Police and the media report

18 January 2009

In a short report released today, the Home Affairs Committee expresses its concern that leaks by police are occurring "too frequently", saying there is only a limited set of circumstances where it can be in the public interest for police to keep media informed about ongoing investigations "off the record"

The Committee says it is never acceptable for the media to be tipped off about any individual before charge, when they are being arrested for example, as has happened in several high profile cases over the past year and even those involving "ordinary citizens". The Committee also expresses its regrets over the West Midlands Police and CPS decision to become involved in a complaints process about the Channel 4 documentary "Undercover Mosque", saying it is not the role of police to enforce responsible journalism.

The report calls on police to be more open and provide more on the record information to journalists, and welcomes recent moves by police to standardize the level of information provided across all forces.

It is not usually actually illegal for the police to leak to media - except in cases of Official Secrets or where it compromises a serious crime investigation - but it does breach police discipline regulations and the Committee argues it can harm investigations or relations with the community, and unjustifiably taint individuals' reputations.

Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, said:

"While it may not always be illegal for police to leak to the media it is certainly wrong and can be very damaging to an investigation or to an innocent individual - remember we are talking often about people who have not been charged with any crime or wrongdoing. Almost as important, it damages the reputation and integrity of the police themselves. The police above all must maintain the highest standards of probity and integrity and we welcome moves to enforce discipline on briefings and develop standard procedures for providing information to the media."

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