Shock new blanket ban in the wake of Leveson report angers civil liberty groups who condemn threat to democracy
Draconian: The move, which follows a recommendation by Lord Justice Leveson in his report into press standards
Britain’s police chiefs are drawing up draconian rules under which the identities of people they arrest will be kept secret from the public.
The move, which follows a recommendation by Lord Justice Leveson in his report into press standards, has been branded an attack on open justice and has led to comparisons with police states such as North Korea and Zimbabwe.
Under current arrangements, police release basic details of a person arrested and in many cases will confirm a name to journalists. But the practice varies from force to force.
Under the new guidance, to be circulated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), forces will be banned from confirming the names of suspects, even when journalists know the identity of someone who has been arrested.
Without official police confirmation, the legal risks of incorrect identification will prevent the media from publishing the names of suspects.
The police plan for ‘secret arrests’ is being opposed by the Government’s own adviser on law reform, the Law Commission, which believes it is in the interests of justice that the police release the names of everyone who is arrested, except in very exceptional circumstances.
A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that, chillingly, many forces have already altered their naming policies in the wake of last year’s Leveson report.
Only two out of 14 forces that spoke to us said they would confirm the identity of a person arrested when a journalist suggested the right name to them.
Yet senior police officers have told this paper that until very recently it was common practice for police forces to confirm the names of people arrested
The new practice has already led to one worrying situation in which a well-known celebrity arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, the investigation into the Jimmy Savile scandal, cannot be named by the media, although he has been widely identified on the internet.
Trevor Sterling, the lawyer representing Savile’s victims, said that if Savile had been alive today and his arrest had remained secret, many of his victims would have been failed.
Mr Sterling said: ‘It is difficult to strike a balance, but if someone like Savile’s name is not published, victims of sexual abuse would not have the confidence to come forward.’
Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index On Censorship, a civil liberties organisation, said: ‘You can very quickly find yourself in a situation where you have secret arrests. We have a concept of open justice.
‘What is being proposed is very scary because if you do not know who has been arrested or why, people can be taken off the streets without anyone knowing and the police would not be accountable or properly scrutinised.
‘This sort of thing happens in other countries. People are arrested, they disappear and no one ever knows why.’
Bob Satchwell, chairman of the Society of Editors, said the change would have a devastating effect on open justice and smacked of the kind of practices associated with ‘banana republics’.
He added: ‘There is nothing in law to say that the name of someone arrested should not be released. If the name is withheld, it fuels speculation, especially through the internet.’
The senior police officer in charge of the new rules told The Mail on Sunday that he had been warned by Britain’s information watchdog, the Information Commissioner, that releasing names could breach the data protection rights of a suspect.
Andy Trotter, chief constable of British Transport Police and the lead officer on media policy for ACPO, said that he disagreed with the Law Commission’s position because it did not take account of the circumstances of a suspect whose reputation was damaged by identification but who was later found to be innocent and eliminated from an investigation.
The Law Commissioners and ACPO will meet in the coming weeks to thrash out their differences. Mr Trotter said the new rules followed on from the old ACPO guidance, which generally advised against naming arrested suspects but permitted forces to confirm names.
He said the new policy would end the ‘dance’ of confirming and denying identities when names are put to police forces.
He explained: ‘The problem at the moment is that it is unclear what the police should do. Various practices have developed over time.
Most forces do not name people who have been arrested. Some will confirm a name that is put to them. Clearly this is unsatisfactory.
New rules: Andy Trotter Chief constable British Transport Police
‘We are suggesting that people who have been arrested should not be named and only the briefest of details should be given.’
He said the only exceptions would be where it was necessary to release a name to prevent or detect a crime or in order to keep the peace.
He added: ‘We are weighing up the need to be open and transparent with the rights of the individuals concerned and the draft guidance will contain the view that people should not be named.’
Mr Trotter insisted that this was not ‘secret justice’ and added: ‘I am in favour of open justice and have been listening to many different points of view.
‘I want police officers to continue working with journalists.’
The guidance will now go to the College of Policing for approval, before being sent to forces around the country for implementation.
The Mail on Sunday investigation showed wide inconsistencies between police forces in the naming of arrested suspects.
Nearly all say they don’t name individuals on arrest but operate different policies to provide help to journalists.
Greater Manchester Police says it tells journalists ‘they are not wrong’ if they approach the force with a correct name – but won’t give official confirmation.
The Metropolitan Police says it does not confirm names to journalists until the suspect has been charged.
Cambridgeshire Police only confirms a name on the day an individual who has been charged is due in court.
‘This is one of Britain’s favourite entertainers. He’s been arrested by Savile police and codenamed ‘Yewtree No 5′ – but you’re not allowed to be told who he is ‘
He is 82 years old and a much-loved showbiz personality, who was arrested on March 28 in Berkshire by police investigating abuse claims made since the death of BBC DJ Jimmy Savile.
But police refuse to allow his name to be made public.
The Metropolitan Police Savile investigation is codenamed Operation Yewtree and has led to 12 arrests.
The names of some individuals have emerged in the media after confirmation by neighbours, lawyers and journalists’ detective work.
They include Gary Glitter, Freddie Starr, Jim Davidson and Dave Lee Travis. They all deny wrongdoing.
But the latest celebrity arrested is referred to by police only as Yewtree 5 and his identity has not been published in newspapers.
Nevertheless, his name has been widely circulated on the internet in blogs and social media forums.
The Met said there were ‘good reasons’ for not naming anyone in the Yewtree investigation.
But when asked to explain these reasons, they merely referred to the Met’s standard policy of not identifying anyone they arrest.
This newspaper has decided not to publish the name of Yewtree 5.
Last week, the first person charged under Yewtree was named as ex-BBC driver David Smith.
He will face two charges of indecent assault and two of gross indecency on a boy under 14, plus another serious sex attack on a boy under 16. Smith, 66, from Lewisham, South-East London, will appear before magistrates on May 8.
Savile is believed to have been Britain’s most prolific paedophile. Detectives have received about 600 complaints of abuse, of which more than 450 relate to Savile.
More here – UK’s Law Commissioner David Ormerod insists: Yes, reporting of arrests IS in public interest
See: Australian entertainer arrested in Jimmy Savile sex probe ‘life ruined’