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Police decide Advertiser's investigation into Croydon fraudster's dating scam was 'harassment'

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MY attempts to question a convicted conwoman about a dating website scam went "beyond what was reasonable" according to an internal police investigation.

In March last year I was given a prevention of harassment notice after Neelam Desai, who had pleaded guilty to a series of others frauds totalling £230,000, contacted the police to say she felt "persecuted" by the stories I was writing about her.

The warning was condemned by freedom of speech groups, international media organisations and legal experts. Solicitors instructed by the Advertiser contacted the Metropolitan Police to request the notice be rescinded and, after we received no response, I decided to submit a formal complaint.

This week I received a letter informing me the complaint had been assessed and then dismissed by an Inspector at Croydon borough.

The response displays the same lack of basic investigation and critical thought that was absent 12 months ago.

Inspector Claire Robbins writes that, after reading the crime report, accounts given by Ms Desai and the police officers involved in the case, she feels "the contact made by Mr Davies towards Ms Desai did go beyond what is reasonable".

"An approach to a suspect in a news story, to get their account, is a logical course of action to round off the story.

"However once Ms Desai made it clear of her wishes, the repeated texts, emails and even alleged visits to Ms Desai's home address serve no obvious purpose.

"Ms Desai made it clear she was not going to give Mr Davies an interview and at this point his role should have been that of an observer and reporter of a news story."

I would like to correct some of the inaccuracies that now appear to be the formal account of the "harassment" Desai was subjected to:

  • I went to Desai's home on one occasion - on March 4 - to give her the chance to respond to allegations she had tricked a man out of £35,000 through an Asian marriage website. This is responsible journalistic practice, especially as I had no other way of contacting her at that point. There were no other "visits".
  • Desai called the police while I was at the door then made entirely false allegations that I impersonated a police officer and assaulted her. She later dropped the allegations without explanation.
  • At no point did I send a text message to Desai, let alone "repeated text messages".
  • I contacted Desai (and her solicitor) twice via email, on March 18 and again on March 25. As the investigation developed, more victims had come forward and these polite emails detailed new allegations and gave her the chance to respond.
  • At no point did Desai respond to say she did not want to be contacted again.
  • In fact, at the same time as she claimed I was "harassing" her, Desai made repeated calls to my office and mobile phone pretending to be her cousin. This included calls in the hours after I went to her house on March 4. Despite recorded evidence of these calls, at no point is this mentioned in Inspector Robbins' report and there is nothing to suggest they were considered.

I was told at the time that when police receive an allegation of harassment they are not required to carry out an investigation to discern the validity of the claims.

As ridiculous as that seems, I had hoped they would at least investigate as part of the complaint I raised. Instead it seems they have again taken the account of a convicted fraudster and serial liar at face value. Here is Inspector Robbins' explanation:

"The police do not have to investigate the matter but that is not to say that police did not know the history of this allegation and that it stemmed from a legitimate news story.

"PC Coman [the investigating officer] was fully aware from whence the harassment stemmed.

"The harassment warning was decided upon based on the full facts recorded on the CRIS around contact made by Mr Davies and the effect this was having on the victim".

Part of why I complained was that harassment notices appear on criminal record checks. I am not reassured by the response I received about that concern. 

The letter said it was "unlikely" the harassment notice would be disclosed during a criminal records check but "stressed" there were "no guarantees".

When three police officers visited my office to give me the harassment notice, warning me I faced arrest if I continued my "behaviour", I tried to explain I was doing my job. One of the officers, PC Chapman, relied: "That's what the News of the World phone hackers said."

Referring to that remark, Inspector Robbins wrote:

"PC Chapman replied that he appreciated the frustration of Mr Davies but that journalists did not have exemptions from the law and then referred to the Rebecca Brooks story saying those journalists thought they were just doing their job.

"While it was not the most useful of analogies to make, as phone hacking is clearly not in anyone's job description, the [phone hacking] case has probably been the most infamous of stories about journalists in recent years.

"I cannot see how this is politicising the harassment warning.

"I also cannot see any other purpose of the harassment warning beyond a way of highlighting to Mr Davies that his approaches to Ms Desai had gone beyond a reasonable course of conduct."

So, in contacting a criminal at her home on one occasion then sending her two emails over the space of a fortnight, I had "gone beyond a reasonable course of conduct". If that were true then every journalist in the country should be given an harassment warning.

Inspector Robbins sought to clarify what such a warning means, before concluding that the conduct of the officers in question had "met the minimum standard required".

"The warning is simply a warning to inform Mr Davies that his behaviour is not welcome and that he is advised to desist or there may be further investigation by police which could result in an arrest.

"To proceed to an arrest without giving a warning is not only a breach of policy but it does not give the perpetrator time to reflect and take stock of their actions."

I shouldn't be surprised by the results of my complaint - the Met demonstrated its aversion to being scrutinised by the press only this week in its response to Press Gazette's RIPA questions.

But I won't be dropping the issue either. The letter is currently with our solicitors and we have 28 days to ask the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate.

Desai was arrested last April on suspicion of ten counts of fraud by false representation as a direct result of our investigation. She is due to answer bail later this month.

Last May she was jailed for 30 months after admitting four counts of fraud and one of doing business while bankrupt connected to her discount travel business. 

Police decide Advertiser's investigation into Croydon fraudster's dating scam was 'harassment'


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