Police get heavy over Private Eye joke

Officers suggest news vendor take mag off sale

Police officers have been accused of falsely telling newspaper vendors they might be in contempt of court for selling the new issue of Private Eye.

The cover of this week's satirical magazine features a picture of former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and the headline: Halloween Special: Horror Witch Costume Withdrawn From Shops.

The magazine has already been raised in Brooks' phone-hacking trail, with judge Mr Justice Saunders telling jurors they should ignore what he called 'a joke in especially bad taste'.

He felt the need to explain to them: 'It's meant to be satire. It has no serious input and it is not relevant to your considerations. It is one of those things that you will have to ignore.'

The Attorney General has even investigated the issue, and declared 'proceedings for a potential contempt of court aren't required'.

However a news vendor near the Old Bailey was approached by a plain-clothes police officer this afternoon who advised him he might want to consider taking his copies off display ‘on the directive of the Crown Prosecution Service' because there might be a contempt issue.

However, Index on Censorship, which is highlighting the case, said the police’s behaviour was 'really problematic'.

Campaigner Padraig Reidy said: 'It is an example of a very blasé attitude towards the free press on the part of these individual policemen. That is worrying. The vendor should be congratulated for demanding to see a court order, which didn’t appear.'

Scotland Yard admitted in a that officers 'advised the vendor that the publication may be in contempt of court'; while the Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: 'This is a matter for the courts.'

Mrs Brooks, 45, who previously edited The Sun, is accused of conspiracy to intercept voicemails, conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She is on trial with Andy Coulson and six other people, but she is not an actual witch.

Published: 29 Oct 2013

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