A radio journalist has spoken of the “terrifying” five hours she endured in a police cell after she was arrested while covering a Just Stop Oil protest.
LBC’s Charlotte Lynch had been reporting on activists on a road bridge over junction 21 of the M25 in Hertfordshire for around 45 minutes on Tuesday when she was approached and questioned by two officers.
After showing them a press pass and explaining that she was reporting on the demonstration, the officers handcuffed her, took her phone and arrested her for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.
It comes after a photographer and a filmmaker said they were held in police custody for about 13 hours for covering a protest organized by the group.
Ms Lynch said she was searched on the side of the road before officers confiscated her devices and took her to a police station in a custody van.
She said: “We arrived at Stevenage police station, the journey took over an hour due to the closure of the M25.
“I was in the back of a police van, handcuffed, my hands in front of me, handcuffed the whole time, on my own, the two policemen were behind the glass cage.
“That’s when I realized ‘oh my god, I could be charged here’ and it’s all going through my mind ‘did I commit this crime myself?’ even though I knew I didn’t.
“I got to the police station and thought I’d answer their questions and be on my way.”
She then recounted being taken to a holding cell and held for five hours before officers released her without further action.
They wanted to know how Ms. Lynch knew about the protest, she said.
Mrs Lynch said: “It was absolutely terrifying to be in a cell with a bed stand in one corner and a metal toilet in the other.
“I was just doing my job. What is also terrifying is what this means for press freedom. It was blindingly obvious that I was a reporter.”
Documentary maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles captured the activists on a footbridge over the M25 near Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, at close to 11am on Monday as they were handcuffed.
The pair, who both said they had no affiliation with the group, had their equipment confiscated and were taken to a police station despite efforts to show their press cards.
Mr Bowles, 47, from Hackney, east London, told the PA he was detained until 1.30am, hours after his wife and 14-year-old daughter were woken up while three officers were searching their house.
Dawn Alford, chief executive of the Society of Publishers, said: “The Society is deeply concerned by reports this week that a number of journalists have been arrested while reporting on protests by campaign group Just Stop Oil.
“Protests are a source of legitimate public interest, and journalists, filmmakers and photographers have the 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 seeking an urgent explanation and assurances that their officers respect the rights of journalists and understand that such actions threaten press freedom.”
Former shadow attorney-general Baroness Shami Chakrabarti told LBC: “If the police now start arresting journalists for conspiracy to commit a public nuisance – in other words because they know a demonstration is about to take place – then it effectively shuts down the free press, the free media, in this country.
“And that means the public doesn’t have the opportunity to judge for themselves whether the police handled a particular demonstration well or badly, or even whether the protesters behaved well or badly.
“So this is very, very serious.”
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan also said: “Journalists should not be arrested for doing their job.”
Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness Matt Warman, said on Twitter: “It is extremely difficult to understand why the police would arrest a journalist. I hope a fuller explanation or apology is provided very quickly.”
Hertfordshire Police said: “As always, our priority remains to ensure public safety – we have a responsibility for the health and safety of everyone involved and everyone at the scene, including the emergency services, members of the public, members of the media and members of the protesters themselves .
“These operations are very fluid and fast moving with the potential to cause widespread and sustained disruption affecting not only the Hertfordshire section of the M25 but also the wider road networks.
“Our officers have been trained to act as quickly as they can, using their professional judgement, to clear any protesters to get the roads open and prevent anyone from doing harm.”