Monthly avalanche of stories 'is burying Clarke's bad news'

By Dominic Ponsford

The Home Office has been accused of burying bad news by timing all of its reports to go out on just one day each month.

Some 23 senior journalists, representing nearly every major national news organisation, have written to its director of communications, Julia Simpson, protesting against what they call "dishonourable tactics".

The practice is understood to date back about a year, to the appointment of Charles Clarke as home secretary.

According to one well-placed source, "research Thursday" — as it has been dubbed — has had the effect of turning information that could yield five Daily Mail front pages into one page lead.

The letter has been signed by nearly every national newspaper home affairs correspondent as well as journalists from PA, the BBC and Channel Four News.

In it they say: "‘Research Thursday’

may have been successful while the home secretary was at DfES. But, as we hope you will recognise after a number of chaotic episodes, it is simply not practical in a large department such as the Home Office, which generates so many research papers and statistical publications."

Last week eight research papers, including major sets of figures on race crime and motoring offences, were published simultaneously on the Home Office website. They totaled 550 pages.

The same day, Clarke held a press conference on the Identity Cards Bill gaining Royal Assent and delivered a speech on tackling sexual violence.

The Home Office also issued information on the extension of drug testing on arrest to 14 more police forces and on a controversial restructuring of the Probation Service.

On 27 October last year, there were 12 papers published by the Home Office plus Police Performance Assessments and further research from the Youth Justice Board.

The joint letter states that the apparent tactic "leads many of us to fear that the practice has been instituted deliberately to ‘bury bad news’.

"If this is, indeed, the case such dishonourable tactics could only serve to damage the relationship between the home affairs correspondents and the Home Office press office. We hope you can return to issuing this important research in a more balanced manner."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We believe we are open and transparent about all research published by the Home Office. We flag up reports we are going to publish days in advance to home affairs correspondents so they can get prepared.

"We are considering how this publication regime can be more user-friendly to journalists. It’s nonsense to say we are trying to bury bad news — there are just as many positives and negatives in what we publish."

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