Sun 5 December 2021

A phone update and an ‘IT glitch’ caused the records to be deleted, a court heard today

Details of calls and texts from the Home Secretary to a chief constable and an assistant chief constable during a blockade of a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper printing works by Extinction Rebellion (XR) protestors have been deleted, a judge was told today.

Priti Patel called Charlie Hall, Hertfordshire’s Chief Constable, last September when approximately 50 climate change activists began a demonstration at the Newsprinters site, a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News UK, stopping three-and-a-half million copies of national newspapers, including the Daily Mail, the SunThe Times and the Telegraph, from being distributed. The court heard the blockade cost the newspaper printers £1 million.

After the police removed the XR demonstrators, the Gold Commander Assistant Chief Constable Matt Nicholls received a text from the Home Secretary thanking him for the force’s work, St Albans Magistrates’ court heard.

However, Raj Chada, who is representing some of the six protestors on trial, told District Judge Sally Fudge that “two phones of two very senior officers have had their messages deleted”.

Mr Chada said: “The defence is concerned about what matters were taken into account in the decision to remove the demonstrators, the extent of political interference and what contact was made.”

He said that the defence had received a report that reviewed the police actions on 4 and 5 September last year: “The Chief Constable was heavily involved in receiving calls from the Home Secretary. The next morning, the Home Secretary asked why it had taken so long to be resolved… We are concerned about the extent of contact – does that amount to abuse of process?”

He said the documentation also referred to the Home Secretary being alerted by several contacts in the media to the protest.

Mr Chada went on to say that Chief Constable Hall had received a call from Patel at 11:40pm on the night of 4 September, alerting him to the importance of newspaper supply. Mr Chada said that Hall updated the Home Secretary in the “hours of darkness”.

But the judge was told that Mr Hall’s phone had been updated since that night and all messages and records have been deleted. Assistant Chief Constable Matt Nicholls’ text messages had also been deleted in an “IT glitch”.

Six people are on trial accused of wilfully blocking the highway. The trial continues.


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