Tabloids say police backed them over Soham rewards

Sun’s Shanahan, left, and Express’s Williams say police knew of rewards

An aggrieved tabloid press involved in reporting the Soham murders has been left wondering why it has suddenly become the target for criticism by Cambridgeshire Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the coroner.

Coroner David Morris’s scathing words for newspapers which offered rewards during the search for the missing schoolgirls have caused surprise and anger among the journalists concerned.

Morris said the rewards had put extra pressure on the police and the families. Yet The Sun and the News of the World and the Daily and Sunday Express know that the rewards – £150,000 and £1m respectively – were made with the full co-operation of Cambridgeshire Police and of the girls’ families.

The press behaved with sensitivity and maintained close liaison with the police, say reporters on the ground.

Morris, opening the inquest into the deaths of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, said: "I have to question the value of offering enormous financial rewards for information, however well intentioned. People from far and wide were witnessed walking round the countryside around Soham hoping to discover the bodies."

Sun deputy editor Fergus Shanahan said: "The reward was never for the finding of any bodies, but specifically for the conviction or information leading to the conviction of whoever had taken the girls.

"The coroner suggested that the reward was something we had done ourselves. It is very important to point out that it was something we had discussed very carefully with the police beforehand. It involved detailed conversations between the top level at The Sun and the NoW and the police – and the police were extremely happy for us to do it."

He pointed out that Detective Superintendent David Hankins had said: "We would like to thank the media for their coverage and support, particularly those outlets offering a reward for information. This may prompt somebody to come forward with information when they may not otherwise have done – so we are grateful to the media for that.

"The families have asked for their gratitude to those who have offered a reward to be passed on." Shanahan said: "So when the coroner is attacking the newspapers, he is attacking the police as well."

Daily Express editor Chris Williams said: "Our reward was offered with the full and prior knowledge of the police and the support of Jessica and Holly’s families in the hope that it might contribute to the girls’ safe return."

John Troup, The Sun’s East Anglian district correspondent, described the relationship between the police and press as "excellent".

He said the press got good, early, regular briefings, and "Cambridgeshire Police were as open as we could have expected them to be." Graham Dudman, The Sun’s head of news, said: "It was a two-way street. They fed us information and the story remained on the front pages."

Shanahan insisted the paper had behaved with "enormous sensitivity", adding: "All the reporters up there – most are fathers themselves – are going through the same agonies as everybody else."

By Jean Morgan

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