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Police attempt to remove copies of Private Eye from shops as Rebekah Brooks goes on trial

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In a story laden with layers of irony and chilling police conduct, the satirical magazine Private Eye was at the centre of a legal storm yesterday. A controversial Halloween cover featuring Rebekah Brooks as a witch saw police officers attempt to remove the magazine from shelves and the judge in the trial of Mrs Brooks instruct the jury to ignore it.

As newspapers made a last ditch attempt to block the incoming charter concerning press regulation, Private Eye were busy exercising press freedom on the central figure in the allegations of corruption and illegality that led to the charter in the first place. If that wasn’t irony enough, the Private Eye cover referred to ‘withdrawal from shops’ as police tried to do exactly that with the issue.

The furore concerned a possible contempt of court citation for inappropriately featuring the subject of a court proceeding. As Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson went on trial for their role in the alleged criminality at News International, one news vendor at Farringdon station was approached by plain clothes police who strongly suggested he take the issue down and claimed they were acting on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service. They then moved on to a vendor at St Paul’s tube station and demanded to see order figures for the current issue of Private Eye.

It is unclear who, if anyone, sanctioned this heavy handed and profoundly worrying approach, as the CPS denied asking police to do any such thing and the Attorney General’s office released this statement

“The front cover of the current edition of Private Eye has been brought to the attention of the Attorney General, but it has been decided that proceedings for a potential contempt of court are not required in this case.”

Meanwhile Scotland Yard gave this extremely ambiguous statement which effectively admits that police officers had taken it upon themselves to intimidate a news vendor because they thought the cover might, maybe, be in contempt of court.

“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.”

In court, the judge at Mrs Brooks’ trial told the jury

"Unfortunately Private Eye has seen fit today to put out their November edition. You will undoubtedly see it on the newstands, so I can show it to you. It bears a picture of Rebekah Brooks on the cover. It's meant to be satire. You ignore it. 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 - a joke which in the circumstances of today is a joke in especially bad taste."

The ramifications of what happened yesterday are very real as new press regulations are battled out in the High Court. If police officers feel that they can just wander around London removing magazines and threatening news vendors, then we have a serious problem as a society. It is of course arguable that Mrs Brooks’ conduct is what led to this dangerous new attitude towards the press, but of course we couldn’t possibly comment just in case the jury are loyal Excite readers.

Private Eye declined to comment as naturally, sales rocketed with the storm of publicity.

Written by Cyrus Bozorgmehr - Google+ Profile - More articles by Cyrus Bozorgmehr

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