Will police stop naming suspects?

Stuart Hall Stuart Hall: Named - and then more victims emerged

Should we, the public, know who the police have arrested? Do people deserve anonymity until the point that the police charge them with an offence - or in the case of some crimes - anonymity until convicted?

Ever since the Leveson Inquiry and the related criminal investigation into how some journalists acquire information from the police, there has been a row brewing between police chiefs and newsrooms over the flow of information.

The row broke surface this week when Warwickshire Police decided not to name a former police officer who had been charged with theft from the force's former headquarters.

That led to a broad accusation from some journalists that it was symptomatic of increasing secrecy from the police - secrecy which is making it harder for reporters to find out what officers are doing in the public's name.

When someone is arrested for an offence - and the incident appears to be newsworthy - journalists will try to establish what has happened. That ultimately means trying to establish who has been arrested, because journalists want their reporting to be accurate.

But the police's position in relation to names is shifting in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry report.

Lord Justice Leveson said that arrested suspects should not be named "save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances".

Current practice is that a police force issues a statement along the lines of a "A 34-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of such-and-such a crime".

Start Quote

For example, I think that it should be made abundantly clear that save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances, for example, where there may be an immediate risk to the public, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press nor the public”

End Quote Leveson Report

What happens next varies from force to force. Some will informally confirm the name of the person arrested if journalists have worked it out for themselves. Some won't.

Police chiefs want to introduce an official policy under which forces would "neither confirm nor deny" (NCND) the name of anyone arrested.

The point of the proposed NCND policy is to end what Chief Constable Andy Trotter, who leads on media policy for forces in England and Wales, says is a "bizarre parlour game" in which a reporter tries a variety of creative and persuasive techniques to receive some guidance on whether or not the name is correct.

Writing in the Press Gazette, the industry website, Andy Trotter said the current situation "is less than satisfactory, with no-one certain as to what can be expected, and a pervasive sense that these arrangements may not be transparent or fair. This is damaging to public confidence in both police and media".

He says there would be exceptions where it would be in the public interest to name on arrest.

The broad argument put by news organisations is that the public interest test being considered by the Association of Chief Police Officers is not the same issue as deciding what the public is legitimately interested in.

Further, naming a suspect who has been arrested can lead to more victims coming forward.

That is what happened in the case of BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, who has admitted 14 charges of indecent assault. More of his victims came forward after the media reported he had been arrested on a handful of allegations.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One programme on Thursday, The Times' crime editor, Sean O'Neill, said Surrey Police could have uncovered more about Jimmy Savile's crimes if it had named him when it had him under investigation.

Christopher Jefferies

Christopher Jefferies
  • Wrongly arrested over murder of Bristol resident Joanna Yeates in December 2010
  • Successfully sued eight newspapers over coverage
  • Accepted an undisclosed sum and public apology
  • Member of Hacked Off

The counter-argument is that someone who is arrested will be tainted by the impact of being named, even if they are innocent. The headline screaming "John Smith Arrested" won't be matched by one declaring "John Smith Goes Free".

Nowhere is that argument more compelling than in the case of the ordeal-by-media experienced by Christopher Jefferies, wrongly arrested in relation to the murder of Joanne Yeates. The innocent man later told the Leveson Inquiry that once his name was out, he suffered a "frenzied campaign to blacken his character".

That feeling of gross unfairness at the hands of parts of the media appears to be shared by many members of the public. A survey for The Independent newspaper found three-quarters of those interviewed believed that people accused of serious sexual offences should benefit from anonymity.

The chairman of the Bar Council, the professional body for barristers, has also called for anonymity in sexual offences.

One backbench MP has even tried (and failed) to make it a crime for a journalist to name arrested people without official permission.

But the Law Commission, which advises ministers, takes a different view - it says that police should release names unless there are compelling reasons not to do so.

The Warwickshire Police case was, however, of a completely different order. On Wednesday, it refused to name a former police officer charged with a major act of theft.

"Due to a change in policy we no longer release the name of an individual on charge," said the force. "Journalists may request a surname for guidance the day before the first court appearance by calling the newsdesk."

It later said the policy was in keeping with national police policy.

It wasn't - and the force ultimately admitted it had been wrong and has since named the former officer as Paul Andrew Greaves.

Dominic Casciani, Home affairs correspondent Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent


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  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Suspects should not be named nor should their names be plastered across the tabloids and BBC website. Doing this reverses the 'innocent until proven guilty' to 'guilty until proven innocent' ... WRONG!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Innocent until proven guilty is the basis of our judicial system, we shouldn't try by the press

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Both accused and victims should remain anonymous until after the court case.

    If the tabloids don't like that : TOUGH !

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    13. Kaz

    Kaz, your comments appal ME. "Emotional confusion" is not a crime, and Hall doesn't appear to have pursued these instances further.

    But almost every man has made an advance to a woman that has been rejected for some reason: if all such advances are now to be considered as abusive simply because they were unwanted, then we're heading down a very dangerous road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    "naming a suspect who has been arrested can lead to more victims coming forward."

    What a poor argument. naming them in the press labels them as guilty, regardless...

    surely someone being convicted and named would give other victims the security that the criminal is safely behind bars and that the victim can come forward safe in the knowledge that the criminal is no longer a threat to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Don't know if many people know this, but, behind America we are the next Country in the Western World that has incarcerated the most innocent people. Says a lot about our "Fair" justice system. People I know have sat on Juries and the majority just want to give the result and go home. The chances of being found innocent in a situation where it is word against word are very slim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    I live in the Netherlands and here it is forbidden to name suspects before they are convicted - then there is plenty of time to pillory them.
    It works
    In many cases the press make a fair trial impossible.
    Look at Craig Charles he was on the front page before the police had arrested him and then found innocent.

    Only in a case like Saville where there is no defendant should there be an exception

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    People have very short term memories. This process is a complete catharsis of a time where abuse of children and young women particularly was obviously tolerated. I can't imagine why the commenters would think someone would have an interest to lie and put themselves through this whole process of victim blaming & sexism 30-40 yrs later. I think they must be sexist & rape sympathisers themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Difficult one.

    Its not nice to be accused then found not guilty as not everyone hears about the follow up and then there's the "no smoke without fire" brigade.

    However if people are arrested but nobody is told about it how long until secret arrests start taking place?

    Look at the 17 yearold that has been arrested for tiding up his local War Memorial for the last 12 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Stuart Hall swore he was innocent and then pleaded guilty. Why should he be protected?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Remember Craig Charles of Red Dwarf fame? Wrongly accused, tried for rape and found not guilty when the prosecution case fell to bits but convicted by the media after his name was released to them by the Police before the case. I've no doubt his career was damaged not to mention his family and other relationships. Anonymity for all or none, innocent until proven guilty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    One problem is that the terms "arrested" and "charged" seem to have shifted in meaning. And maybe the timing sits uneasily with the apparent delays in the CPS. Though we maybe only ever hear about the extreme cases.

    I'd say things are out of balance, and just talking about the Police and the media is not really enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Named when proven to be guilty. Not when charged, only when proven guilty. That's got to be the only way forward here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    There is something wrong with this whole process. I don't for a minute believe that people should get away with crimes just because they are famous, but I can't help feeling that a some women are jumping on a band wagon. One persons word against another 30 years on! I think that all names should be kept out of the press until guilt is proven. With so much pressure, even a confession isn't safe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    If names of the suspected offender's are released before a court case, then the names of the alleged victims should be as well. Many cases are proven not guilty, and the previously alleged offender can suffer for the rest of there life just for having their name associated with a crime. Naming the "victim's" would stop many vexatious cases and save a lot time, money and more importantly lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Looks like more BBC skeletons are being outed; so what does the BBC do? Parade a bit of mealy mouthed obfuscation. It's as if Savile never happened. Time to wake up and smell the coffee.
    The BBC live off our money and our lives. I fail to see why they should live off our children as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I think the police are on a sticky wicket here.

    If 'NCND' works for victims, if someone is accused then later found innocent surely they are a victim too? More so if they have been hounded by press and 'the mob'.

    I don't care if they're famous or not, put yourself in their shoes it must be a horrendous situation to be in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Should only be named when charged. Other victims can still come forward. I fail to see the argument that naming when arrested is the only way to get victims to come forward. It might also get the police and CPS to act faster. Even Roach, the CPS had the papers for 2 months "to decide"

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    He admitted his crime end of story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Anonymity for the accuser in sex crimes was supported by pressure groups and feminists but it was never supported by the wider public. The majority of people never had a say about this rule when it was forced upon us. I'm sure if it was put to public consultation the outcome would be anonymity for all or none at all.


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