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.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    @567 - That's exactly the point. There is no Justice in this country. People just believe there is. If there is no proof of a crime taking place then how dos a Jury know? Simple, it's a theatre, who can act the best. Both parties try to make the Jury believe them. Truth does not come into it. So, the defense will dredge up all the accusers past and vice versa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    People are interested in the slander and judging other people based on rumours, they are not interested in a man/women being cleared-completely of any wrong-doing. As such an accusation reported or gossiped ruins lives of innocent people, they'll always be known as the "rapist".

    Sadly all too often accusations of rape or child-abuse are made purely as revenge for something comparably trivial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 591.

    it seems a bit funny that so many of these people are now saying , oh no, we didn't do that!, but i really do think that it was a time when some people wanted to get something for nothing, its not right, but i can see how some of this happened, not with the priests and vicar's though! i have to be honest here, when i was 16 i would have done anything to see certain groups, that was in the 70's

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    i think if there is any risk whatsoever to young children, then the culprit should be named as and when evidence is found, why let the dirty sod hurt another child?

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    Further to 588.

    The guidance of law in the UK is supposed to be: Innocent until Proven Guilty. For criminal law this is "Beyond all reasonable doubt" as such naming a suspect leads to a media frenzy and trial by media. This therefore will taint any Jury from doing their duties effectively as would be otherwise.

    The magistrates job is to make these sorts of decisions. They should be used often!

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    A suspect should remain anonymous until they are either due in court or appear in front of the body that is going to judge their alleged activity. At which point the information should be accessible and open to the public to scrutinize. The police should keep their documents private and confidential and should not have the power to disclose to newspapers. That should be the Magistrates call.

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    Stuart Hall Victims To Sue Broadcaster Over Assaults


  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    Much of this would be irrelevant if we had a Statute of Limitations..............

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    575."Time for the BBC to open its books on all matters, including rumours that have been widespread over the years. I suspect the pain of the victims is going to be a long protracted process of justice, shame".

  • rate this

    Comment number 584.

    For example: I could "name and shame" the 'celebrity' whom I reported to the police&who was recently arrested. But if i do, as the papers do, it could influence this man's right to a fair trial,& possibly influence MY right to justice under British law.&I will NOT accept 'free journo' types to detract from my right for justice against those who abysmally wronged me."Charged" does NOT mean guilty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 583.

    It still amazes me how Joe blogs can get jail time for groping a 15 yr old girl over 30 years ago but all these priests who admitted to sodomy with young boys get off Scott Free and are never held to account by the law ?

    i need that explained to me !

  • rate this

    Comment number 582.

    From a moral viewpoint I agree with what you say.
    However should you accuse some found not guilty of a crime I would start ducking the law suits so in effect they are in the eyes of the law innocent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 581.

    I can't add to what I said @568.

    Double-jeopardy is allowed in the UK since 2003 though. This is definitely a move backwards in justice.

    But if you are acquitted, theoretically you. Whether you actually did it, and police bungling, or a lack of evidence lead to an acquittal does not remove your guilt, I agree. But, in the eyes of the law you are deemed innocent of the charge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 580.

    The accusers (and rightly so) have a right to anonymity as in my case. That right should extend to the accused, until such time as a judge&jury find them guilty or not. THEN they can be 'named and shamed' -&any further complaints will be investigated, trialled and added to the guilty party's sentence. To name before a trialled judgement is wrong and inflammatory and could influence a fair trial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    "Aquittal does not equal innocence..."
    It does as far as the law is concerned.
    "...Just because our law does not allow double jeopardy..."
    It does allow. The law was changed in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That legislation says the court of appeal must order a re-trial if there is new and compelling evidence and it is in the interests of justice for an order to be made.

  • rate this

    Comment number 578.

    568.Sally 7 569.Greggers

    I think you will find that the options available to the courts in England and Wales are 'Guilty' or 'not Guilty.

    I concede that neither says 'Innocent.

    Neither, I trust you will agree, says 'Innocent'.

    There is a vast difference bwtween 'Not Guilty' and 'Innocent' regardless of legal status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    Anonymity should prevail and to hell with journalistic sensationalism. Too many have suffered as a result of press-babble and itr demeans the idea of 'innocent until proven guilty'. The police act on complaints received against a party and that party is then interviewed to determine guilt. It must be for a wronged individual to make a complaint, not wait until the police declare 'open house'

  • rate this

    Comment number 576.

    The abysmal failure of the police in the Savile case and their disjointed system of reporting and not collating accusations should not lead to uncharged people being put on trial by the media and having their lives ruined.
    Even when proven innocent the stigma exists families split up, careers are lost and friends turn their backs.
    After they have charged a person with an offence then fair enough

  • rate this

    Comment number 575.

    Time for the BBC to open its books on all matters, including rumours that have been widespread over the years. I suspect the pain of the victims is going to be a long protracted process of justice, shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 574.

    You're wrong. Aquittal does not equal innoncence regardless of the legal status.
    Just because our law does not allow double jeopardy, does not mean tnat someone found not guilty in a a court of law is innocent.

    Whatever the law may say, does not remove that as a fact.

    I Scotland, they have a 'Not Proven' verdict. It would ge good to extend that to the rest of the UK.


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