Paper pulls out of briefings over police news blackout

Herald: reporters "brassed off"

Surrey Police has been accused of trying to block the reporting of crime in the local media.

The situation has got so bad that Surrey Herald Newspapers has pulled its reporters out of police briefings.

Police liaison officers have been visiting newsrooms in the county, telling editors and reporters that they want to see less reporting on minor crime.

Terry Pattinson, news editor on the Surrey Herald group of newspapers, said: "Chief Constable Denis O’Connor wants the citizens of Surrey to feel safe in their beds. He doesn’t want horrible people like me running stories that might frighten them."

Pattinson says there have been several major crime-related stories, from a seven-hour armed siege to the arrest of a man in connection with the Milly Dowler case, which the police press office has failed to tell the press anything about.

"All my reporters are brassed off," said Pattinson. "As far as I’m concerned, there is no point in us going to police briefings any more."

Other journalists working in the area agreed. A reporter who has worked on the patch for years said: "Surrey Police used to have the best press office in the country; now it’s one of the worst. It takes days to provide information that another force would supply in hours."

He said part of the problem was that the press office is constantly trying to push the county’s crime figures, which are low compared with the rest of the UK.

"It’s getting to the stage where they want us to write ‘another murder has been committed in the safest county in the country’, or ‘another child has been abducted in the safest county in the country’. It’s getting bloody ridiculous." Sarah McGregor, head of press at Surrey Police, told Press Gazette: "There is a huge amount of excellent police work that takes place and I believe a key priority for press officers should be promoting this work.

"Fear of crime in Surrey is significantly higher than actual crime levels, particularly considering we are the safest county in England."

By Martin McNamara

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