WDP refuses to bow to police threat

WDP: right to criticise

When a chief constable demanded a front page apology from the Western Daily Press the paper responded with the splash headline “We will not be gagged”.

The paper provoked the anger of Avon and Somerset chief constable Steve Pilkington when it published a report revealing that Home Secretary David Blunkett wanted to get tough with top policemen at low-performing forces.

It used an inside page lead to speculate that Pilkington could potentially be in the firing line because of his force’s poor record on tackling violent crime.

The police chief responded by sending a solicitor’s letter threatening legal action and asking for his picture to be published on the front page.

The WDP did indeed put Pilkington’s picture on the front page, along with two pages of coverage inside under the headline: “Mr Pilkington threatens to sue your paper for simply telling the truth”.

WDP editor Terry Manners said: “We can’t be pushed around. We were doing what I think is in the public interest and doing what papers are supposed to do.

“Steve Pilkington is not known for his love of the press generally and often hits out, I think it was a shot across our bows.

“The chief constable is in the public eye and paid for by public money.

“He is a decent man and a decent public officer but we have the right to criticise him,” said Manners.

Manners said had received no further communications from Pilkington’s lawyers.

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said: “We can confirm that following publication of a number of inaccurate news articles the chief constable is considering legal action.

“At present he is in the process of obtaining legal advice. It would be therefore inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Dominic Ponsford

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