Freddie Starr case highlights plight of arrested journalists - 12 have been on bail for more than a year

The case of Freddie Starr graphically illustrates the toll an extended period on police bail can take on the suspect of a crime.

It is a situation which is only too clear to many journalists.

Of the 63 UK journalists arrested over the last three years, at least 12 have yet to find out whether they have been charged after more than a year on police bail.

Last week Starr was cleared after 19 months on bail after being arrested on suspicion of historic sexual offences.

Looking at yesterday’s interview on Good Morning Britain, the heavy toll it has taken on him is clear.

In this excerpt he stops the interview only to resume later:

Former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis was cleared by officers from Operation Weeting after 20 months on police bail in February last year.

He lost his job while on bail and found himself unemployable. He has spoken of the huge personal and financial toll the process took on him.

He is one a of a number of journalists to be cleared after spending more than a year on police bail.

Writing on the Huffington Post, Wallis’s lawyer Philip S Smith has suggested a six-month limit between arrest and charge.

…the impact of such an ordeal on Freddie Starr has taken its toll. One only has to view the images captured in photographs or on TV, and to read his harrowing interviews, to see that he is no longer the man he was.

But it is vital to stress this does not only happen in high-profile cases – there are many thousands of other criminal investigations where the abuse of endless bail to ordinary citizens has and is happening on a daily basis.

Police have powers to detain an individual for 24 hours, with a further 12 hours available if authorised by a superintendent.

In the case of Wallis, and others, the 24-hour limit was extended over almost two years by stretching it out over several interviews lasting a few hours. Smith writes:

All the time, throughout this process, the individual concerned is dangled on the end of a piece of string. Their life is in limbo, they cannot make professional or personal plans with confidence since they are unaware as to how the investigation will proceed and with what end result. Their careers will invariably be rudely interrupted. The potential domestic impact is obvious.

He adds:

…there is a view amongst defence lawyers, which I share, that the police too often these days see an arrest as a precursor to the gathering of evidence against a suspect. This should not be the case – an arrest should occur once the police have some evidence to justify that arrest. The arrest should not constitute a fishing expedition which, sadly and all too often, appears to be the case.

We are yet to hear the verdict of the jury in the first hacking-scandal related trial. But it is clear that the lives of many journalists have already been devastated by the judicial process regardless of their guilt or innocence. 

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