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Editor of YourHarlow speaks to government committee on threats to journalists

General / Tue 20th Jul 2021 at 09:00am

THE EDITOR of YourHarlow (YH) gave evidence to a government select committee for the safety of journalists.

The committee has been compiling evidence on the increasing threats to journalists in the United Kingdom.

The threats made have been in person as well as on-line. Hundreds of journalists have reported threats and intimidation.

Government committee members heard editor Michael Casey speak as he related his experience back in September 2020 when the then owner of the Small Copper public house in Harlow, falsely claimed on social media that the YH offices had been raided by police, computers taken and Mr Casey arrested for downloading images of child abuse.

Mr Casey told the committee of the distress that it had caused his family members.

Mr Casey said: “When you are the editor of a local newspaper such as YourHarlow, you are very much embedded into the community.

“You are born and bred in Harlow, went to local schools. You attend the council meetings, the community events, the theatre events and from Saturday will once again take my place at the back of the park run!

“I also have a large extended family, grand-children at secondary and primary schools.

“This was an attempt to wipe all that out in an on line entry on Facebook.

“When the Facebook post went up with a photograph of our office/house and large amounts of comments were made we genuinely thought we would be attacked.

“Yes, we were disappointed that Essex Police refused to attend, even to give it passing attention.

“It was only when we contacted Harlow MP Robert Halfon and a senior police officer that we got things in motion leading to Morris’s arrest and eventual appearance in court where he pleaded guilty and was fined.

“However, I still feel the message may be that a £200 fine sends out a signal. If you don’t like what a newspaper writes, you can have a good go at wiping out that paper and its reputation. Worth a pop?”

The committee also heard from a number of other journalists: Patricia Devlin in Northern Ireland and Amy Fenton in Cumbria who had suffered horrendous intimidation.

The assistant chief constable of Northern Ireland, Sam Donaldson, told the committee, that they now had a Designated Safety Officer (DSO) to respond to needs of journalists.

Large news organisations such as Reach have appointed a Safety Officer.

Mr Casey has called on Essex Police to appoint a DSO and is now working for all the independent news orgs to work more closely together

Mr Casey said: “I plan to use my role in the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) to develop a proper support structure of protection for journalists.

“I would like to thank MPs John Whittingdale and Victoria Atkins for inviting me to the committee and the support of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)”.

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