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Editor: ‘Ripper case made police nervous of trusting journalists’

A regional journalist who gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry this week has described a change in police-press relations following the Yorkshire Ripper case in the 70s.

Anne Pickles, acting editor of Cumbrian newspapers which owns the Carlisle-based News and Star, gave evidence at the inquiry into press standards on Monday.

She was one of four regional journalists, including two crime reporters, from newspapers which have covered major crime stories over recent years, giving evidence about the relationship between the press and the police.

Anne has been a journalist for 39 years and worked as a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post during the Ripper murders.

In her witness statement she said: “During that time and after Peter Sutcliffe’s arrest, when national media rolled into Leeds and Bradford with cheque books to lead the national and international scrum for an exclusive at any price, there was a discernible shift in police-press relations.

“Police officers became nervous of trusting journalists. Some, it was suspected, may have trusted a touch too easily.”

Anne said the News and Star had a professional relationship with the police based on trust, and also told of Cumbria Police approaching the editor of the paper in 2010 when Derrick Bird gunned down 12 people in West Cumbria.

Editor at the time Neil Hodgkinson willingly gave some off-record advice on how to cope with what was fast becoming an overwhelming presence of national media with insatiable demand.

She added that a review or renewed examination of police and media relations is healthy – so long as its objectives are positive, constructive, in the interests of more freedom of information and not an attempt to slam the stable door long after a few rogue horses have bolted.

Also giving evidence were Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, who in his witness statement said he was concerned that proposals relating to reporters recording contact with officers  would result in contacts being reticent to talk, adding that such a regime hints at state control of the press.

The EADP’s senior crime reporter Colin Adwent also gave evidence, as did Nick Griffiths crime reporter on the News and Star.

Added Anne: “Honest police officers and ethical journalists in the regions feel they are about to be made to pay for the not inconsiderable sins of a few in London. And that, in the end, will damage the public’s right to the fair, accurate and contemporaneous information to which it is entitled.”