'Police underestimate role of local press'

Elizabeth Neville

 

Elizabeth Neville, the police chief who heads the Association of Chief Police Officers’ media advisory committee, has been accused of underestimating the role played by the local press in fighting crime.

The accusation has been made by Newspaper Society president Edwin Boorman in a letter to Neville, the chief constable of Wiltshire.

It follows a lunch where she met with regional editors and publishers at the society’s headquarters in London on 15 June.

At the lunch, editors vented their frustration over the new ACPO guidelines, brought in to comply with the Data Protection Act, which they claim has led to a drying up of police information on accidents and crimes.

Boorman, in his letter, thanks Neville for participating in a "lively exchange of views" and for her "tact and patience".

But he goes on to say: "It is a matter of fact that you believe the local press receives all the information it needs while our members do not.

"We, at the Newspaper Society, are consistently hearing that the guidelines are being applied over-zealously and that in some areas requests for even the most basic details are being turned down erroneously by the police on data protection or human rights grounds."

Boorman adds in the letter: "I feel that you underestimate the importance of the public role of regional and local newspapers in informing the citizen about crime and criminal justice issues, and helping develop a sense of community, which reduces crime and anti-social behaviour.

"Current police guidelines and their operation make it difficult for regional and local newspapers to carry out their public role.

"That cannot be in the interests of the community or the police." lAt a meeting with representatives of the Society of Editors, BBC and the Newspaper Society earlier this month, Neville agreed to remind chief constables that the ACPO guidelines should encourage openness and not be used to restrict or limit information (Press Gazette, 13 July).

By Jon Slattery

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