View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. News
March 2, 2024

National media home affairs editors write joint letter of protest to Home Office PR team

Home Office accused of using Sarah Everard report publication to 'bury bad news'.

By Dominic Ponsford

Seven national media home affairs editors and correspondents have sent a letter of protest to the Home Office complaining that the release of the 361-page Sarah Everard report was used as a day to “bury bad news” on immigration.

The letter, shared with Press Gazette, said that a slew of documents and 13 reports were published later in the day on Thursday which reflected poorly on the way the Government is handling immigration and asylum. These included news of a £6bn overspend by the Home Office on dealing with immigration and asylum, including £5.4bn on hotels and migrant support.

The letter complains that the events of Thursday, 29 February, were part of a pattern of behaviour from the Home Office press office dating back more than year.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said in response: “We have delivered on our commitment to publish the 13 outstanding reports that were delayed as quickly as possible, as the Home Affairs Select Committee and others have called for.”

And they noted that publication of the reports in question, which were critical of the Home Office, reflected transparency.

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Matters have got worse since meeting with PR chiefs in March 2023

In March 2023 journalists met officials from the Home Office to discuss what they saw as failings in the department’s communications operation. And now they say that matters have got worse.

Content from our partners
MHP Group's 30 To Watch awards for young journalists open for entries
How PA Media is helping newspapers make the digital transition
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it

Journalists from the Daily Mail, Times, Express, Guardian, Telegraph and PA Media have all signed the joint letter.

They are concerned about documents being released late in the day, meaning journalists do not have time to properly analyse them before print and broadcast deadlines.

Press Gazette understands that requests for information from journalists are often met instead with statements of the Home Office’s achievements in a particular policy area.

The letter states that the Home Office activities were “disparaging to the memory of Sarah Everard and an insult to her grieving family”.

Echoes of infamous September 2001 ‘good day to bury bad news’ memo

The letter says: “It seems clear to us that the press office attempted to hide damaging disclosures about the department behind what you believed would be a smokescreen provided by the Angiolini Inquiry into Miss Everard’s murder.

“In 2001 Jo Moore, a special adviser to the then secretary of state for transport, suggested the September 11 terrorist attacks offered a ‘very good day to get out anything we want to bury’.

“Your actions yesterday appeared even more cynical, for the following reason.

“You sought to obscure one set of failures by the Home Office with a second set of failures, for which the department is also ultimately responsible.

“It was not an opportunistic seizure of an external event, as in 2001, but a calculated manipulation of a news ‘grid’ which you oversee.

“Outside Whitehall, in any normal walk of life, actions such this would be the basis for disciplinary action, castigation or deep shame.”

Meeting requested to improve situation

Detailing the other reports which were released later in the day on Thursday, the letter says: “Dozens of documents were published yesterday as part of the quarterly immigration statistics, the National Audit Office published its report into Rwanda asylum scheme spending and then, after 4pm, you published more than 900 pages of reports by the former independent chief inspector of borders and immigration.”

The journalists say that issues have got worse and not better since a meeting to discuss “persistent and deep-seated problems with Home Office comms” was held in March last year with Home Office director of communications Rob Hall and Home Office head of news Craig Saunders.

The letter states: “Press notices, other documents and statements are still issued late in the evening, or not at all. Some press officers remain reluctant to take ownership of media inquiries or to see the process through to a satisfactory conclusion.

“Yesterday’s publication of the 13 reports by David Neal all at once – despite the department holding them back for up to 11 months – is only the most egregious of many examples.

“We request a meeting to discuss what could potentially be done to improve matters.

“But we are not optimistic about the prospects for change.

“In our view, the Home Office press office is not fit for purpose.”

The letter is signed by:

  • Daily Mail home affairs editor David Barrett
  • Times home affairs editor Matt Dathan
  • Home affairs journalist Lizzie Dearden
  • Daily Telegraph home affairs editor Charles Hymas
  • Daily Express home affairs editor Michael Knowles
  • Guardian home affairs editor Rajeev Syal
  • PA Media home affairs correspondent Flora Thompson.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network