Canadian filmmaker spends night in Scottish jail for golf story

Canadian filmmaker and journalist Richard Phinney was interviewing local townspeople for a story about Donald Trump’s Scottish golf course when he was arrested and spent a night in prison for breaching the peace.

In a story for the Globe and Mail, Phinney, who has worked in “unsavoury regimes” like Cuba, Guinea, Burma and Afghanistan on controversial stories for the BBC and CBC, admits he’s had a few guns pointed at him, but never spent time in jail — until now.

“According to Britain’s National Union of Journalists, my imprisonment with a co-worker was “one of the first cases in this country of journalists being arrested for just carrying out interviews to establish the truth and hold people to account.”

Phinney was covering a story about golf. His colleague Anthony Baxter has spent more than a year filming a documentary about the social, environmental and economic cost of Donald Trump’s controversial golf course, hotel and luxury homes development on the “untouched coastal dunes land north of Aberdeen,” which scientists say has “doomed one of the last stretches of true wilderness left in the United Kingdom,” Phinney writes.

The pair were arrested after interviewing a local quarry worker who has refused to sell his land to Trump. The worker shared his home with his wife and 86-year-old mother, and complained that Trump’s crewman had shut off their access to water. The crew confirmed that the water had accidentally been cut off and would take several more days to fix.

Phinney and Baxter went on to interview another resident and were filming in her driveway when the police arrived.

“The officers refused to say why they were there. When Anthony in turn refused to shut off his camera, the police put him in handcuffs. I was told I would receive the same treatment if I didn’t voluntarily get into the police car. We were then taken to Aberdeen jail, and placed in separate cells for four hours. Eventually we were fingerprinted, our DNA was taken, and we were formally charged with breach of the peace, a criminal charge in Scotland. Anthony’s camera and film footage were impounded.”

Under Scottish law, “breach of the peace” complaints can be made by any member of the public that becomes “alarmed, or upset.” The police issued a written warning, which stays on your file for two years — if you admit guilt or not. Challenge the warning, Phinney writes, and “police have the right to press charges all over again.” He writes:

“That’s what has happened to Anthony, who has decided to fight the official warning, and faces the possibility of a criminal conviction. That could make it difficult to enter the United States — a serious matter for him, as at least two scenes in his film are supposed to be shot in the U.S. One way or another, the finished product is meant to be released in 2011. For Anthony and me, the film’s working title, You’ve Been Trumped, has taken on unwelcome new layers of meaning.”