Police chief says force wrong over secrecy around names of ten fugitives on run for more than decade

A police force's decision to keep secret the identities of fugitives wanted for offences including murder was wrong, a top officer has admitted.

But the force continues to refuse to name the all of the on-the-run suspects.

West Midlands Police refused to name nine of ten  suspects who had been wanted for questioning for more than 10 years, citing data protection and privacy reasons for its decision.

But on Friday Deputy Chief Constable Dave Thompson admitted: "We got this decision wrong."

He added: "We appeared like we were protecting people wanted for serious crimes.

"The public interest in most of these cases outweighed any privacy duty."

The fact that suspected criminals were on the run for more than a decade was prompted by a Freedom of Information request from the Birmingham Mail.

The force ended up naming just one of the ten men whose identities it initially refused to publish.

Thompson said on Friday that the force had now reviewed all the cases and "will publish the details where the public can help us and there are no operational reasons" for not doing so.

Thompson, who is in charge of change at the force, said: "I am keen we are courageous as a force in how we go about policing.

"That does mean standing by controversial things when you believe you are right and admitting when you have got things wrong."

West Midlands Police has still to identify two people wanted for murder but who force intelligence has suggested are both out of the UK.

Two other men are wanted in connection with an attempted murder in 1996, and another male has been wanted for immigration offences since 2004.

Of the remainder, the police said there was "strong intelligence" that two suspects were dead.

An 81-year-old man wanted over an allegation of rape and child sex offences dating to 1984 has never been traced after moving to Thailand.

In relation to that matter, the force said: "As soon as the allegation was received an investigation was launched and all of the information passed to Crown Prosecution Service who decided that no further action was to be taken against the 81-year-old.

"The wanted marker has been removed."

Another man is also still wanted for attempted murder.

The only one of the ten suspects who was identified is 33-year-old Luke Anderson, who is sought over an attempted murder in 2001.

Thompson, making the comments in his official blog, said: "I absolutely understand that we have a duty to manage personal information properly.

"People who have not been charged or convicted are entitled to privacy unless we have good grounds for naming them.

"There are also very good operational reasons why we may not wish to alert some people than we are seeking them.

"However the people on this list were wanted for serious offences for some time.

"We got this decision wrong."

This is not the first time West Midlands Police has refused to co-operate with the press in naming individuals suspected of wrongdoing.

In December last year Mr Justice Keehan agreed that the media could name a number of men who were the subject of injunctions banning them from contacting a teenaged girl they were alleged to have subjected to child sexual exploitation.

Birmingham City Council had taken the unusual step of applying for injunctions banning the men from having any contact with the girl, or with any other girls or young women under the age of 18, although they were not convicted of any criminal offence.

But West Midlands Police refused to give the media any details or pictures of the men, saying it had concerns for their safety if identities were disclosed and photographs published.

Mr Justice Keehan said in a ruling published on 16 December last year: "I was given a copy of a risk assessment which had been undertaken by the police.

"I was told the risk of harm to each of the respondents was high. That was based on the fear of reprisal attacks by right wing racist organisations or by members of the local community.

"I was extremely surprised at the stance taken by the police. When I pressed for the factual basis upon which the risk assessment had been made, I was told there was none, the risk was unknown but based on experience, the risk was high. I regret I do not understand that analysis at all."

Police had also argued that there was a risk of members of the public being misidentified as the men and being attacked, the judge said, adding: "I regret that submission makes no sense to me at all.

"The surest way of eradicating or ameliorating the risk of misidentification is ensuring the fullest possible details of each of the (men), including photographs, are made public and given wide coverage by the media."

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