Local press 'more balanced' in Suffolk Strangler reports

The local media were more balanced than national newspapers in reporting the “Suffolk Strangler” murders, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.

Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, said he felt it was the responsibility of his journalists to put the 2006 killings of five women working as prostitutes in Ipswich into context.

He told the press standards inquiry it was a “very fast-moving and frankly horrifying” story but had to be treated carefully.

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“Obviously it was a very significant, unprecedented story for Suffolk, but it was part of our responsibility to put this into some kind of context,” he said.

“We had to keep very balanced and very contextual in terms of our reporting. I was aware of how the nationals were reporting it.”

Hunt suggested that some of the national media gave a misleading impression about the impact of the murders.

He said: “One or possibly more of the nationals would take a picture of the centre of Ipswich on a Monday night and suggest it was quiet because everyone was frightened, which wasn’t the case.

“Obviously people were taking additional precautions, but my perception at the time was not that everyone was going home and locking the doors…

“It probably would have been quiet under normal circumstances, so it wasn’t anything exceptional.”

The inquiry heard that Suffolk Police’s then-chief constable Alistair McWhirter wrote to all newspaper editors after the arrest of suspect Steve Wright amid concerns that the way the case was being reported in national tabloid papers could prejudice his trial.

Wright was handed a whole-life sentence in February 2008 after being convicted of murdering all five women.

Anne Campbell, head of corporate communications for Norfolk and Suffolk Police, said police built up a “positive relationship based on trust” with journalists during the Suffolk Strangler investigation.

“My understanding is that there was no off-the-record guidance. It was all on the record, and lots of it,” she told the inquiry.

Colin Adwent, crime reporter for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star, told the inquiry that a new requirement for Suffolk Police officers to record all contacts with journalists was “not overly helpful”.

He said some officers were more nervous about speaking to him since the force introduced the system at the end of last year.

“I just feel – and this is a personal view – that it may well inhibit officers from talking to the press in certain cases,” he said.

Hunt criticised Suffolk Police for not releasing information to the media quickly enough on occasions, giving the example of the escape of three dangerous inmates from a secure mental health unit in October last year.

He said: “That information didn’t get into the public domain for, I believe, 12 hours, which I thought was a matter of significant public concern.”

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Comments

2 thoughts on “Local press 'more balanced' in Suffolk Strangler reports”

  1. It is not news that the local press take a more “responsible” attitude than the nationals in reporting stories on their patch. That has been the case since the year dot. Local journalists have to live with their mistakes. They can’t afford to s**t on their own doorsteps. National journalists can largely ignore the consequences,  walk away and move onto the next big story somewhere else.

  2. Just one thing worth remembering amid all the back-slapping about the wonderful local newspaper reporting of the Suffolk Strangler case. The fact is that only one publication was criticised by a High Court judge for its coverage – and that was the freesheet sister paper of the EADT. It printed a story just a few weeks before the trial, stating how great it was that Ipswich folk could sleep easy in their beds now that the ‘killer’ was behind bars. Why hasn’t Leveson asked about this instead of framing questions to Terry Hunt along the lines of, ‘How did your balanced and reasonable coverage compare to the frenzied reporting of the tabloids?’

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