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Editors call for greater openness from coroners and police

Coroners and police forces must be more open and cooperative with the regional press, the Society of Editors has urged.

The SoE has made the call in a letter to both chief coroner Peter Thornton QC and Gareth Morgan, deputy chief constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

The Society said the reluctance of officers and coroners to provide information to the media is damaging police and media relations and causing declining standards of information being released to the public.

The letter comes amid concerns by members of the Society that certain forces that central advice not to release the identity of “non-suspicious deaths” to the media is having a detrimental effect on the public’s right to know.


Writing to Det Chief Con Morgan, Bob Satchwell, executive director of the SoE cited a case in Cumbria in which the identity of a four-year-old boy who drowned in a caravan park swimming pool was withheld from the media.

While the local police insisted on not releasing the child’s identity, in respect of the parents’ wishes, they still continued to do so despite the child’s father posting details on social media including photographs of himself and his deceased son.

Bob added: “This general policy and approach represents a major obstacle to the media performing its role of communicating accurate information to the public. The idea that non suspicious deaths are somehow ‘private’ is clearly flawed. It is inconsistent with the need for openness and transparency that the police service generally says it wishes to promote.

“Huge amounts of the emergency services time and money is expended on such incidents. The public have a right to know how the police and emergency services use their money. The services deserve the credit for the efficient and caring way in which they deal with such incidents day-in, day-out.

“As we have discussed so many times previously the human details of such tragedies focus public attention which highlights the burden on emergency services and awareness can help prevent deaths.”

The topic of police and media relations will form a session at the Society of Editors annual conference in Carlisle on Monday 17 October.


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  • September 2, 2016 at 9:41 am

    For a long time coroners have been a law unto themselves.

    We struggle now to even gets lists of upcoming hearings, even if we know the name of the deceased the coroners tell us they cannot release information.

    Courts are just as bad, we recently had to fight for, and win, to get sent youth court lists from out local mags.

    When we asked why we were told by a clerk that as we “cannot report anything from the cases” they did not have to send us the list.

    Thankfully but only after a letter from our managing editor and company lawyer were they reinstated.

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  • September 2, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Great openness and help from coroners and officers comes if you bother to see them, go to inquests and phone them every day for the ‘overnights’ As a journalist for 44 years after starting as a trainee, I used to still keep in touch by phoning them even in my last 12 years as editor. I went to a recent inquest a few weeks ago and was told a reporter from none of the five boroughs they cover had been near or by for months and hadn’t phone for four years (since myself and the news editor were made redundant). The deaths and dates of inquests are even online now. The problem is there are so few staff on local newspapers now they are knee deep in crap! That’s why court and council meetings don’t get covered either. Sad, sad, sad.

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  • September 2, 2016 at 11:25 am

    @Not so old hack: We do but we get stonewalled by our coroners office.

    Years ago we would call and get names, ages, place of death, where they lived and a prelim cause of death.

    Now we get a name and a date often a couple of days beforehand.

    They are no longer held in our town, or even in the same district, but now 60 miles away. We still go but it is becoming harder and harder to justify when it is a lottery about what you will get.

    Finding out about a prelim inquest opening is now almost impossible,

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  • September 2, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Another duty of the local press undermined by the authorities.

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