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Local news site wins fight to name complainant in police misconduct case

Jo WadsworthA local news website has won the right to name the complainant who tried to keep his identity secret at a police disciplinary hearing.

Brighton & Hove News successfully fought to reveal Alexander Hamilton’s name after he requested a reporting restriction banning the publication of his name, on the basis it could damage his reputation.

The News objected, saying this reason was “not enough to justify overriding the importance of openness and transparency in proceedings”.

Ogheneruona Iguyovwe, the legally qualified chair of the panel, turned down the request by Mr Hamilton, who is the son of notorious businessman Nicholas van Hoogstraten, also known as Nicholas Von Hessen.

Ms Iguyovwe told the hearing: “The reason for decision is that the norm is for openness and transparency of these hearing and there’s a need for us to retain the confidence of the public in these proceedings.

“This is a public hearing, which means the media can attend. If we restrict aspects of the hearing that goes to the question of transparency of proceedings. We should only depart from those norms in exceptional circumstances and we are not satisfied that this request has met those.”

Mr Hamilton had complained to Sussex Police over his arrest in August 2019 on suspicion of wheelclamping a vehicle in a car park owned by his company in Hove.

Former PC James Breeds was found guilty of gross misconduct at the hearing for using unlawful force to enter Mr Hamilton’s offices and then use pepper spray to arrest him.

Jo Wadsworth, pictured, editor at the News, told HTFP: “Journalists have been struggling for some time with the lack of transparency around many Sussex Police hearings, so this is an encouraging ruling.

“My colleague Frank le Duc and others – including PA, The Argus and South Coast News – have been in discussions with the police about how disciplinary panels work.

“This is the first time we were asked to make representations on proposed reporting restrictions, under the 2020 regulations which give press more input into hearings. “Previously we were not allowed to even know restrictions were proposed before they were imposed.

“We hope this will set a useful precedent – particularly the emphasis given on the need for transparency in order to maintain public confidence.”

In her ruling, Ms Iguyovwe went on to note there was “sympathy for complainants in these kinds of proceedings”.

But she added: “There’s a background to this case and there’s already a mass of members of the public knowing about these proceedings. We considered whether any order would be impossible and how easy it would be for the press to comply with it

“Given the information that already exists in this case and that members of the public are already aware of the places and locations that are involved, it would not be very difficult for anyone to identify the complainant.

“The net effect of that would be having to restrict much more and impose a larger restriction on reporting this case than we would like.

“We could not grant the complainant’s request. The reasons he put forward were not reasons given in the relevant Home Office guidance.

“I regret that causes him any discomfort but we need to balance the needs of the public to have confidence in the disciplinary process.”