Fury over ‘chilling’ police plans to keep names of suspects accused of crimes secret
- The changes come in the wake of the police investigation into Nicola Bulley.
- Lancashire Police are under investigation for disclosing your personal information
Police yesterday faced fury over ‘draconian’ plans to allow forces to keep secret the names of suspects accused of crimes in a ‘chilling’ new orientation.
Forces in England and Wales will have the option of not disclosing the identity of people charged with criminal offences, but will only name on a “case by case” basis.
In the draft guide from the College of Police, the forces are warned that they “should be more inclined” to name suspects “when the crime is of a serious nature”, such as rape or murder, or when it has already been reported or on social networks. This raises the possibility that crimes not yet in the public domain will remain secret.
Existing guidance that all defendants ‘should be named’ will be replaced with advice that says ‘those accused of a crime may be named at the time of indictment’.
But journalists warned that the proposals “will usher in a chilling new era of secret justice” by allowing the forces to choose which cases face public scrutiny.
Police yesterday faced fury over ‘draconian’ plans to allow forces to keep secret the names of suspects accused of crimes in a ‘chilling’ new orientation. (archive image)
The changes come in the wake of the Nicola Bulley investigation (pictured), when Lancashire Police released personal information about the then-missing mother of two.
According to the draft guidance, for reference, it says: “In some cases, it may not be appropriate to name defendants, for example, where there is an exceptional and legitimate police purpose for not doing so.” He goes on to warn police against disclosing other criminal penalties, either.
The document states: ‘The identities of persons affected by warnings, speeding tickets and other fixed penalties (out-of-court dispositions) must not be disclosed or confirmed.
“Force must say they have dealt with ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ and only reveal general details of the offence.”
The changes come in the wake of the Nicola Bulley investigation when Lancashire Police released personal information about the missing mother-of-two. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is investigating the force’s decision to release the information.
The move raises fears that the forces could be fined for violating data protection laws by releasing investigative information to the media.
The publishers are now calling on the police to reverse the ‘draconian’ plans.
The Publishers Society, which represents some 400 national and regional media companies, said any changes to the guidelines should “strengthen” rather than “restrict” the public’s right to know.
Chief executive Dawn Alford said: “Misplaced concerns about data protection and the privacy rights of defendants are being used as a basis to allow forces to choose which criminal charges they confirm to the media and sanctions. non-custodial, such as fines, out-of-court dispositions and warnings, could become unverifiable with press officers.’
The Mail’s Crime and Security editor, Rebecca Camber, who chairs the Crime Reporters Association, said the ‘knee reaction’ was a threat to open up justice: ‘We fear this guide could usher in a new era. chilling secret justice What about cases that have not yet been reported in the media, now remain secret as a result?
‘If police forces have the power to choose which criminal charges they can drop, what’s to stop them from silencing the prosecution of police officers? The Casey Review serves as a timely reminder of the importance of transparency and accountability for police forces.’
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is investigating the force’s decision to release the information. Pictured: Deputy Chief Constable Peter Lawson (right) with Detective Chief Superintendent Pauline Stables (left) speaking at a Nicola Bulley press conference outside Lancashire Police headquarters
News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith said: “We are deeply concerned by these proposed changes which would weaken the flow of information from police forces to the general public, undermining the public right to know.”
Professor Chris Frost, chair of the National Union of Journalists Ethics Council, said: “Police have slowly eroded the public’s right to know what is being done in their name, first by failing to identify suspects and then by failing to name those arrested”. It was only a matter of time before they made the first move to stop naming the defendants.
“It shouldn’t be up to the police or the defense to decide what we will come to know.”
A Police College spokesperson said: ‘Guidelines exist to support the relationship between the media and police forces and it was developed previously by working with the media.
“The guidance requires an update following the introduction of new data protection legislation.”
An ICO spokesperson said: “We encourage the controller to make a decision based on balanced public interest alongside the privacy rights of the individual.”