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Police ‘cutting journalists adrift’ says regional daily deputy editor

SykesA deputy editor has accused police of “cutting journalists adrift” over their failure to provide updates on missing persons appeals.

Andy Sykes, of Blackpool daily The Gazette, has criticised officers and detectives at Lancashire Police who recently failed to update journalists after issuing appeals to find an absconded prisoner and a missing schoolgirl, both of whom were subsequently found.

The force released a press appeal three weeks ago to help catch wanted criminal Sean Gavin two days after he absconded from Kirkham Prison, in Lancashire, saying he should not be approached if spotted.

Officers arrested him a day later, but did not inform the media or public until almost a week after his arrest.

An apology was later issued by the force over the mix up, but a fortnight ago officers failed again to notify the media, or even their own press office, after a 13-year-old Blackpool schoolgirl was found on the same day a missing persons appeal was published.

Andy told HTFP: “Like every regional newspaper, we report police appeals for information on crimes and those missing from home – barely a day goes by without us receiving one or the other. And we are happy to do so as our newspaper, website and social media channels can provide a huge help to them in tracking people down – and have far greater reach than their own online platforms.

“There has been a spike in recent months in police appeals for prisoners who have absconded from Kirkham Open Prison which is both time consuming and frustrating for the press office who seem to be doing the Ministry of Justice’s dirty work for them. In this case, police told the public not to approach the fugitive if they saw him so he was clearly a danger.

“When it transpired he had been arrested five days before the public was informed, we felt it was only right to highlight it. Individuals in the police often talk in soundbites about ‘reassuring the public’ and ‘working closely with the community’. Clearly on this occasion, we had served our purpose, they got their man and telling the public was deemed unimportant.

“This is no slight on the press office – they were as exasperated as us by the silence. But this is a trend we are finding more and more – police and detectives use the press when it suits them when they need help, then cut us – and even their own communications team – adrift when it’s job done.”

The appeal for the missing schoolgirl had been shared widely on The Gazette’s Facebook and Twitter channels even after she had been found on Thursday.

Andy added: “When we spoke to the press office to get an update on Friday afternoon, as we had heard nothing since, the police log said she had been found at 3.30pm the previous day.

“Officers who asked for the initial appeal to be circulated didn’t bother to tell the press office or post on social media that she was safe and well. Yet the public were contacting us to find out what had happened to her.

“The police do a great job in increasingly stressful times but certainly officers need to remember it’s a two-way street.”

On the Sean Gavin case, Lancashire Police said: “We acknowledge that we should have informed the public sooner that wanted HMP Kirkham absconder, Sean Gavin, had been found and arrested.

“We regret that this happened and appreciate that it may have caused undue concern for people. For that we wholeheartedly apologise.”

The force has not responded to requests for further comment.

3 comments

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  • October 12, 2017 at 9:32 am
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    The police can’t just have their cake and eat it – as papers have traditionally been more than willing to publish missing persons’ appeals the very least they can subsequently expect are updates.

    Another recent trend that concerns me is police failure to name people in the event of a sudden death.

    They invariably say the family want no publicity and several weeks may pass before the name finally becomes public (usually on the website of the county coroner).

    Presumably such a move – like the role of police liaison officers – is aimed at preventing ‘press intrusion’ but surely the death of someone in, say, a car accident should really be reported as a matter of public record?

    I’d be interested to hear whether anyone else has encountered a similar scenario?

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  • October 12, 2017 at 3:21 pm
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    Same force, three hours after a crash, refused to give any details of it to newsdesks other than that it was ‘serious’.
    It was a double fatal with other serious injuries.
    Without any information from the coppers, who were contacted several times, the newspapers and radio stations could have run a ‘traffic chaos’ story which would have been appalling for the families involved, had reporters not been astute and aware it was far more serious.

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  • October 13, 2017 at 11:21 am
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    I bet the same force (along with most others) is launching out-of-date CCTV appeals, though. “Did you see this shoplifter when you were shopping last month?”

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