A 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.”
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.