Northumbria Police omitted 5,083 incidents from media voice bank

The death plunge of a young girl, the almost fatal beating of a 74-year-old man by a gang of youths, and the discovery of a man missing from hospital dead in the sea, all in one weekend, did not make the newspapers in the Northeast as they were not mentioned on the Northumbria Police voice bank.

This was the discovery made by freelance journalist Nigel Green (pictured) via a Freedom of Information request to Northumbria Police. The incidents were just three of 45 over that weekend deemed "serious" by the force.

The former Sun journalist discovered that a total of 5,083 incidents had occurred, unreported, over the weekend of the World Cup quarter finals (30 June to 3 July).

Green is currently compiling a list of Northeast stories from the national press; whether they were released by the police; and if so, how soon after they happened.

He said: "The weekend that nothing happened, there was a young girl who fell to her death from a tower block.

The police said it wasn't suspicious, but it wasn't a clear suicide either. It was something that happened early in the morning at a party.

"There was a 74-year-old guy beaten close to death with a plank by a group of kids in Blythe on 11pm on Saturday 1 July. The Evening Chronicle, which reported the news four days after it happened, said ‘he needed 30 stitches to the head and had a broken hand'."

"On 3 July in The Journal I've got a story about the body of a man missing from a hospital being found in the sea off Blythe. No details were released by the police that it had happened over the weekend. They just take it upon themselves and say, stuff the press, this isn't going out.

"Journalists shouldn't continue to run stories that are released from the police literally months after they happen, without challenging it. Months after these crimes the police are unsurprisingly struggling for witnesses."

One senior Northeast journalist told Press Gazette: "In the past they (Northumbria Police) have been a total nightmare: incredibly slow putting important stories out days after they happened, and purposefully obstructive.

But they are right, the service is improving, but it's still not ideal. If we had to rely on them, we simply could not operate."

Northumbria Police said it has recently reviewed its press office, extended its opening hours, and claims it is encouraging its staff to be proactive.

Deputy chief constable Dave Warcup recently initiated a policy entitled ‘Maximising Positive Media Relations'.

Sue Nicholson, media services manager at Northumbria Police, said: "We are aware of the need to keep the voice bank updated out of hours and at weekends and, following recent changes in the way the communications centres are staffed, output over the weekend has increased considerably. Other local journalists have noticed the difference and have reported increased levels of satisfaction.

"However, we retain the right to only release information for a policing purpose, for example the prevention or detection of crime or to keep the public informed about significant events. And the release of information must be proportionate — we cannot simply put out details of every single reported incident."

■ This month Rob Irvine, editor of the Daily Post in Wales, wrote in his blog that he tried to follow up stories that appeared on his local chief constable Richard Brunstrom's blog, such as a rape and a race attack. None of the stories had been released by the police press office, according to Irvine.

■ The Lincolnshire Echo has blasted Lincolnshire Police for not telling the press about a sex attack on two girls this month, as it didn't want to scare the public. The information was released seven days later.

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