Editor slams police after paper wrongly investigated

Ipswich Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover has expressed outrage after an official police inquiry was launched against his paper over an alleged breach of a Section 39 order.

Media lawyer at Foot Anstey, Cathryn Smith, has described the investigation, which was brought in July and has so far cost the paper more than £1,000, as a "monumental waste of time and money".

The Evening Star carried an article covering the conviction of a man who assaulted his wife, who had two children.

Although the Evening Star made no mention of any child, the contention from Suffolk Police was that the report breached Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act, which protects the identity of children as victim, perpetrator or witness in a court case.

It is uncertain who initiated the complaint. However, the paper did receive queries from a Victim Support officer, who was trying to explain to the family why there had been any publicity at all.

On Wednesday Suffolk Police dropped the investigation. But the paper now wants an official inquiry into this issue — with one possibility being that the family were told that a Section 39 would result in a blanket ban on publicity. Smith said if this was the case it was "a serious abuse of the process".

Pickover received an official letter from Suffolk Police, asking him to go to the police station. He refused on Smith's advice.

Suffolk Police warned Pickover this was technically an arrestable offence under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, so Pickover wrote a "statement in effect under caution" allowing him to avoid being arrested.

Smith said: "This has been a monumental waste of time and money for the paper, the police and the CPS.

"It is simply impossible for an article that makes no mention whatsoever of a child to breach a Section 39 order. They did not address this point when we raised it with them informally."

Pickover added: "It was legally safe, but they investigated us and even threw up the spectre of arrest.

"We are livid about it and that we have paid well over £1,000 costs infuriates us. What should the police be investigating — a non incident against a newspaper or a real crime?

"We are now going to take an official complaint to the police to see why on Earth it was started. It appears that no one had read a simple law manual."

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "It sounds as though the police have made promises which they should not have made and which they could not possibly keep.

"It's time they realised that editors are well aware of the law, particularly regarding Section 39 orders. The police should also learn that the public has a right to know."

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