Police open to consultation with media over plans to keep suspects’ names secret

·2-min read

The College of Policing has said they “do not want to do anything that would undermine open justice”, following an outcry from media chiefs over plans to keep the names of suspects accused of many serious offences secret.

Media bosses raised concerns after proposed changes to the College of Policing’s media relations guidance stated that forces across England and Wales no longer “should” name those charged with crimes including indecent exposure, domestic violence or child sexual abuse, instead advising that individuals “can be named”.

The new advice suggested that suspects are named only “where the crime is of a serious nature such as rape or murder” or where the incident has already been reported in the media or on social media sites.

This led to fears that individual police forces could choose whether or not to name suspects for a wide range of crimes such as arson, grievous bodily harm and robbery.

Crime reporters also raised concerns that new guidelines could make it much harder for journalists to cover criminal cases because reporters need a defendant’s name to find details of their first court appearance.

Responding to the concerns raised by the Crime Reporter’s Association (CRA), the Society of Editors and News Media Association among others, a spokesman for the College of Policing said they would take a “common sense approach”.

“We’ve listened to the feedback on draft proposals around our media relations guidance and we do not want to do anything that will undermine open justice,” the spokesman said.

“We’ll take a common sense approach, working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office to try and resolve its issues, and media organisations to ensure journalists continue to have access to the information they need to do their important job.”

In a letter to the CRA, the Society of Editors and News Media Association sent on Thursday, the College of Policing’s head of communications Matt Peck said that amendments had been proposed by the Information Commissioner’s Office to take account of evolving data protection law.

“In sharing these proposals at an early state, we have been seeking formal feedback to consult and develop a way forward working with you, forces and the ICO,” he said.

“We welcome your input and support as we undertake this process. We understand the depth of feeling on these issues and the public interest in getting any changes to the guidance right.”

He added that no decision to introduce the changes has been made yet.