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Daily editor warns readers will ‘suffer’ over police suspect naming plan

Natalie FahyA regional daily’s editor has warned readers they will “suffer” if planned changes to police guidance on naming suspects are given the green light.

Natalie Fahy, who edits the Nottingham Post, has criticised proposed changes to the College of Policing’s Media Relations guidance, which would mean the presumption that suspects charged with offences “should be named” would be changed to state they “can be named”.

Other proposed changes include recommending to forces that charging information is only released “where the crime is of a serious nature such as rape or murder” or where the incident has already been reported in the media or on social media sites.

Natalie’s criticism of the proposal comes after both the Society of Editors and the News Media Association raised concerns about its potential impact on both journalists and the wider public.

In an editorial, she highlighted a recent case where Nottinghamshire Police withheld the name of a man charged with sexual assault.

Natalie, pictured, wrote: “We were eventually given the name with a specific instruction that this was ‘not for publication’. This made the process of tracking this suspect through the courts lengthier and more difficult than it should be.

“If this happens with more and more cases, it is ultimately the public who will suffer. We won’t be able to track people through the courts as easily, and with finite resources available to us it’s possible that some may slip through the cracks.

“Like most editors, I am a huge advocate for transparency in policing and the justice system. I spent time working as a reporter in the Royal Courts of Justice and saw how slow the wheels can turn there.

“I deal with complaints most days of the week from convicted criminals who think we should remove their stories from our sites ‘due to GDPR’ or not having permission to report on their crimes. I know how low public knowledge is of the justice system and efforts to close ranks even further will only make this worse.

“We need cooperation from police forces on matters like this because policing can only continue to exist if the public give their consent for it to do so – and transparency is of the utmost importance here.”

The College of Policing is putting the proposed changes down to the need to comply with new data protection law, saying forces “must consider their data protection obligations as well as the need for open justice and transparency”.

A College of Policing spokesman said: “An open, transparent and professional working relationship between the police service and the media is essential. Our guidance to police forces in this area upholds these principles.

“The Information Commissioner’s Office has proposed amendments to take account of evolving data protection law.

“We will continue to work with and listen to feedback as we develop these potential changes further with forces, the media and the ICO.”