Gross stupidity

The squalid saga of secret arrests says much about how we are governed today – little of it good. To recap, Lord Justice Leveson suggested that the names of those arrested or suspected of crimes should not be released to the public or media “save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances”. This was an offhand remark, at the tail-end of a section of his report dealing with the ethics of reporters accompanying police on raids. He provided no extended argument, or even justification, for reversing this long-established legal tradition.

Next, as part of a consultation on the new contempt of court rules, the Law Commission suggested that the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) should come up with clearer guidance on the issue. The commission made it clear that in the vast majority of cases, the names of those arrested should still be published. This is entirely right. For one thing, it lets the public know who the police have in custody, reassuring them that people are not being arbitrarily deprived of their liberty. For another, it helps ensure the conviction of the guilty: when the BBC presenter Stuart Hall was charged with sexual assault, it prompted many more victims to come forward.

Acpo, however, ignored such arguments, declaring that suspects should instead retain their anonymity to preserve them from damaged reputations. Police officers, its spokesmen suggested, should neither confirm nor deny the names of arrested suspects, leaving it to the press and public to hazard a guess at their identities. That guidance has now been rubber-stamped by the new College of Policing, and will be sent out to forces across the land (the guidance also requires officers to declare friendships with journalists, just as they already do with criminals).

How fucking stupid is this?

\”Excuse me Mr. Plod. Do you have Tim Worstall banged up in custody?\”

\”I can neither confirm nor deny this\”.

Where other than a police state can the rozzers keep someone inside without letting people know? Lawyers, family, these sort of people?

Of course the names of those arrested, held, charged, should be public, just like the damn trials themselves should be. This isn\’t some marginal maybe, maybe not issue. It\’s at the heart of basic liberty. Secret arrests simply should not be allowed to happen.

18 thoughts on “Gross stupidity”

  1. I don’t think the plan is to keep the arrests secret from lawyers and families.

    Weird thing is, I think a lot of people would quite like the fact that they have been arrested kept on the down low. Me included, if I was.

  2. Surreptitious Evil

    As Interested says.

    There is a whole continuum betweensecret arrests, letting the suspect / arrestee inform people but otherwise ‘no comment’, responding appropritely to a specific question, having a list that can be accessed, tipping the press off so they can door-step the family as the suspect is marched away and actually inviting the press to film the arrests.

    We are currently at the last two. Many people think this is too much. It may be able to rein this back without jumping to the first in my little list.

  3. The Police employing a quiet discretion? The UK Police?.

    That will be the fucking day. Does this mean that the next victim of Yewtree gang won’t have his name handed to the press with a fanfare?.

    Oh wait–they “protected” the good name of Rolf Harris didn’t they?. The same way a sieve holds water.

  4. Tommy Long (@_tommylong)

    I don’t really agree that these are secret arrests. The person who is arrested is perfectly allowed to publicise the fact, it’s simply the Police aren’t allowed to tell anyone else that they’ve arrested you.

    Perhaps it should be modified though so you’re asked when arrested if you’re happy for the Police to identify you to the press or not?

  5. “The person who is arrested is perfectly allowed to publicise the fact,…”
    Like to see you achieve that trick from a remand cell.
    Give the police the ability to refuse to name those arrested & the very first people who’ll not be told will be the family & friends. At least the press have some pull. Ordinary punters they’ll treat with their customary contempt.

  6. Yes, just to add my voice to those above, I don’t think this is about carting you off and refusing to let your family whether or not Worstall is in jug. This is about The Sun not being able to run a headline saying WORSTALL ARRESTED ON PAEDO CHARGES and then letting that follow you around for the rest of your puff, regardless of the fact that it turns out to be a load of old moody cooked up by, say, a rival left wing blogger.

  7. Surreptitious Evil

    So make a sensible rule and enforce it properly. Habeus corpus and all that (if it hasn’t been ditched already.)

    The first Chief Inspector sacked for misconduct in a public office would enthuse the rest (but, I suspect would be the first Chief Inspector sacked etc etc).

  8. Leveson isn’t, as far as I can tell, suggesting suspending habeus corpus or the right to see a lawyer before the prisoner is charged. He just doesn’t want completely innocent victims of mistaken identity or innocent retired schoolteachers who happen to be the landlord of a murder victim from having their reputations and lives destroyed by inaccurate stories in the gutter press.

  9. “We’ve got 10,000 unconvicted prisoners on remand or in police cells, but we’re not going to tell you who they are because this might infringe their civil rights.”

    WTF? Habeus Corpus means you have to produce the guy, or at least his name, so that the defence can, you know, defend.

    On the other hand, if the arrested person is immediately released on police bail, then habeus corpus is achieved (the body is out) and there’s no need to advertise the arrest.

  10. Part of the problem seems to be that cops go straight to “arrest”, missing out the stage which used to be euphemistically known as “helping the Police with their enquiries”.

    That latter stage could be reasonably held anonymously. However there were several discussions at the late Inspector Gadget’s place where officers admitted they went straight to the arrest stage. The grounds included McPherson and the safeguarding of evidence, if I remember right.

    Personally I was not convinced: there seemed to be simple administrative convenience too much involved. There should be a proper enquiry stage wherever possible, to sort out misleading evidence and malicious accusations. Then, when there are sufficient grounds, arrests can be made and the fact, and names, publicised.

  11. As most have said above, this is about allowing the individual being charged to decide, not the police.

    Simple truth is that, if I was wrongly (it’s a given!) arrested for something, sure as hell I don’t want a load of useless journalists getting off on trashing my life over it.

    BIS: If the police then deviate from that, then they are simply guilty in this scenario, and which has nothing to do with the principle.

  12. @Jeff,

    that’s not so much the coppers’ fault as the general public’s for not understanding that being arrested means nothing (likewise, ‘wrongful arrest’ does not mean “they arrested me and I was innocent.” It means “they arrested me for no reason” which is subtly and importantly different).

    If the coppers turn up to the scene of a fight (ie an assault, where the victim fought back), they arrest everyone. As one copper explained it to me “it doesn’t mean we think you were in the wrong, it’s how we stop everything going any further and get you all down the station so we can sort out what happened.”

    There shouldn’t be a need for anonymity, it’s just that the media now basically treat an arrest as “accusation with value added” (no smoke without fire, &c &c).

  13. As far as I know, there isn’t any law or rule that says that the Police have to publish the names of everyone arrested. They do so voluntarily at the moment.

    There are two issues. Publishing the names of those arrested (but not yet convicted) on socially damaging crimes vs keeping quiet about arresting someone on trumped up political charges.

    In the former, if someone is freed or not convicted then their social reputation has been damaged. Sex crimes are socially damaging for everyone. Crimes of theft not so damaging, especially not in certain areas. So it could be said that certain types of crime should be kept quiet about – until the court case.

    In the later, the problem of political or trumped up charges and arrests are not such a huge problem that they require us to publish everyone’s name to counter it. It’s a different issue in other countries.

    But rather than have a list of crimes or types of people which you keep secret, why not just publish the names of everyone arrested – but don’t say why. That way the socially damaging crimes aren’t publicized, but nor are names kept secret.

    In fact one type of person routinely has their names kept secret already – youngsters.

  14. Following Sam @13, shouldn’t this be a matter of people who are charged?

    Except, habeas corpus. Time was, if you were arrested they were supposed to have an idea of what you’d done and either charge you with it sharpish or let you go. Nobody should need to know you’ve been *arrested* because you’re only going to be held briefly.

    Now we have the problem of extended periods holding people without charge. As we continue down the golden path to a progressive future of acting like a stereotypical third world dictatorship.

  15. The Pedant-General


    But if we don’t trust the bastards not to arrest you and stick you in a hole without telling anyone, we can’t trust them to release you if they haven’t got enough to charge you. We also won’t know when that clock should have started ticking.

  16. @PF
    “BIS: If the police then deviate from that, then they are simply guilty in this scenario, and which has nothing to do with the principle.”

    I d ref IanB above & add that if you think the police quibble at acting illegally when the ones on the receiving end have little pull* & it suits them, there s a bridge you might be interested in.

    *Pull meaning connections either by knowing the right people or being a minority the HR industry will be tripping over itself to prove victims of police talking to them in a harsh tone. For the rest of us, it gets made extremely plain. You mess with Plod & all manner of grief will transpire.

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