Journalist 'made to feel like a criminal' after police visit home

The National Union of Journalists said it was concerned by claims several reporters had been put under pressure to reveal sources in recent weeks.

Freelance journalist ‘made to feel like a criminal’ after police visit home in Falkirk over story sources STV News
Key Points
  • Freelance journalist Paul Smith says Police Scotland officers asked him to disclose sources for articles he wrote
  • Journalists union expresses concern that several reporters have been put under similar pressure in recent weeks
  • Police Scotland say it was duty bound to investigate intelligence that officer was leaking information
  • MSP Michelle Thomson raises concern with Police Scotland on Mr Smith’s behalf
  • Scottish Government says a free, vibrant and independent press is the ‘bedrock of a functioning democracy’

A freelance journalist has told how he was “made to feel like a criminal” after police officers visited his home to inquire about how he obtained information for two stories in national newspapers.

Paul Smith, who lives in Falkirk, says he told the officers that “hell would freeze over” before he revealed his sources, adding that the whole incident made him feel “really uncomfortable” in his home.

Police Scotland dispute Mr Smith’s version of events, saying they received intelligence that an officer had been disclosing information without prior authorisation, and that they were duty bound to investigate those claims.

Mr Smith says the incident first came to light last Thursday morning (November 2) when he had a calling card put through his door. He phoned the number and was told by police that they wanted a face-to-face meeting.

The following morning, two officers arrived at Mr Smith’s door and said there were concerns about how he had obtained information relating to two stories in the Falkirk area.

“They asked if I knew anyone in Police Scotland and I responded by saying I know a lot of people in the public sector,” he told STV News.

“I knew what they were getting at (that he received information from a police officer) but they are totally wrong.

“I got the information about the stories from members of the community. I was born and bred in Falkirk and have lived here for 29 years. I used to work for Central FM and have lots of good relationships in the area.”

Mr Smith said the officers told him they had been given the name of an officer who had been leaking information to him.

The reporter said the allegation that he had received information from an officer was “absolute rubbish”, but the police continued to pressure and ask.

“I started to feel really uncomfortable in my own home, I felt taken aback, but hell will freeze over before I reveal any of my sources,” Mr Smith said.

“They also asked me not to tell the inspector in question about their visit.”

Mr Smith called on Jo Farrell, the new chief constable of Police Scotland, to rebuild trust between journalists and the force’s corporate communications team.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Enquiries were carried out after information was received that an officer had been named as having allegedly disclosed information without authorisation. These enquiries have revealed no evidence of criminality or misconduct.

“It is both appropriate and justified to investigate any report such as this and it is completely inaccurate to suggest these enquiries were conducted to establish the source of general media reporting.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it was concerned to hear about Mr Smith’s allegations, adding that several journalists had been under pressure to reveal their sources in recent weeks.

Nick McGowan-Lowe, national organiser for NUJ Scotland, said: “It’s a central principle of a free and democratic society that there is a real need for journalists to protect their sources.

“It is a cause of serious concern that in several recent cases that Police Scotland have sought to put pressure on journalists to reveal their sources, and I will be writing to the chief constable of Police Scotland to ask why this has happened, and will be seeking her assurance that this will not happen again, and that her officers will receive training on dealing with journalists.”

Michelle Thomson, Mr Smith’s local MSP, said she had raised the issue with Police Scotland on his behalf.

The MSP for Falkirk East said: “My constituent, Paul Smith is a well-known journalist in Falkirk district. He contacted me to complain that he was visited by Police Scotland at his home to ask about his sources for two stories reporting local incidents’. 

“The protection of journalists, and their sources is a valued part of our democracy.

“I agreed to raise with Police Scotland on his behalf, both to support a constituent and in defence of this important principle.”

Following the visit from police, Mr Smith also contacted the Scottish justice and home affairs secretary, Angela Constance.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “A free, vibrant and independent press is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and journalists must be able to report on behalf of the public in a safe and free environment.”

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