The rise of police press offices means only a “very small fraction” of crimes are being reported to the press, the editor of Britain’s biggest-selling regional newspaper has warned.
Wolverhampton Express & Star editor Adrian Faber believes the biggest culture shift in police relations during his ten years at the paper has been the introduction of press officers at West Midlands Police.
- June 22, 2017
- June 20, 2017
- June 9, 2017
It has created a ‘tier of bureaucracy’between journalists and the police that makes it ‘difficult to get a clear picture and detailed information about an incident”, he told the Leveson Inquiry.
‘I think it is fair to say that in consequence the vast majority of crime and criminal activity that does not end up in court goes unreported.”
Faber said his paper’s relationship with West Midlands police often fluctuated depending on the number of negative stories it published and that the force was preoccupied with its agenda of public reassurance.
‘This manifests itself with the police view that the public have an exaggerated perception of crime which is fuelled by media coverage,’he said. “Therefore, they take the view that unless it is helpful in an investigation, they will not automatically release the information.”
The area causing most concern was the lack of information released on low level crimes such as burglaries and theft, Faber said in written evidence.
‘These are important to our readers and their communities but would perhaps not be seen as an important priority for the police.”
Very small fraction of crimes reported’
Earlier in the day the editor ofWales on Sunday, Tim Gordon, told the inquiry that officers at Gwent Police had been banned from speaking to the press unless they had permission from the press office.
Faber, who also edits the Shropshire Star, claimed press officers in the West Midlands were also ‘not always keen for us to speak to individual officers”.
The result was that that press offices ‘only put out a small number of the incidents that actually take place so we do not get a true reflection of crimes that happen’and the paper lost touch with local officers.
Faber went on to suggest police were reluctant to release details of major incidents, citing a recent example in which readers called the news desk asking why a Wolverhampton city alleyway had been sealed off by police.
‘We asked the press office what had happened and they told us there had been a stabbing in a city centre shop,’said Faber.
‘We understand that the press office was aware of the incident before we made the call but did not release any details until prompted by our questions.
‘The problem remains that with the press office handling the vast majority of media enquiries we only get to hear about a very small fraction of what the police are doing day to day.”
Faber, former editor of the Bristol Evening Post, the Brighton Argus and Gloucestershire Echo, added: ‘I would like to stress that I would hate to see my comments perceived as a blanket criticism of the West Midland Police press operation.
‘This is certainly not the case. I would hope that it is seen as constructive criticism of not just the police, but many public bodies in their dealings with the press.
‘Many of my comments could just as easily apply to local authorities and health authorities.”