Now police place journalists in same bracket as criminals: Officers will be forced to name any friends who work in the media… or face the sack
Police officers must declare if they are friends with journalists under draconian new guidelines published yesterday.
As a result, every officer in England and Wales must formally report any friendship outside his workplace with a journalist.
And if they fail to do so and are judged to have concealed the relationship, they could now face dismissal for gross misconduct.
This effectively means that people working in media organisations would be placed in the same bracket as criminals.
The decision will alarm Government ministers and censorship campaigners, who fear police forces are shutting their doors to scrutiny.
Frontline police representatives have already warned that ambitious police managers and their political masters are trying to shut down whistleblowers and voices of dissent.
And critics believe chief constables are seizing on the aftermath of the Leveson Inquiry into media standards to try to usher in a new era of secrecy.
The change emerged in new guidelines on police relationships with the media published by the fledgling College of Policing.
Many police forces already require their officers and staff to declare any ‘associations’ with criminals, suspects or private detectives.
The first person to suggest extending the system to include the media was former parliamentary standards watchdog Elizabeth Filkin in her report for the Met.
Now officers must register the names of any friends who work in the media on a secret database for a senior officer to review.
However the ruling also says forces must name people when they are charged with a criminal offence, unless there are exceptional circumstances involved.
This means they can identify those arrested as part of inquiries when it is in the ‘public interest’ or when it could help prevent or detect crime.
The move will give every force in England and Wales the discretion to confirm the names of people who have been detained.
Alex Marshall, from the College of Policing, said police must be ‘above reproach’ in their dealings with the media. He added: ‘This guidance aims to strike the correct balance between the confidentiality owed to private citizens and the need for an open and honest relationship with the media.
‘There is nothing to prevent the naming of a person who has been arrested, but anonymity should normally be respected unless naming would help to prevent crime, save life or would be in the public interest.’
The first person to suggest extending the system to include the media was former parliamentary standards watchdog Elizabeth Filkin in her report for the Met
The College of Policing’s intervention followed an increasingly heated stand-off between the Government and senior police representatives.
Prime Minister David Cameron stepped into the row last week, confirming that ‘making things public should be the working assumption’.
Speaking in New York, Mr Cameron said naming suspects could bring encourage witnesses and alert victims.
He added: ‘It’s a long-standing debate about getting the balance right between making things public, which should be the working assumption, and respecting privacy.’
And his Cabinet colleague Theresa May also called on police to ‘protect transparency in the justice system’.
The decision to order forces to name those charged with an offence is a victory for the Daily Mail.
Earlier this month a survey discovered that a third of forces – 14 out of 43 – refused to name suspects even after they had been charged.
This followed a humiliating U-turn for one force after it refused to name a former officer accused of stealing from its headquarters.
Warwickshire Police claimed the decision was a result of the Leveson Inquiry but backed down in the face of a gale of criticism.
Last week Steve White, deputy chair of the Police Federation, said police officers should never be scared of ‘telling the truth’.
But Kirsty Hughes, from Index on Censorship, said: ‘The default position that people who have been arrested should not be named goes against the principle of open justice that our criminal justice is based on.
‘Rather than having a policy of secrecy with exceptional circumstances for naming individuals, Index believes that there should be a policy of openness with exceptional circumstances for withholding information.
‘Sweeping powers for secrecy should not be the norm.’