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Cops keep murder and rape suspects’ details secret from newspaper

Details of murder and rape suspects were kept secret from a regional daily after police claimed it would breach the wanted men’s right to privacy.

The Birmingham Mail revealed that a request for the names and pictures of 10 long-term on-the-run suspects was refused by West Midlands Police because of “data protection rights”.

Mail crime correspondent Nick McCarthy had submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the details of 10 men on the force’s wanted list – four for murder, four for attempted murder, one for rape and one for immigration offences.

The Mail splashed on the revelations on Tuesday, although since the story was printed the force has committed a partial U-turn and named one of the men concerned.

Brum Mail suspects

The initial police response received by the Mail read: “It would be unfair to release this information where any person could be identified from the data and in this case the right to privacy outweighs any public interest in release.”

The suspects are wanted over crimes which all date back at least 10 years.

Mail editor Marc Reeves told HTFP: “Nick McCarthy’s diligence has uncovered a really odd example of institutional bureaucracy getting in the way of common sense.

“Presumably, these individuals remain on the wanted list because West Midlands Police would quite like to catch them.

“Surely getting their identities out there might help this process. We regularly and happily assist the police by carrying the names of suspects they want to question, so I fail to see the self-defeating logic that applies in this case.

“I hope the police see sense and release the names.”

Following the Mail’s revelation, West Midlands Police subsequently published a statement on its website, naming Luke Anderson as a suspect in a 2001 murder.

The force said it had strong intelligence, though not official confirmation, that two of the other suspects had died abroad, while two were believed to be alive but outside of the country.

An 81-year-old had no further action taken against him in relation to allegations of child sex offences which took place between 1984 and 1986, following a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The suspect had moved to Thailand with all attempts to trace him “drawing a blank.” Three unnamed men remain wanted for attempted murder, while one is being sought on immigration matters.

The statement reads: “West Midlands Police consistently and proactively release individuals as being wanted across our website and social media sites.

“The public are our eyes and ears and sharing people as wanted is an extremely successful way of tracking down those who are alleged to have committed a crime.

“The decision to issue someone as wanted is one for the senior investigating officer of an investigation. Each case is different and may merit a different approach.

“Sometimes it is not in the interest of the inquiry to release details of a wanted person as it may hamper on-going enquiries, for example, investigations abroad.”

It concludes: “Senior investigating officers have had the opportunity to share these individuals with the public as part of their investigation – this is regularly reviewed.”

As reported last month on HTFP, Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne claimed her own force was “completely transparent” despite it rejecting an FoI request by Brighton daily The Argus to make the details of 20 serious crimes public.

6 comments

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  • August 13, 2015 at 10:22 am
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    Marc Reeves describes this as: “…a really odd example of institutional bureaucracy getting in the way of common sense.”
    Actually, given the state of police/media relations at the moment it is not odd at all and there is no prospect of common sense making an appearance any time soon.
    This sorry case has to be added to what is becoming an unacceptably long list. Ultimately, it is the public – which pays for the police, by the way – that loses.

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  • August 13, 2015 at 10:35 am
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    A spokesman for West Midlands Police added: ‘We really have no understanding of data protection laws and so it is important that we cover our backs at all costs while muddling through.’

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  • August 13, 2015 at 11:48 am
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    Excellent journalism again from the Birmingham Mail.

    And sorry for being a pedant/old git, but any chance of using the word police instead of cops in the head next time? I’ve managed to keep it out of copy and headings for 43 years. We never use Old Bill, Coppers, or Rozzers in serious stories, only in good humour pieces.

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  • August 13, 2015 at 12:40 pm
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    I know it sounds like a Herculean task but why doesn’t the Mail go through its archives to see which murder case are outstanding, for want of a better word, and see if suspects were named then? That would be a start.
    Unless WMP press office has changed in the decade since I last worked in the area, then it is expected they won’t be much help in the first place.

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  • August 13, 2015 at 4:38 pm
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    Plod’s stupidity knows no limits. I hope there are real detectives in the force who despair at this stupidity. But are there? How would we know. They obviously can’t afford to rock the boat and blight their career.

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  • August 14, 2015 at 7:33 am
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    All this really shows is how newsrooms and the police have become so detached.

    In my day (only 10 years ago) the police would give me the low down on what’s going on. Sometimes a person was ‘wanted’ but they didn’t want it made public because they had a good idea where that person was, so to publicise the fact they are wanted could have jeopardised the operation. I agreed not to publish on the basis they gave me first dibs at the story when the guy was lifted. So invariably I got the story in the end and lots of good background.

    Throwing their toys out of the pram like this will only widen the gulf between them and the police. But many journos wanting a quick and easy headline will do this, and therefore their readers will lose out in the long run.

    At one time it was only the Nationals which would use this tactic, now all newspapers are at it..

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