Arrest anonymity not simple, says PM David Cameron

Image caption The home secretary's intervention came in a letter to the College of Policing

There is no simple answer on the issue of whether anonymity should be granted to suspects who are arrested but not yet charged, David Cameron has said.

Home Secretary Theresa May has told police in a letter that names should not normally be revealed at that stage.

Mr Cameron said there was a "difficult balance" between publicising arrests and respecting the privacy of suspects.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said publicising Stuart Hall's arrest did not bring victims forward.

The debate came amid concerns about inconsistent policy among forces.

Some newspapers have also claimed that not naming suspects until they are charged amounted to "secret justice".

'Long-standing debate'

Speaking to reporters during his trip to the US, Mr Cameron said: "I know some people want to connect it specifically with Leveson.

"But actually it's a long-standing debate about how to get the balance right between making things public, which as Theresa has said should be the working assumption, but also respecting privacy where that is appropriate.

"It's a very difficult balance to get right. On the one hand, sometimes making public the details of the arrest can help to bring forward evidence and bring forward potential victims. Therefore it is completely in the public interest.

"Sometimes it is right to respect the privacy of the individual because the publicity around these sorts of arrests can be genuinely life-changing. There is no simple answer to this."

Mrs May's intervention came in a letter to professional standards body the College of Policing.

The home secretary said: "I am concerned that the refusal of some police forces to name suspects who have been charged undermines transparency in the criminal justice system and risks the possibility that witnesses and other victims might not come forward.

"I strongly believe that there should be no right to anonymity at charge apart from in extremely unusual circumstances.

"I believe there should be a right to anonymity at arrest, but I know that there will be circumstances in which the public interest means that an arrested suspect should be named."

'Suspicion and speculation'

Chief Constable Andrew Trotter, who leads on media issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers, denied that the naming of BBC presenter Stuart Hall when he was arrested on charges of indecent assault resulted in more victims coming forward.

Speaking on the Today programme, he said: "Hall would have been charged anyway".

He said the case against Hall was not affected by his naming on arrest, as more victims came forward after he was charged - when he would have been named regardless.

However, Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, a group which campaigns for media freedom, argued that in the case of Hall "publication after arrest led to people coming forward".

He stated there had been "perhaps too many arrests" and argued that publicising the names of arrested suspects would help in "restoring confidence in the police".

He demanded greater transparency as "secrecy of any kind leads to suspicion and speculation" over the behaviour of the police.

'Force behaviour'

Warwickshire Police was criticised for initially refusing to name a retired police officer charged with theft.

The force, which later revealed the suspect's name as Paul Greaves, said it had originally changed its guidance following the Leveson Inquiry into press standards.

Mr Greaves has been charged with the theft of £113,000 from the former Warwickshire Police headquarters at Leek Wootton.

He will appear before magistrates in Leamington Spa on 22 May.

Mrs May wrote: "I understand the Leveson Inquiry might have had an effect on the behaviour of police forces.

"In fact, Lord Leveson's report did not make any substantive recommendations in relation to anonymity so I would like police forces to be aware of this fact."

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