London-based photojournalist Marc Vallée originally brought a private civil action for up to £15,000 against both the police force and its commissioner Sir Ian Blair alleging assault and breaches of the Human Rights Act. Under the terms of the settlement the Metropolitan Police have not accepted any liability.
Vallée, 39, was hospitalised and left unable to work for a month with back injuries which he alleges resulted from being manhandled by a police officer while covering the Sack Parliament protest in London’s Parliament Square on 9 October 2006.
Marc Vallée is attended to by police paramedics in Parliament Square following the incident.
The experienced protest photographer, who is a member of EPUK, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), International Federation of Journalists and the British Press Photographers’ Association, was wearing his NUJ-issued National Press Card, and had already had his identification checked by police twice before the incident occurred.
According to the court papers, Vallée had been photographing protesters who had run onto the road in front of the Houses of Parliament, but had moved away from them and was standing some distance away when he was grabbed from behind by a police officer. Despite identifying himself as a member of the press, the documents allege that he was then pushed between three different police officers, before being shoved forcibly through a police line where he fell to the ground sustaining his injuries.
“I was thrown by the police”
A video available on the YouTube website, which wrongly dates the incident to September 2006, shows Vallée being thrown backwards through a police line, landing off balance on his right foot and then falling backwards. Later footage shows him sitting up, in pain and unable to stand. When asked what happened Vallée replies “I’m a member of the press, and I was thrown by the police”.
BAFTA-award-winning documentary maker Chris Atkins then be seen shouting to police: “Can you get us an ambulance ? The man you have just thrown was a member of the press.” The film later shows veteran Parliament Square protester Brian Haw describing the incident as “being thrown like a sack of garbage”.
Vallée was attended at the scene by police paramedics, before being taken to St Thomas’ Hospital for suspected back and neck injuries. He was released the same evening, but pain in his lower back meant he was unable to work for another four weeks.
“Censorship and bully boy tactics”
While Vallée is a member of the National Union of Journalists which provides legal support for members, he chose to raise his action privately through Hickman and Rose. In a statement, his solicitor Chez Cotton said : “This was an extremely unpleasant incident. Neither the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police or his officers has any legal power, moral responsibility or political responsibility to prevent or restrict what the media record.”
“Mr. Vallée is a well-respected photojournalist, lawfully present to photograph a political protest outside parliament, yet he was brutally prevented from doing so by the police.”
Film director Chris Atkins who witnessed the incident said: “Seeing photojournalist Marc Vallée assaulted by uniformed officers for simply photographing protesters outside parliament was appalling, and a sad reflection on the political policing that is now part of everyday Britain.”
Comic, activist and writer Mark Thomas said: “The Met should be ashamed that the case had to be taken on in the first place, physically assaulting journalists in the pursuit of their job is an outrageous and vile act that smacks of the worst kind of censorship and bully boy tactics.”
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