Patrol cops' car crash sparks a News blackout

An ew row about police secrecy and the press has erupted after Hampshire Police defended its decision not to reveal details of a patrol car crashing into a shop by telling a journalist: “We are not here to fill your newspaper”.

The News, Portsmouth, said basic details of the patrol car crash were forwarded by traffic police to the Hampshire force’s press office but the information was marked there as being for release only if a specific inquiry was made.

It claims Hampshire Police breached its own guidelines and those of the Association of Chief Police Officers. The police secrecy has been condemned by the Society of Editors.

The News found out about the 3 October accident in Portsmouth from its own sources four days after the crash. Reporters discovered that a patrol car collided with another vehicle while answering an emergency call, and crashed through the window of a barber’s shop. A police constable was freed from the wreckage.

The News claimed that when it complained to the press office, it was told: “We are not here to fill your newspaper.” It took its complaint to Superintendent John Campbell, the acting head of Portsmouth police. But TheNews reported him saying: “There’s no reason to tell people everything.

We have to look at what is the point of us sending out a press release and what the public interest is.

“It’s not about them having a right to know. If someone asks about something we respond. It’s not a legal requirement for us to release information about every incident that goes on.”

He refused to name the PC involved in the crash-despite the fact it goes against the force’s own media guidelines not to.

Hampshire’s guidelines say there is “no right to privacy for on-duty police officers involved in road traffic incidents” and says their name, rank, age and station should be released.

In a leader, The News quoted guidance from the ACPO, as stating: “Some forces take the view that the media does not have a right to information and that the provision of news stories is discretionary.

However, it is not for the police to decide what the public has a right to know.”

The editor of The News, Mike Gilson, said: “This is not about filling our columns. It is about the right of the public to know – to know, in this case, when a publicly-funded force suffers an accident involving publicly-funded machinery.

The Hampshire force seems to work on the presumption we should not be told unless there is a compelling reason to the contrary.” Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said: “This is a lot of nonsense. It is another example of the police paying lip service to informing the public but withholding information when it suits them and hides their embarrassment. They talk about it not being their job to fill the paper’s columns – that’s not the point. It is their job to tell the public about what’s going on in the community.”

A Hampshire Police spokeswoman told Press Gazette that Supt Campbell believed he had been misquoted by The News and had taken up the matter up with the editor. She said he felt the comment about it not being the police’s job to fill the columns of the newspaper was taken out of context.

Also, The News did not report his comment that he recognised that details of the accident should have been released earlier or that he apologised.

She confirmed the press office had been instructed not to release details of the patrol car crash unless an inquiry was made.

By Jon Slattery

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