UK

Anonymity For Accused: Warwickshire Police Force Backtracks

03/05/2013 09:50 BST | Updated 03/05/2013 16:41 BST
PA
A general view of Leamington Spa Justice Centre in Warwickshire.

A police force has had to backtrack on its new policy of not naming people charged with crimes, blaming the U-turn on a cost-cutting plan.

Warwickshire police came under fire for not naming a retired police officer charged with theft. despite claiming its rules had changed in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.

However less than 24 hours later it reversed the decision not to reveal the identity of Paul Andrew Greaves, 54, after criticism from figures including its own deputy police crime commissioner (PCC).

On Thursday the force said it had not intended to mislead the public but the new policy was adopted as part of a "strategic alliance" with West Mercia Police designed to save more than £30 million.

It also revealed that the policy, which would reveal those charged only shortly before a court appearance, had been in place for almost a month before it was pulled.

It said in a statement posted on its website: "This issue was not about secrecy or protecting an ex-police officer.

"This change was part of aligning policies and practices with West Mercia Police. The strategic alliance has been formed to save over £30m, whilst still delivering good levels of protection."

The decision not to name Greaves sparked fierce criticism from the region's deputy police and crime commissioner Eric Wood, who said he was "extremely disappointed".

Freedom of expression campaigners also attacked the decision, understood to be the first such move by any police force in the country, arguing it went against the UK's principle of open justice.

Greaves has been charged with the theft of £113,000 from the former Warwickshire Police headquarters at Leek Wootton and will appear before magistrates in Leamington Spa on 22 May.

The original statement from Warwickshire Police, which was later edited online, said: "Due to a change in policy, we no longer release the name of an individual on charge.

"Journalists may request a surname for guidance the day before the first court appearance by calling the newsdesk."

Defending the move on Twitter, Warwickshire Police acting deputy chief constable Neil Brunton said: "The policy was recently changed to align with national policy post Leverson (sic) and not because of today's outcome."

Mr Wood, deputy to Warwickshire PCC Ron Ball, said he is committed to ensuring that Warwickshire Police operate in an open and transparent manner.

"I was very surprised to hear about this sudden change of policy, and immediately contacted deputy chief constable Neil Brunton on behalf of the commissioner to discuss our concerns. We have since had a number of robust conversations," he said.

"Both the commissioner and I firmly believe that it is in the public interest that this individual is named. He is charged with a serious offence.

"The commissioner is demanding a full and frank report on all of the circumstances that led to this decision, and we will be seeking assurances that in future all national guidelines are adhered to."

Chief executive at freedom-of-expression campaigners Index on Censorship Kirsty Hughes said: "That the police should withhold the name of a former officer who has not only been arrested but charged is of concern.

"In certain cases, it may be appropriate to preserve anonymity but a 'policy' of secrecy reverses the principle of open justice that we have in the UK."

Clarifying its position, Acpo lead on communications Chief Constable Andy Trotter said: "We advise forces, working with the Crown Prosecution Service, to name those who have been charged and that position will not change.

"When an individual has been arrested, our current guidance is not to name them and we will only release the name for the prevention or detection of crime, or if there is a serious public interest.

"Acpo is working on new guidance to provide clear direction to avoid inconsistencies where some police forces confirm details of an arrested individual if journalists have gathered the information from other sources.

"This does not affect what media themselves choose to publish."