Paper and police clash in row over names ban

  The Rugby Advertiser is trying to force Warwickshire Police to resume naming victims of road accidents and crimes.

It has told its readers of the police decision to withhold the information and on each crime and accident story it now prints the words: "Police are refusing to reveal full details of this incident."

The newspaper will only include police appeals for witnesses if they include names and addresses and has suspended its use of positive spin police stories.

Editor Peter Aengenheister told Press Gazette that the county force had announced in December "without warning or consultation" that it would no longer be giving out the names of people involved in traffic accidents because of the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act. "The releasing of names of victims of crime has been suspended for some time," he said.

Media representatives were then invited to an editors’ forum to discuss the policy, Aengenheister said, but were told by Chief Constable John Burbeck and Acting Assistant Chief Constable Derek Cake that "it was the law".

The force will now only release accident victims’ names if they are killed, while other names might be given if the police consider it in the public interest. The policy is based on guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

But Aengenheister said: "The public and the press have a right to know this information. It is certainly not the law as they suggest. As I understand it, both Acts specifically allow for the release of information if it aids police purposes. I believe they are doing this for operational convenience."

Local editors fear the police have not been asking victims whether they will allow their details to be passed on to the media – recording in all cases that consent was denied, he said.

Warwickshire Police say the ACPO guidelines have been discussed over a period of time with the Home Office and the Society of Editors and that it is joining with forces in West Mercia, West Midlands and Staffordshire to implement them consistently throughout the region.

"The vast majority of editors have listened to the reasons for the change in policy and have accepted the decision. There are, however, a small number of editors who have difficulty in accepting it," said a statement from the press office. The force has asked those experiencing problems with the interim measures to let the Assistant Chief Constable or the head of media know "so that we can look into it".

Warwickshire is currently reviewing naming victims of crime as part of discussions between the neighbouring forces.

"Naturally we have a public duty to remain within the law and we have always had an open press policy as the law allows, releasing information where appropriate to the limit of the law," the statement claimed.

By Jean Morgan

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