The Metropolitan Police has warned of “potential conflicts between media and criminal investigations” in a statement defending its inquiry into claims of murder and child abuse by establishment figures.
The Met said issued a statement last night following reports raising criticism about Operation Midland, which was launched following historical claims that a VIP paedophile ring including MPs were linked to the murder of three children between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s.
The force said the historic nature of the allegations "means this is a complex case where the normal avenues of evidence-gathering from CCTV, DNA and telephone data, are not open to us", adding: "These cases take time, but the public can have confidence that allegations from witnesses will be investigated thoroughly."
On press coverage of Operation Midland, it said: “The media has shown in recent years how important they are in bringing issues concerning historic abuse to public notice and has been both challenging and supportive of the way in which police and the criminal justice system have adapted our approach. Reporting has also rightly questioned the official response to allegations.
"The media is also valuable in witness appeals and to show possible victims that they can have confidence their claims will be investigated.”
The statement suggested that the fact those making the allegations are “very often vulnerable individuals” can be “overlooked” and suggested the press’s code of conduct could be altered to define “vulnerable people” as Ofcom’s does.
The broadcast regulator code says at 8.22:
Persons under sixteen and vulnerable people should not be questioned about private matters without the consent of a parent, guardian or other person of eighteen or over in loco parentis (in the case of persons under sixteen), or a person with primary responsibility for their care (in the case of a vulnerable person), unless it is warranted to proceed without consent.
“Meaning of "vulnerable people": This varies, but may include those with learning difficulties, those with mental health problems, the bereaved, people with brain damage or forms of dementia, people who have been traumatised or who are sick or terminally ill.”
The Met statement added: “Our other main concern is the risk that media investigations will affect the process of gathering and testing evidence in our criminal investigation. In recent weeks, one journalist reporting on Operation Midland has shown the purported real identity of someone making an allegation of sexual assault to a person who has disclosed that they have been questioned by police concerning those allegations."
The force said this can be "extremely distressing" for the identified person and that "possible victims or witnesses reading the article may believe their identities could be revealed as well, which could deter them from coming forward".
The Met said: "Ultimately, that could make it harder for allegations to be proved or disproved. This might not just deter those who could provide information for this investigation but also concern anyone thinking of coming forward with sexual abuse allegations.
"Finally, the potential disclosure by a journalist of a name may possibly hamper an investigation. Names will be disclosed by police to those involved in the case, but that will be at the appropriate time for the investigation depending on how those lines of enquiry progress."
It added: “We do understand that there are occasions when people making allegations of crime – including sexual abuse – disclose their own identity to the media and disclose facts associated with the case. Again, we ask that the media exercise care and caution when these are the circumstances and recognise our earlier point about vulnerability.”
The statement also said that it is the Met’s policy not to “name or confirm names of those arrested or interviewed”. It said: “If a police employee revealed the name that would be a clear breach of policy and dealt with in the appropriate manner.”