Freedom of speech campaign group Index on Censorship has accused the Police of displaying a "worrying” and "blasé" attitude towards freedom of the press after it emerged that plain clothes officers had asked a news vendor to "consider" taking down issues of Private Eye from display at his kiosk near the Old Bailey, where Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are currently standing trial.
According to the vendor officers had warned of the potential implications of selling the satirical magazine and allegedly said the latest edition of the magazine, which features Brooks on the cover along with the headline 'Halloween Special: Horror witch costume withdrawn from shops', could prejudice the phone hacking trial.
The newsagent refused to remove the magazine without a court order asking for its withdrawal, with the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, later ruling that Private Eye is not at risk of contempt of court.
Padraig Reidy, from Index on Censorship, commented: "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.”
The vendor in question, Tony McCarthy, who runs a stand outside Farringdon Underground station, half a mile from the Old Bailey, told The Telegraph: "I had a policeman come down to my kiosk and he asked me if I knew how many copies had been sent out by my distributor and to how many outlets.
"He asked me, ‘on the directive of the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], would you consider taking your copies down?’ He said it was something to do with contempt of court."
Yesterday The Drum reported that the jury in the trial had been told by Mr Justice Saunders, the judge in the case, to ignore the front cover of the magazine. Adding that though it was "meant to be satirical" it was a joke "in especially bad taste".
Police are reported to have also visited a second news stand at St Paul's station, taking a copy of an order form listing how many copies of Private Eye had been ordered after the initial batch had sold out.
A statement from Scotland Yard read: "Metropolitan Police Service officers, in conjunction with other parties within the trial, made enquiries with a vendor about the latest Private Eye publication to assist the court. They advised the vendor that the publication may be in contempt of court.”
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman added: “This is a matter for the courts.”
Today the jury is expected to hear opening statements, you can read The Drum's daily extensive coverage of the trial in full at thedrum.com/phonehacking.