The Press Complaints Commission has decided that a payment made by Express Newspapers in April 2009 to Nicola Fisher, who had claimed she was assaulted by a police officer during the G20 protests, did not breach the Editors’ Code of Practice.
According to the PCC, following an interview with Fisher the Daily Star and Daily Express published articles where Fisher outlined her allegations in detail and she was paid for her involvement in the story. At the time of publication the police officer had been suspended, but not arrested or charged with any offence. Later in the year he was charged with common assault, pleaded not guilty and was cleared of the charge in March this year.
The PCC launched its own investigation into the matter and announced in its adjudication that there had been no breach of Clause 15 (Witness payments in criminal trials) on the grounds of sufficient public interest.
At the time of the interview – while Ms Fisher had already spoken to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) whose investigation was in its preliminary stages – proceedings against the officer were not active, not least because his identity had yet to become known. The CPS had been made aware of the payment to Ms Fisher – who would not have agreed to the interview without remuneration – through her representative. There was no question of her evidence being embellished (as she had already given her statement to the IPCC before her interview). In addition, the trial took place before a District Judge rather than a jury.
The newspapers said that the police tactics and conduct during the G20 protests was a matter of legitimate public interest: the IPCC had received over 270 complaints about the actions and Metropolitan, City of London and British Transport Police during the demonstrations. Given the actions of the police, including their controversial practice of ‘kettling’ and the death of Mr Tomlinson, it was right and proper that Ms Fisher’s account be published. The footage of the incident had been widely disseminated on the internet and, at the trial, the officer did not deny the assault; rather, he defended his actions on the basis that he had used reasonable force in all the circumstances. While he had been acquitted of the charge, the decision had come in for some considerable public criticism.