A weekly newspaper has received an apology from a top police officer after a sergeant challenged a critical story it wrote about a local councillor.
As reported by HoldtheFrontPage in April, Sgt Paul Beale from Hampshire Police contacted the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times after the paper reported that Coun Goff Beck had been accused of making homophobic remarks towards an openly gay former council colleague.
Sgt Beale initially rang the paper to say that Coun Beck was not happy about the story and then asked for a meeting at the paper’s office to discuss its editorial policy towards the councillor.
After the paper made a formal complaint, the force’s professional standards department carried out a full investigaton, which concluded that the sergeant had been ‘wrong and not professional’ in raising the matter with them.
Investigator Steven Morris said: “Sgt Beale has told the investigation that he was not put up to discussing Coun Beck’s press coverage by anybody, including the councillor, and he brought it up as it was his own view that it hadn’t reflected the councillor as he knew him.
“He has been aware that Coun Beck had not been happy with the coverage and naively he opened up the discussion and allowed his views be known.”
The report also described as “incorrectly worded” an email sent by the head of the professional standards department, Det Supt Colin Smith, implying that the newspaper had drawn Sgt Beale into conversation about Coun Beck when in fact he had raised the issue in the first instance.
The paper claimed this was “such a misleading account of what had actually happened it was a slur on the integrity of editorial staff.”
Sgt Beale accepted his behaviour was ‘worthy of management action in the form of learning from his experience’ and Det Supt Smith has sent an apology to the newspaper which was published on its front page.
“I did not mean to suggest any lack of integrity on behalf of your staff or newspaper and I fully accept that Sgt Beale was not drawn into conversation but raised the subject of Coun Beck in the first instance,” he wrote.
A spokesman for the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times said: “We welcome the apology from Det Supt Smith but the police investigation has failed to come up with any credible reasons why he and the other officers involved acted in the way they did.
“What is most important in the atmosphere that has been created by investigations into newspapers and the media generally in recent years, which has nothing to do with good local papers such as the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times, is that the police address their culture and actions that have changed the relationship between the police and the media,” said Bob.
“The police should now restore sensible and effective working arrangements so that alongside the media they can work together to inform and serve the public and create confidence in both, which is essential if the public are to be kept properly informed about events in their communities.”