By Sarah Lagan
Kent Police press office would not take direct calls from journalists following the £53 million Tonbridge Securitas cash depot raid after their phone lines "faced meltdown".
The press office said it was so overwhelmed with calls from the world’s media that it focused its efforts on updating its police tapes and website and monitoring messages and emails from journalists to ensure the greatest numbers had access to the latest information. It said it also had to prepare a media briefing while monitoring messages and said that such action was standard for a major incident.
As the news broke Kent Police press office had a media service manager, two media officers, an assistant press officer, a web editor, two area media officers and another member of the communications team on board, amounting to a team of eight to help with the huge demand for information.
The sheer volume of calls meant that the lines were jammed.
A journalist from one Kent newspaper said on the morning after the raid: "They [the press office] have been taking no calls from journalists all morning. Even when you manage to get a call in through the back door they just hang up on you.
"The press office is notoriously difficult but they were so particularly difficult today I thought it was worthy of note.
"They wouldn’t even confirm [on the day of the incident] the amount of money they thought was nicked, and today they are just not answering the phone at all.
"What is the point of having press officers working for the police if no one will answer the phone following such a major incident?"
Kent Police’s head of corporate communications, Liz Dickens, said: "Obviously we are sorry if anyone didn’t feel we were responding, but the team did deal magnificently with media demand for information about what is an unprecedented crime.
"We have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the media on this incident and we are certain that this will continue."
Jeff Edwards, chair of the Crime Reporters Association and chief crime correspondent at the Daily Mirror, said although he could see it was unsatisfactory from the journalists’ point of view, he could understand how a small regional press office would find it difficult to cope.
He said: "It’s not just a local or national story it’s an international story. It’s nowhere near satisfactory from the journalists’
point of view but it was probably the only practical solution for them.
They had the world and his wife wanting information. Many of those should have been at the back of the queue really, but there is no screening system.
"Scotland Yard operates a system where there is a special number for members of the Crime Reporters Association to call as opposed to the ordinary press lines. Those who should have priority are your national media and your local media who are immediately affected by the incident."