Police censor film of PCs' 'attack' on samaritan on video

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The Independent Online

Northumbria police are using a law designed to prevent the spread of child pornography to suppress a video that allegedly shows one of their officers violently assaulting an oil-rig worker and his wife.

Northumbria police are using a law designed to prevent the spread of child pornography to suppress a video that allegedly shows one of their officers violently assaulting an oil-rig worker and his wife.

The police have banned any broadcast of the video or publication of stills from the film, citing an obscure legal technicality originally intended to prevent the circulation of child pornography in jails. They have warned journalists that they face hefty fines or prison terms if they try to show the grainy images.

Robert and Michelle Fox from Sunderland have accused an officer from the Northumbria force of kicking and punching them and say the alleged violence is captured on a closed-circuit television film. Yet, more than nine months after the incident, no charges have been laid against any police officer.

A copy of the tape has been passed to The Independent on Sunday, but our journalist was told that if the pictures were published he could be charged with contempt of court, which carries a maximum £5,000 fine or a six-month jail sentence in the magistrates court - or stiffer penalties if the case were to go to Crown Court.

Deputy Chief Constable Michael Craik told the IoS that using the pictures would break section 17 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996.

Last night, however, a leading criminal barrister, Neil Addison, said: "The purpose of section 17 was to prevent undesirable people passing round videos of children almost as a form of pornography. It isn't meant to stop legitimate investigative journalism."

Until the Act was passed, sex offenders had caused outrage by obtaining video evidence of their crimes during the court case against them, and then circulating the images among friends.

Robert and Michelle Fox ran into trouble last October when, they say, they were returning to their home in the Hendon area after a wedding. According to their account, two students were punched to the ground by a gang and Mr Fox, who is trained in first aid, ran to help the victims.

But the police arrived and mistakenly thought that he was the attacker. CCTV cameras picked up the struggle as police officers tried to arrest Mr Fox. On the video, it then appears that one of the officers kicks Michelle, while his colleague sprays the couple with CS gas.

Mr Fox reacts by punching one of the officers. He is then wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. Moments later, as Mr Fox struggles, the pictures appear to show a police officer punching him in the back of the head.

Mr Fox was arrested and originally charged with assault - entitling him to a copy of the CCTV footage - but the charges against him were dropped.

Mr Fox has lodged a formal complaint. Yet nine months after the incident, no police officer has been arrested or suspended - and, according to Northumbria Police, no one is allowed to see the pictures.

"The material is covered by section 17 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act," said Deputy Chief Constable Michael Craik. "Under that section the video cannot be disclosed without a court order."

Northumbria Police says that it is still investigating the allegation of violence.

Mr Fox said: "Myself and my wife were innocent victims on that night. We went to try to help two men who had been assaulted. It was us who were then assaulted by the police.

"We have the evidence to prove it yet nobody can see the pictures and nobody has been arrested. We can't even use the pictures to appeal for witnesses."

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