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Police lie to us on regular basis, regional editors claim

Regional editors have accused police forces of routinely lying to and unnecesarily withholding information from newspapers.

Deteriorating relations between regional newspapers and their local police forces came under the spotlight at the Society of Editors conference in Southampton.

Eastern Daily Press editor Nigel Pickover said the police in his area regularly “lied” to his journalists and made the newspaper feel like “the enemy.”

And Nottingham Post editor Mike Sassi said that his paper now had “no relationship whatsoever” with the Nottinghamshire force.

The comments came in a session on police and the media which focused on the need to rebuild relations in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry.

SoE board member Simon Bucks, who was chairing the session, said: “We routinely hear complaints from regional editors about relations with the police.”

Colette Paul, the chief constable of Bedfordshire who also took part in the discussion, said: “We need good strong, honest, robust relationships…We need to show the public what we do and how we do it.”

But Ms Paul’s call for a two-way relationship between police and media sparked a series of questions and comments from regional editors claiming the opposite was happening on their local patches.

One senior regional editor, Alistair Mchray of the Liverpool Echo, said that when reporters rang the police press office asking if anything was happening, they would invariably be told it was “all quiet.”

Ali said that the police only gave information about incidents which the paper knew about already.

Nigel told the gathering:  “We are lied to on a regular basis…we are made to feel like the enemy when really we are on the same side.”

Mike said his local force in Notts now saw itself as a publisher, and would withold stories from the paper before publishing them on its own website.

Bob Satchwell, the SoE’s executive director, said it was time to move on from the “stupidity” that had followed the Leveson report.

“Journalists and police officers need to talk more, not less,” he said.

Bob also attacked the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to reveal journalists’ sources.

He said:  “We warned that (RIPA) was inadequately drafted and ripe for misuse. It’s now turning into a Dangerous Dogs Act.”

20 comments

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  • November 10, 2014 at 7:20 pm
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    Chief constable Colette Paul is evidently unaware of the published fact that her force infamously “sent a reporter to Coventry” because they were ruffling Bedfordshire police’s feathers. Beds on Sunday’s then-editor Steve Low wrote a column about it a few years back. Suspect Beds police were alarmed bcs BoS had just managed to overthrow the (former) county council at the time.

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  • November 10, 2014 at 10:18 pm
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    The old routine of holding back items “on demand” should end. either it is OK to release or not. Having said that, journos have become very lazy (or too busy ?) to root out their own crime stories through contacts in community and too many rely on just checking the cops press web.
    Some police chiefs simply dont see their jobs as telling the local press every stolen wheel hub in their area. Those days are long gone.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 9:39 am
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    Yep. Our regional police force press office is staffed by some of the rudest, most obstructive people I’ve ever encountered. They also routinely lie. They don’t lie about stories, usually – they just refuse to say anything of meaning or value – but they lie about their interactions with journalists.

    In theory, we can go straight to the officers. The force policy is that officers are encouraged to talk to the press. But in practice, that’s not the case. If officers do talk to the press, they are often given severe telling-offs as a result. So most officers now refuse to say anything unless it is mediated and censored by the press office.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 9:56 am
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    We regularly experience this too. The police will put out a press release which contains every hint of a fatal accident having occurred, then leave hours (or days) before issuing any further information. In a small community like ours, that really upsets people and gets the why they have put the release out is to let people know a road is blocked or cut off, they don’t realise the impact their coded messages have on people who can work out what a ‘serious RTC’ means.
    On the ground they keep you miles back from the scene and go around telling everyone else not to talk to you. They often do this in a jobs-worth smirking kind of way, even if they know you well, and know that your publication is respected within the community for sensitive reporting of this kind of thing, no-one seems to be able to give you a quiet whisper in the ear to let you know what’s going on. They place automatic blocks between the press and victims/bereaved in a manipulative way rather than asking the people sensitively if they want to talk to the media- sometimes they do! Yes, we are treated like the enemy.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 9:57 am
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    Bit missing from above comment line 4
    and gets them upset. The only reason why

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  • November 11, 2014 at 10:13 am
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    Hmmm, not sure if papers have ever had a ‘great’ relationship with the fuzz….

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  • November 11, 2014 at 11:06 am
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    I spent three years in the early 1970s as the designated police and crime reporter for an evening paper.

    Each morning I visited police headquarters in person, walking straight through into the offices of the Supt who was the uniformed commander for the area. I then visited the Det Chief Supt or one of his DIs. If as a result of our conversations I needed to speak to anyone else, this was usually arranged.

    I was grateful for the access I was given and for the atmosphere of mutual trust that existed – once I had proved that I was worthy of their trust. Information about incidents was certainly volunteered, although inevitably there were days when all I discussed with my contacts was the weather or the woeful displays of the local football team.

    I am not naive enough to believe that I was always told everything and I recognise that some commentators would claim that the old-time relationship between the media and the police was a little too cosy.

    At least there was a relationship, and in general the senior (and junior) officers I dealt with seemed to recognise that the media played a useful role in the community and, subject to certain conditions, had a right to know what was going on.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 11:51 am
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    The point about reporters ringing up the press office probably says it all. Reporters should have uniform contacts as well, and senior officers, need to encourage their sergeants and inspectors to meet with reporters and build relations with them.

    Equally, reporters need to understand where a story is and not be afraid to ask. Too many stories in my old paper in Devon are just puffs and three week old requests for information.That’s not reporting real crime, or real proactive police work either. Both sides need to up their game. I used to have a curry and a pint with the local inspector every month, just for a chat. How many reporters do that now?

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  • November 11, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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    “On the same side”? And this is an editor speaking? Flipping Ada. A lot’s changed since I was coming up, clearly. News, as I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone, was famously defined as something someone doesn’t want you to know; everything else is propaganda. Of course they lie to you. You’re journalists; why wouldn’t they? It’s your job to find out what’s going on and tell the readers, for God’s sake, and if you’re too naive or stupid or bone-idle to use more than one source then you deserve to be lied to. It’s the willingness of some so-called editors to willingly be spoon-fed whatever vested interests feel like passing on, and then regurgitating it to the customers on the pretext that it’s news, which has allowed a generation of managers (for which read ‘accountants’) indifferent to everything except the bottom line, and who share a common loathing of editorial, to slough off reporters and photographers right, left and centre in favour of UGC, including police propaganda, which they can claim offers the same content at a fraction of the price. I can remember a time (lights evil-smelling pipe, props slippered feet on fender, strokes obese labrador) when readers – remember them? – would actually call the newsdesk to tell us about fires, road accidents, crimes and all the other day-to-day disasters that used to be meat and drink to the media – and still are, even in these digital days. They didn’t stop calling us because of the internet; they stopped because we stopped caring, through lack of resources to follow up tip-offs or, more usually in my experience, the apathy of senior staff. Now we call the fuzz twice a day to see if anything’s happened, and get a recorded message telling us it hasn’t, while the public are all babbling about it on social media and we look like prats for being the last to know. When you sup with the Devil, as my old grandad used to say (probably), use a long spoon. Leveson revealed the corruption and collusion that existed between cops and hacks in a small sector of the national press (the handful of papers that had money to pay bribes) but a cosy relationship between the media and those they’re supposed to hold to account to which some of the editors you quote above evidently aspire is just as corrosive if not more so, because it’s not obviously criminal and therefore harder to detect and to control. When does a useful contact become the hand that feeds you, which you must not bite? Let’s not forget that part of Monty’s vision for those poor unfortunate sods at Local World is to have the plod and local councils sticking their own press releases straight on its papers’ websites, lending nakedly biased and unscrutinised copy the legitimacy that appearing in a supposedly reputable news organ might still be thought to confer. Churnalism has already eroded many reporters’ vital ability to spot bullsh*t when it plops into their inbox (assuming they had such abillity to begin with). In short, everything in the paper – and by extension on the website, since that’s where the digital copy comes from – becomes an ad feature. Newspapers aren’t being killed by the internet; they’re slowly committing suicide, and from articles like the foregoing it’s not hard to see why, frankly.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 12:54 pm
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    I hate to start a post “In my day…”, but in my day we did have better relationships with the local police. Not perfect, but better.

    We got to know them socially by encouraging a bit of friendly rivalry through things like pub games evenings – darts, crib, snooker, pool. Would that work these days? Don’t know, but it’s worth a go.

    Later in my career, I used to give talks to probationers, new chief inspectors and DCIs, and people like family liaison offers as part of their formal training, so they could at least think about the role of the press in their public service jobs, and understand our mutual involvement in the public interest. They were often a hostile and suspicious audience, but at least we talked.

    We also agreed a local media protocol based on trust and their acceptance and understanding of our code of ethics. We had quarterly beer and sandwich meetings with the chief constable to thrash out the practicalities when things went wrong.

    My point is to question whether there more the industry should be doing to explain our role, go that extra mile and at least get them to understand we haven’t got horns growing out of our head.

    Discuss.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 1:40 pm
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    Rupert, I, too, used to have free run of our local police station. I built trust with officers, who would often contact me if anything was going on. But that was back in the day when reporters were actually allowed out of the office. How can press officers and police be expected with a voice over the phone, without having met the reporter?

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  • November 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm
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    samblue. I used to be handed the crime reports file every morning and invited to thumb through them over a cup of tea to see what i thought was interesting. The Det Inspector or some other offocer would then tell me more details or tell me why he didnt want things published (there were operational reasons sometimes).
    But the other side of the coin was when I wrote an exclusive with allegations against a cop it took me six months to get a working relationship going again. Ocasionally we would socialise with police officers.
    It was always a delicate relationship (you did not want to be the pockets of the police) needing REGULAR personal calls (not phone or e mails), a mature attitude and experience. Some calls were wasted, something that would not be tolerated in today’s “lock them in the newsroom” environment.
    Unfortunately young journos don’t know what real crime journalism is, and that doesn’t help their relationships with cops press office. Some reporters have never seen the people they are talking to and wouldn’t be able to find their way to the cop shop!!
    Some press officers are rude, some are lazy. But in my experience the same goes for quite a number of journos who insist on police wasting time finding details about a trivial incident that is not worth the bother. As I say, a delicate balance.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 4:11 pm
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    Our local police force stopped us from visiting the station years ago.

    New recruits are told, and we know this for a fact as we were shown the memo, that it was ‘illegal’ for them to speak with the press.

    There are still a few local bobbies who help us out and are friendly but the new crop are pushing them out and repeated requests for meetings are met with promises of ‘openness’ from middle management types but nothing ever changes.

    The press office is useless and does outright lie.

    We were told by the staff of a bookies that police arrested a man who threatened them with a hammer on the weekend.

    Press office denied such a crime ever took place but rang the bookie’s staff to tell them they had compromised an investigation by talking to us.

    Sadly the only person with less of a backbone was our ‘editor’ who would not let us run with the stupidity and attempted cover up of a seemingly minor crime

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  • November 11, 2014 at 4:43 pm
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    We used to have regular contact with our local police inspector, who would give us information about crimes going on in the community. Nothing inappropriate, no laws or guidelines breached and it proved enormously helpful for the local nick in getting people to give them information about local crimes.

    However, the press office got wind of the fact that the inspector was daring to speak to us without clearing it on each occasion. They promptly put a stop to it and gave him a massive bollocking. Apparently the head of the press office told him: “This is exactly what the Leveson Inquiry was about”.

    So now we have to rely on monthly round-ups from the press office, who tell us more often than not that there have been no incidents at all on our patch. That’s right – it’s now completely crime free!

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  • November 11, 2014 at 6:19 pm
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    Cops are haunted by mantra of “fear of crime”. They really only release stories if they think publicity might help catch them. Better get used to it.

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  • November 12, 2014 at 3:23 pm
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    Quite simply police officers in our area won’t speak to us in the main, apart from a few very similar ones. The days of directly calling the local DI or Inspector are completely over. The police now see themselves as the PRIMARY source of news – in effect another media outlet. They even tag stuff ‘breaking’ or ‘exclusive’ on social media in our area. They’re assisted by local bloggers who seem to delight in ‘supporting’ the police and acting effectively as a mirror site for the police website. Journalism and scrutiny doesn’t come into it.

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  • November 12, 2014 at 5:37 pm
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    I’ve left local paper reporting but I had a tip off this morning from one of my fire service contacts about an incident in my old patch.
    I called a good police contact who was on another job but said he would find out more for me and then I emailed the fire PRO. My police contact called me back, the fire PRO came back, I got the info and told my former readers (now Facebook friends) what had happened.
    There is still nothing about it on my old newspaper’s website. My police friend said they missed me phoning up about stories. My replacement never bothered.
    Paul Durrant’s description of the relationship with Norfolk Police matches my experience with that force during the late 80’s/early 90s before I left to freelance. I was shocked when I returned to a local paper newsroom 10 years ago and found how much things had changed, with press officers whose main aim seemed to be to obstruct the press. But at least on my last patch I was lucky enough to deal with experienced coppers who weren’t scared of talking to local reporters and were genuinely pleased to see me when I called in at the nick.

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  • November 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm
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    Steerpike – here, here…and very well said!

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