The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is considering issuing new guidance recommending that UK police forces do not reveal the names of arrested individuals to the media.
The issue was briefly raised as a topic in the Leveson report: “I think that it should be made abundantly clear that save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances (for example, where there may be an immediate risk to the public), the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press nor the public.”
Publishing the identity of a suspect is potentially very damaging to a person’s reputation as the public may assume there is “no smoke without fire”. A few years ago, a Bristol landlord, wrongly arrested following a tenant’s murder, suffered a severe character assassination at the hands of the tabloid press. He was subsequently exonerated and was able to claim redress via the libel courts.
If the names of arrested individuals are kept out of the public domain, will victims of sex crimes be less likely to come forward, because they never learn that their abuser has been arrested on another charge? Should we have the right to know who the police have taken into custody, not least because it helps to ensure that the state cannot engage in arbitrary arrests of people (e.g. the covert detention of people deemed to be dissidents)?