Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell has poured scorn on government claims that a new law giving anonymity to teachers accused of criminal offences against their pupils would not have prevented Jeremy Forrest from being identified.
Forrest was arrested on Friday, a week after disappearing with his 15-year-old pupil Megan Stammers on a cross-channel ferry.
Sussex Police said that the pair were found “as a direct result of media coverage.”
But had the case occurred this week, with accused teachers now automatically gettnig anonymity if allegations are made against them, the police and media would have been unable to name Forrest without first obtaining an order from a magistrates’ court.
The Department for Education said in a statement when questions were raised about the anonymity provisions, contained in Section 13 of the Education Act 2011, which comes into effect on Monday: “This change will not affect cases like the one currently getting national attention.
“The police, media organisations and others will be able to apply to a magistrate for an order lifting teacher anonymity.
“If it is in the best interest of the child, this will be granted straightaway so the public can help the police.”
But Mr Satchwell rejected that claim, saying: “It would affect cases like this critically in the sense that in accusations against a teacher, unless there is a charge, you have to go court to name them.
“The idea that going to court is easy is a nonsense. It’s time-consuming and expensive and any application is likely to be opposed.
“We’ve seen from other cases that social services and the police are not always quick to act and this is one of the arguments that we made to the education department.
“The ministers seem to be relying on speedy action by the police to bring charges, but the opposite is likely to be true.
“This is not just about the media. If you’ve got a group of parents and one of their children says that they have been assaulted they can’t even discuss it with other parents.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous that parents and other teachers would not be able to discuss their concerns with other people. People could be prosecuted for telling the truth.”
Others have also criticised the new provisions as unnecessary.
The Daily Telegraph quoted former Metropolitan Police Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton as saying: “One of the difficult things with the Megan Stammers case is that they are abroad and it is much harder to get the overseas media involved. If the major tool that you have is the media then this legislation could make things very difficult.”
Solicitor Niri Shan, who heads the media law team at law firm Taylor Wessing, told the newspaper: “Surely parents have the right to know what is going on in order to protect their children.”
Newspaper Society head of Political, Editorial and Regulatory Affairs Santha Rasaiah, told the paper: “This is a prime example of the dangers of unnecessary and unjustified restrictions upon freedom of speech. This new offence was created in such wide and ill-defined terms that will obstruct child protection in ways that we have yet to foresee.”