Courier wins human rights censorship row over photos

The Courier printed a front page on the trial with a mocked up graphic of the defendants masked out and the words: ‘Police would not supply this picture because it might “infringe the human rights” of the defendants’

A campaign launched by a newspaper after police refused to release pictures of three men convicted of attempted murder has ended in victory for the press.

The Leamington and Warwick Courier was enraged when Warwickshire Police press office claimed that issuing the pictures would infringe the human rights of the three men.

The men were each jailed for 14 years at Birmingham Crown Court for carrying out a brutal attack on 19-year-old Paul Fairbrother who spent 21 days on a life support machine.

To back up its case the Johnston Press-owned Courier carried out a survey of editors in the group – whose titles cover 17 police services across the UK.

This revealed that some services supplied all pictures of convicted criminals on request, while others had rules governing supply. No editor canvassed in the poll mentioned human rights being quoted back at them.

On Friday, Warwickshire police announced it was changing its policy, following the representations made by the Courier .

Acting Deputy Chief Constable Derek Cake said: “In future Warwickshire police photographs of offenders may be issued if they involve either the public interest or a serious arrestable offence, which includes offences where serious injury is caused, or intended, to any person.

“The decision on disclosure will not be automatic but I anticipate that our senior managers, the press and the public will welcome this approach. I very much regret that our policy did not serve the public interest on this occasion and, as result, an excellent investigation by our officers was clouded in controversy.”

John Howes, deputy editor of the Courier Series, said: “This is a victory for common sense. I hope this will help newspapers throughout the country dealing with police press offices. We cannot afford to give up any more rights.”

The Courier had reported that a Warwickshire Police press officer, in response to its picture request, had said: “Publication of a person’s name, description and photograph without that person’s consent is a breach of both the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act. In order for the force to justify this action, we must be able to clearly demonstrate an exemption under the Acts.”

Martin Lawson, editor of the Courier Series, described the decision as “unbelievable”.

In an editorial comment, the Courier said: “The human rights legislation is being grossly mis-used. Was it really intended to protect the identity of youths who hit another on the head with a brick?” Lawson said there had been a very positive reaction from readers to the Courier campaign.

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell told Press Gazette that the Association of Chief Police Officers’ media guidelines state that there is no fundamental reason why pictures of convicted criminals should not be released.

“The former information commissioner Elizabeth France said, about the Data Protection Act, that police should not misuse it ‘as some kind of hybrid garlic to ward off the media vampires’. The same applies to the Human Rights Act,” he said.

By Jon Slattery

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