The judge heading the inquiry into press standards has said he hopes tighter rules on police and media relations will not stop beat bobbies tipping off local reporters.
Lord Leveson spoke as Home Secretary Theresa May told the inquiry that new guidelines for police and media would aim to bring “common sense” to the relationship.
Mrs May has received guidance from police chiefs which recommends that officers should not accept gifts, gratuities or hospitality except those of “trivial nature”.
The Assocation of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has suggested allowing officers to receive only “light refreshments” during meetings with reporters, seemingly ruling out lavish lunches.
Lord Leveson commented: “It is obviously important that, for example, neighbourhood police officers should be able to speak to local press about events in the neighbourhood – good news stories, concerns, seeking witnesses, all that sort of material – and it seems to me sensible that everything one can do to encourage that sort of contact is worthwhile.”
The Home Secretary responded: “The important thing is for officers to know where the line is drawn between who they are able to speak to and what they are able to say in those conversations.
“It shouldn’t have a chilling effect but I think what’s important is that we have a framework that doesn’t have a chilling effect and a framework that enables common sense to be operated in these relationships.”
“I think it’s trying to apply common sense to the relationship the police should have with the media,” she added.
Previously forces drew up their own guidelines, with wide divisions in what was deemed acceptable.
The new guidance calls for more robust decision-making and recommends that forces should have a single register of gifts and hospitality governed by the head of professional standards.
It calls for a “shift to blanket non-acceptability save for a certain circumstances and a common-sense approach to the provision of a light refreshments and trivial and inexpensive gifts of bona fide and genuine gratitude from victims and communities”.
The guidance continues: “One extreme can properly be considered to be a breach of criminal law (the Bribery Act 2010) through to the low-level hospitality which could in no way be considered as a breach of integrity on any party involved.”
Mrs May said: “I think that is a sensible approach that is being taken by Acpo in an attempt to find a greater consistency.
“What’s important isn’t that they have a single force register but that everybody knows that there is a general belief that they shouldn’t be taking gifts, gratuities and hospitality, except where they are of a more trivial nature.”