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Police press officers ‘trying to beat us to our own stories’ says editor

Katie FrenchAn editor has slammed police press offices as “not fit for purpose” claiming they are “trying to beat us to our own stories.”

Basingstoke Gazette editor Katie French has criticised Hampshire Constabulary over what she has claimed is its failure to provide information about crimes unless her reporters can provide a road name and time at which the incident happened.

Katie, pictured, also called for forces to “cut the middle people out” by allowing journalists to talk directly to officers.

And she accused press officers of trying to “beat us to our own story” by publishing press releases to their social media channels off the back of media enquiries submitted by the Gazette.

Posting on Twitter, she questioned whether other journalists were “finding it increasingly difficult to get straight answers out of police press offices” after attempting to find out information following a tip-off that a political party was allegedly being investigated by the Electoral Commission and Hampshire Constabulary.

Speaking to HTFP, Katie said: “When the reporter went to ask for comment and a steer from the force’s comms team, they were turned down because the reporter couldn’t provide specific dates or location.

“This is not the first time this has happened. The police press office has said before they can’t give us the details of incidents unless we can provide specific information. Nearly all crime enquiries need a road name and a time which can be, at times, impossible.

“If we fail to provide the information, we won’t get a response which on occasion means we are unable to report on some stories. ”

She added: With police officers and detectives in Hampshire under strict instructions not to talk to journalists, all queries funnelled through the press office which leaves journalists with no choice but to comply.

“While I have no doubt individual press officers work exceptionally hard, this system is not fit for purpose. I would go further to say they are letting the public down in its current format by making the access to information unnecessarily difficult.”

Katie went on to add that in recent months, the press office had “tried to beat us to our own story by publishing press releases to their social media channels off the back of a media enquiry submitted by us”.

“When did it become the case that the police are competing for likes and shares? Police forces are not news organisations and it is dangerous for them to act as such.

“Perhaps this is a rose-tinted view, but a police press office is there to act as a pathway between the journalists and police force. The role surely is to help rather than hinder reporters. Some constabularies around the country do this very well, others less so. But having spoken to other reporters, it is clear this is a national problem.

“My answer to this? Press offices need to remember the goal is not to massage the public’s perception of the constabulary at the expense of telling the truth. I would go further to say let individual officers and detectives once again build relationships with the press and cut the middle people out.

“Rumour has it, there was once a time where journalists would do a ring round of local police stations and would get a list of crimes and goings on. It provided a simple and complete picture of what was happening locally.

“Reinstating such practices would be not only hugely useful for journalists but most importantly vital to the public and may go some way to restore some trust in the police.”

A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman told HTFP: “Hampshire Constabulary follows the College of Policing’s Authorised Professional Practice when responding to media enquiries.

“To receive information in response to an enquiry about an incident or investigation, the media need to provide details sufficient to allow that incident to be traced, including location, date and type of offence.

“On this occasion, the reporter gave two names and an allegation of harassment, and said this incident could have taken place at any time since May last year.

“We cannot answer media enquiries where names are speculatively put forward, and it was explained to the reporter that we would need more information to answer his enquiry.”


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  • February 4, 2020 at 10:19 am

    “Press offices need to remember the goal is not to massage the public’s perception of the constabulary at the expense of telling the truth.”

    The reality is that what were Press Offices are now Reputation Management Offices and their job is to protect forces from the vast amounts of negative publicity, mainly generated from the failure to deal with large numbers of crimes as a result of cuts to force budgets and also because forces are targeting low hanging fruit like social media ‘crime’. They do this by actively obstructing the reporting of many crimes and incidents while promoting anything that’s positive. Northumbria Police have been doing this for many years and freelance journo Nigel Green had a long-running battle with them to release information.

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  • February 4, 2020 at 11:12 am

    They’re all playing the same game and have been for years. The only way round it is to cultivate your own sources in relationships that involve ABSOLUTE TRUST on both sides. “Press” offices are only a last resort. Don’t trust them. They’ve always been prone to disclose confidential info to the opposition.

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  • February 4, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Although interestingly I always found the output of hard news from police press offices increased when the Chief Constable had a gripe about the council tax precept and/or government funding.

    Sure that was always a coincidence.

    Me? I preferred the photo ops of a bobby dressed as a giant shark highlighting the issue of loan sharks.

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  • February 4, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    ^^ wot she said, but for Thames Valley Police also ^^

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  • February 4, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    My local force is absolutely appalling for this.

    A few years ago, a woman’s body washed up on the beach with the head wrapped up in gaffa tape. Instead of putting the appeal out through the media centre, they only uploaded it to their own Facebook page. When I queried this, I got the following response:

    ‘Why would I need to put it out to you? I can reach 500,000 people just by putting it out through the Facebook.’

    I responded that the local press would reach sections of the community that Facebook could not.

    The press officer replied that they had a target for how many eyes they had to get on their appeal, and they had hit that target without going to the press.

    I asked the press officer whether they had found the killer as a result. There came a sheepish ‘no’.

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  • February 4, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    Sadly this has been going on for years. I can confirm the ‘rumour’ that police officers would once speak to the press directly; now press officers keep reporters at arms length, bury stories they don’t want released and only ask the press for help weeks or even months after a crime when all else has failed. At a time when the police have suffered years of funding cuts, you do have to wonder whether highly-paid press officers are really a good use of resources but that sort of thing always seems the last to be cut.

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  • February 4, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Am I missing the point here? She approaches a press office with the name of an alleged suspect and wonders why they won’t give her info? 101 of media law!
    Also, as much as I hate to stand on the side of the establishment, going to a press office stating ‘something happened somewhere at some time’ is not the most efficient approach.
    Maybe work on your journalistic ‘skills’ instead of harping back to ‘the old days’ when you could slip a dodgy cop a few quid to get confidential info which could harm an investigation, where is the public interest in that?
    If you’re building poor relationships with press officers, what makes you think you’d get on better with cops?
    Anyway good luck love!

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  • February 4, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    “On this occasion, the reporter gave two names and an allegation of harassment.” That should be plenty, especially if it concerns reasonably high-profile electoral fraud. I would agree with Breakfast above, at a time when the Tories are slashing police budgets, press offices should surely be stripped down to one operator chasing enquiries and publishing social media faff. Also, Cocopops, what a sexist and archaic sign-off.

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  • February 4, 2020 at 4:08 pm

    Cocopops: to answer your initial question: yes.
    Police numbers have been slashed; crime is rampant and people know it.
    It would be nice to speak to an officer who could give a bit of balance and explain why they have been unable to prevent a particular crime spate but they are now forbidden from doing so and mutual distrust is the result.
    I would only go to the press office as a last resort, knowing that if I do they will probably not reply to me but will press release the answer to all and sundry.
    And I, too, remember the days of morning ‘police calls’ when we were not viewed as the enemy but as a useful resource.

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  • February 4, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    Iyetownmax, how is ‘love’ sexist? Patronising yes, but not sexist.
    The irony some of these comments, police cuts have been bad, do you think cops have the time to speak to several Journos answering lots of different enquiries?
    Because the sad truth is they do not. A good press office will give you the information you need and if they consistently do not then I suggest that may be something more to do with your interpersonal skills.
    I always built good relationships with press officers, I think that is key here instead of moaning about those good old days. I’m afraid that’s over, and for good reason. Read up about it, it’s all there you just need to see the bigger picture.

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  • February 5, 2020 at 12:58 pm

    Most Press officers i’ve ever had the misfortune to deal with have nearly always been ex journo’s, you’d think they would know better.


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  • February 5, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Ex-journos? I think you will find they are still journos, who are doing the job they are paid to do. Very often details cannot be released for “operational reasons”. Back in the day, a reporter would accept this, provided they were told so by a senior police officer (with the promise of the full facts later).

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  • February 7, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    Cocopops: “Maybe work on your journalistic ‘skills’ instead of harping back to ‘the old days’ when you could slip a dodgy cop a few quid to get confidential info which could harm an investigation, where is the public interest in that?”

    That was never how it worked in the “good old days”, not for the regionals at any rate. Frontline police officers (or sergeants and inspectors anyway) were once free to issue press appeals if they felt there was a valid operational need, which helped them do their job of catching criminals.

    Sometimes they had meetings with journalists to brief them on local goings-on, but that was part of how they engaged with their communities. There’s nothing inherently dodgy about that – it doesn’t automatically mean they were giving away something they shouldn’t.

    Unfortunately this power now lies in the hands of press officers whose main objective is corporate reputation management, not solving crimes.

    I was once told by a neighbourhood sergeant that they often want to issue releases about certain incidents, but are told by their press office “give it a few more weeks, we’d rather people didn’t know that this happened.”

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  • February 11, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    @JohnW1712, FACTS! yeah often promised but never arrive.

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