Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 18:26 UK

Undercover care reporter arrested

Arifa Farooq
Arifa Farooq featured in the Panorama programme, broadcast in April

A BBC journalist who went undercover to expose failings in care for the elderly has been arrested, it has emerged.

Arifa Farooq was detained on Wednesday and held in a police cell in the wake of a Panorama investigation into care providers in South Lanarkshire.

It is believed her arrest is related to an alleged failure to provide accurate personal details to the employer.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) expressed concern at the police action, and called for "common sense".

The programme, Britain's Homecare Scandal: A Panorama Special, centred on an in-depth investigation of domiciliary care, provided in Harrow, York and South Lanarkshire.

The idea that this action has been taken against the journalist involved is remarkable
Johann Lamont
Deputy Scottish Labour leader

Ms Farooq, 30, went undercover as part of a two-month investigation to work for Domiciliary Care, which had won the South Lanarkshire contract by bidding £9.95 an hour in an online auction.

The journalist, who works with the BBC Scotland investigations unit, was arrested after voluntarily attending an interview at Maryhill police station in Glasgow.

It is understood police received a complaint about her securing employment with Clydebank-based Domiciliary Care using a false identity .

Ms Farooq was said to have been held in a cell for about an hour, before being released.

The Panorama programme, broadcast in April, found carers employed by some companies on minimum wages, often with very little training and frequently frustrated by poor management.

It also uncovered evidence of missed and curtailed visits and failure to keep proper care plans.

The programme prompted the Scottish Parliament's Local Government committee to announce it was launching an investigation into the practice of online bidding auctions for homecare contracts.

'Vital journalism'

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: "We are strongly urging the authorities to use their common sense and rule out prosecution. The work undertaken by Arifa Farooq was clearly in the public interest and it is now in the public interest for the case to be dropped.

"The only people who would benefit from legal action in these circumstances are those who want to stop the kind of vital journalism that has been undertaken by Arifa.

"The BBC has a proud history of supporting investigative reporters and I am sure they will be standing firmly behind their journalist. The NUJ also pledges its support to a member who will be going through an appalling experience simply because she dared to expose wrongdoing."

Dame Joan Bakewell, the government-appointed Voice of Older People expressed surprise at the arrest.

She said: "I know that the programme and the BBC in general are very thoughtful and deliberated a great deal before they went through with the coverage.

"It was of major public interest - this is a case of cruelty being brought on older people."

We are very concerned about the action taken against Arifa and its consequences for the freedom of investigative journalism
Atholl Duncan
BBC Scotland

Deputy Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont questioned whether the arrest was the best use of police time, and called for a review of procedures.

"The power that the Panorama programme had was huge, and the idea that this action has been taken against the journalist involved is remarkable," said Ms Lamont.

"The fact that many people welcomed the findings of the programme is in the public domain, and parliament and the government has acted as a result."

Atholl Duncan, BBC Scotland's head of news and current affairs, said: "This was an extremely important piece of journalism which highlighted widespread mistreatment of elderly people.

"We are very concerned about the action taken against Arifa and its consequences for the freedom of investigative journalism.

"We now await consideration of the matter by the fiscal."

Before going undercover, Miss Farooq was trained by a team from Age Concern Training to ensure she met and exceeded the national minimum standards for new carers.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Human Rights Commission said the investigation "made a substantial contribution" to the debate around standards of care and the way care is procured.

"Bringing the debate into the homes of everyone in Scotland was in the public interest, and a welcome step forward," she said.

A Strathclyde Police spokesman said: "We can confirm that a woman was arrested yesterday in connection with a contravention of Section 123 of the Police Act 1997.

"She was not detained and a report will be sent to the procurator fiscal."

Miss Farooq was initially interviewed by Maryhill CID at BBC Scotland headquarters in Pacific Quay last week before her arrest.

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