It is the sort of action to be expected in an authoritarian state, rather than a healthy, functioning democracy.
While the decision to block delivery vans loaded with copies of The News, of Portsmouth, appears to have been taken for bureaucratic reasons – rather than anything more sinister – it demands a response from all those who care about the freedom of the press.
Police said they had gone to the scene of a protest by environmentalists – near but not targeting The News’s printers – on Sunday night and eight people were arrested.
After a “risk assessment”, the road was closed until 3am yesterday morning with a “strategic coordination group” – made up of police, the local council and others – deciding that only some “priority traffic” would be allowed. For reasons unknown, this did not include the newspaper vans.
The News has now called for Home Secretary Priti Patel to make clear to the force concerned that its actions “were unacceptable, completely misguided, overstepped the mark of its authority and must not be repeated”.
It is more important than it might seem that she should do so. Once set, precedents can be abused, even if they are simply standard practice, rather than backed by law.
Despite the internet revolution, newspapers are still important to their readers and allowing measures that prevent publication could potentially have an impact on the digital world.
Police and politicians who fail to realise this are picking a fight with this country’s free press.