MP proposes bill on pre-charge crime anonymity

Ministers are said to be backing a private members bill which would ban journalists from reporting the names of those questioned abouth crimes until they are charged.

The move comes as provisions in the new Government Education Bill would give teachers accused of criminal offences against pupils anonymity until they appear in court.

The new private members bill proposing a blanket ban on identifying those being questioned by police is being tabled by Conservative MP Anna Soubry.

It comes in the wake of controversial tabloid coverage surrounding the arrest of Joanna Yeates murder suspect Chris Jefferies. Although he was released without charge, much of the coverage of his arrest appeared to imply his guilt by innuendo.

According to the Sunday Times, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke and Attorney General Dominic Grieve both support the bill.

Soubry told the Sunday Times: “When Jefferies was arrested on the most serious charge possible, his name and address were reported and there was then a feeding frenzy about every tiny aspect of his life.

“The law as it stands means an innocent person can be vilified, have their lives dismantled and their reputation sullied with complete disregard to his or her right to privacy. Since the media don’t seem able to regulate themselves, Parliament should do something about it.”

Former journalist Soubry said the bill was inspired by the arrest in 2003 of actor and TV host Matthew Kelly, who was never charged – but faced widespread press coverage.

Many journalists argue that such a ban on naming those who have been arrested by police would be tantamount to creating a ‘secret state’ where these is less transparency about who is being held in police custody.

Such coverage can also assist prosecutions by encouraging more witnesses to come forward.

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