another production order for the recent Syrian Embassy clashes in London, CEO John Hardie said: “Rather than being a rare exception where requests are made for otherwise unobtainable evidence of serious wrongdoing, the wide-ranging Dale Farm production order is in danger of becoming the norm.”

The BBC and Sky News have also expressed these very serious concerns. Essex Police Detective Inspector Jennings admitted in the application hearing they were more interested in the background footage, not just the scenes of criminality, which suggests this material is being seized to fill police intelligence databases.

Hardie was right, production orders were once used to obtain the unobtainable. At Dale Farm there were three police camera units, one helicopter and two bailiff cameras. Now it would seem the net is cast far and wide to gather additional evidence, using the press as nothing more than CCTV.

The fear now is the Dale Farm case is being used to not only make these style of production orders the norm but make them arbitrary, the journalist being forced into the role of an unwilling agent of the state.