Advertiser accuses police of hampering murder reporting

Unhelpful: Graeme Allen (above) angered that Kent Police deliberately withheld details of a murder victim

A police press office has been accused of hiding behind the Data Protection Act to avoid giving out the address of a murder victim.

The Basildon Yellow Advertiser has, in turn, been criticised for “upsetting” three Kent Police press officers with its “aggressive” demands for information.

The Trinity Mirror free weekly (distribution 58,069) was reporting on the death of Derek Potts, whose body was found in the river Medway with a gunshot wound. Kent Police would only reveal that 23-year-old Potts was from the village of Pitsea.

Editor Graeme Allen said: “I asked a reporter to find out why Kent Police wouldn’t give the exact address of the victim. He was initially told by the police that the family of the victim did not want to speak to the press. When my reporter said we would not talk to the family unless they were willing, he was subsequently told they would not give the exact address because of the Data Protection Act.

“When my reporter asked which part of the act protected the victim’s personal details he was told that it was up to us to say which part of the act entitled us to the information we wanted.”

Allen said the paper was then told that it was not police policy to release address details of murder victims except for “operational reasons”.

Allen said: “Kent Police’s attitude is the tip of the iceberg. We are finding more and more examples of non co-operation from police press offices, except when it suits them, such as when they want us to run an appeal.

“We understand that sensitive information may be held back until an appropriate time, but to withhold details that would come out at an inquest or trial is nonsensical. Kent Police seems to be more interested in controlling information than helping us to accurately report a serious crime that is in the public interest.”

Kent Police press officer Elayne Grimes confirmed that force policy was to release the name of a murder victim and the area in which they’d lived, but not their full address.

She said: “The family had requested that they wanted no media contact and no personal details released. Since we have a duty of care to them, no further details were given out. On occasion, to assist the press, we will give them a ‘steer’ but felt on this occasion that it was not possible.”

Grimes criticised a Yellow Advertiser reporter asked to find out the address of the murder victim, saying he was one of the “rudest individuals I have come across upsetting three separate members of staff in the office”.

She added: “It was, in fact, that reporter who said we were hiding behind the Data Protection Act, which, clearly, we were not.”

Allen said he had listened to reporter Jon Austin and news editor Paula Dady as they spoke to the police press office and said he believed both had behaved appropriately.

By Dominic Ponsford

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