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'Arrested for doing my job': LBC's Charlotte Lynch tells of being held in a cell while covering M25 protest
9 November 2022, 13:10 | Updated: 9 November 2022, 13:33
It didn't seem real until I saw inside of a cell, where I'd spend the next five hours isolated with my own thoughts.
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It may seem like a cliché, but the stark reality of a hard padded bed in one corner, and a small metal toilet in the other, hit me like a ton of bricks.
Up until that point, I’d been in disbelief. When the handcuffs were slammed on to my wrists, my first response had been a shocked laugh. All this for doing my job?
I was standing on a footpath on a public road over the M25 between Junctions 20 and 21, near to Watford. I had just been reporting on the latest protest by climate change activists Just Stop Oil, who had scaled multiple gantries around the motorway for the second day in a row.
I was taking pictures and videos of a protestor who had caused the anti-clockwise stretch of the M25 to be closed, and the police who were trying to get him down.
I’d been there for around 45 minutes when two male officers stormed towards me, shouting “what are you doing?”
I immediately took out my press card and explained I was a journalist, something I’m used to doing. I’ve been a reporter for LBC for five years and have covered countless protests.
Charlotte Lynch tells James O'Brien she 'just lost it' while being under arrest
The officer examined the card and even looked at the reverse, which provides the number of a hotline which can be called to verify my identity. At no point did he call it, or call LBC when I explained that I worked for them.
Instead I was interrupted as I was explaining who I worked for – “How did you get here?”
I said – “In a taxi.”
They responded, “No, how did you get here, to this location specifically? How did you know?”
I explained that Just Stop Oil had posted on their social media channels the night before that they were going to be disrupting the M25 again that morning, and they had targeted a nearby location the previous day.
I had barely finished that sentence before my left wrist was grabbed and handcuffed. My phone, which was in my right hand, was snatched by the second officer, as the first read me my rights.
He explained that I was being arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.
In disbelief, I laughed as I said: “You’re arresting me?!”
Yesterday I was arrested by @HertsPolice whilst covering a protest on the M25.— Charlotte Lynch (@charlotterlynch) November 9, 2022
I showed my press card, and I was handcuffed almost immediately. My phone was snatched out of my hand. I was searched twice, held in a cell for 5 hours, and I wasn’t questioned whilst in custody.
I asked if I could quickly call my editor to tell him that I was being taken into custody, but this was refused. All of my devices including my watch were taken away.
A female officer was then summoned to search me at the side of the road. I was so embarrassed as drivers who were stopping to look at the protestor, even shout and swear at him, started directing their fury at me.
One woman said “I just wish I could f***ing run you all over.”
I was hauled in handcuffs, into the back of a police custody van. It’s almost a mini-cell, and that’s where it started to dawn on me that I was now the subject of criminal proceedings. I realised that I could be charged and even sent to prison.
The hour-long journey to Stevenage police station was one of the longest of my life. It was the first time I was alone with my own thoughts, and as I looked around at where I was, I started to get a bit overwhelmed. I comforted myself by telling myself that every minute that went by was a minute closer to the station, where I’d answer a few simple questions and then be let go.
I was wrong.
Arrest of LBC Reporter Charlotte Lynch raised in the House of Lords
Once at the station, the custody officer questioned the arresting officers about my status as a journalist. She’d assumed I wasn’t carrying a press card.
When the officers told her I was, she again seemed to question whether my arrest was necessary, to which their response was “it’s not for us to make those inquiries”.
She then ordered them to remove my handcuffs – I breathed a major sigh of relief and for the first time felt like someone here was on my side.
I was asked all the standard welfare questions, and then taken for a mugshot. My mouth was swabbed for DNA and all of my fingerprints were taken. Whilst the arresting officer was out of earshot, the second officer – who had seen me begin to get tearful at the custody desk – told me “I don’t necessarily agree with this, and I’m sorry this is happening to you today.”
At this point, I assumed the very next stage would be my formal questioning. When the custody officer instructed another to get me a blanket, I had no idea why. I thought ‘that’s a bit unnecessary, I’m wearing two jumpers’ (I had no idea how long I was going to be by the M25 for).
Even as the arresting officer was walking me to the cell, the penny hadn’t dropped. It wasn’t until he stood by the door and gestured for me to go in, and I saw the inside of a cell for the first time, it became real.
I immediately burst in to tears. I could tell he felt sorry for me.
I am just a journalist who was doing my job. I am 25 years old and I have been a reporter for five years, but it was only a year ago that I moved to London to take on my first national role with LBC.
For the first time in my life, I felt alone. No one knew where I was or what had happened.
When the cell door slammed shut, all I could do was sit there with my hands over my face because I couldn’t bear to look at where I was or understand what had happened to me.
At one point I leaned against the door and willed it to open. No one can appreciate what it’s like to have your freedom taken away until it happens to you.
Everyone keeps asking me “how did you pass the time?”, and honestly, I have no idea. It passed so slowly but so quickly at the same time.
I was allowed out into a small rectangular yard – four walls and a concrete floor. The custody officers had sympathy and let me have a cup of tea out there.
I did that twice and spaced them out on purpose to break the day up – I looked forward to the second one like it was a treat. Other prisoners had scrawled their names on the wall in mud – I wondered who TYLER was and what he’d been in for.
When I was in my cell, I could hear banging and shouting coming from a few doors down. I heard custody officers arguing with another prisoner. I felt like a criminal.
I was never interviewed or questioned. Eventually, I was visited by a detective who simply told me that I was being released with no further action. Almost 10 hours after my arrest, I was finally home.
The journey home was spent on the phone to my worried parents, sister and friends, recounting the whole ordeal over and over again. I was back to laughing in disbelief, but that turned back in to tears when I opened the envelope containing my personal belongings, tagged PRISONER.
I am honestly furious. I am a journalist. I did nothing wrong. I wasn’t even interviewed whilst in custody. Whilst I am grateful that Hertfordshire police clearly realised their error, I actually had been looking forward to sitting across the interview table from a detective and watching them realise that they had made a huge mistake as I calmly and clearly answered all of their questions.
What shocks me the most is the two officers made no effort or attempt to verify who I was before they arrested me – they either simply didn’t believe me, or they just really wanted to arrest me.
It was so clear from the start they knew I was a reporter, not a protestor, nor had I anything to do with the demonstration.
I don’t blame the individual officers. It seems they are a symptom of a much wider and hugely alarming problem.
Today, my arrest has prompted outrage and huge concern about press freedom in the UK.
The former director of Liberty, Baroness Shami Chakrabati, has described it as an “eye-opener”, and questioned in the House of Lords whether it is “really time to be increasing police powers and scrapping our human rights act.”
Former Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter, who wrote the College of Policing guidance on relationships with the media, said it was “unbelievable”.
He told me: “You have every right to cover these events. You’re in a public place, you’re not causing an obstruction, and the police guidelines are very clear – there is no power to stop journalists or anyone else from looking at these events.
“If you knew someone was to be murdered tomorrow, or a bomb, quite clearly your public duty would be to report that. There must be some sliding scale, right down to being told there is going to be a demonstration. This is on the far end of that.”
I hope that my ordeal and the outrage it has prompted means that no other journalist ever has to go through this again.