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Sunday 7 April 2013

Secret Arrests No Shock Horror

Some parts of the Fourth Estate are developing a remarkable new skill, the ability to not only produce a story where one does not exist, but also to connect it to Lord Justice Leveson – despite his not being involved, even tangentially – and thereby conclude that there is another of those chilling effects on freedom as we know it. No paper is more expert in this new discipline than the Mail.

'Secret law' storm as police chiefs ban public from knowing who they arrest: Shock new blanket ban in the wake of Leveson report angers civil liberty groups who condemn threat to democracy” thundered today’s headline, and it will surprise no-one that there is no “secret law”, no ban, and no Leveson connection. But what the heck, there’s an agenda to push.

At the heart of this new bout of faux outrage is the inconsistency in reporting of arrests: some forces will not name those arrested, some will confirm an identity if the correct name is pitched, while others will name arrestees without prompting. The actual story is that there is a move to greater consistency, but this does not press any of the required outrage buttons.

Moreover, also to no surprise at all, no police chief has banned the public from knowing anything. This is because discussions are continuing, so no conclusion has yet been reached, and even then, there would be nothing more than a recommendation for change. So any report to the contrary is at best unhelpful, and at worst blatant scaremongering.

A Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed that, chillingly, many forces have already altered their naming policies in the wake of last year’s Leveson report” is typical of the piece. I’ve changed the supermarket where I buy pesto during that time, too. But there has been no chilling effect on my diet in the wake of the Leveson report. It’s another false association.

That doesn’t stop the Mail. They protest that they might not have been able to name Jimmy Savile. But they never bothered even investigating him in the first place, never mind naming him. Then there is “what about Yewtree Number 5”? To which the answer is that not knowing the identity of an 82 year old in an apparently frail state is not going to harm anything except sales of the Mail.

And the paper isn’t going to do its credibility any favours by wheeling out tired drivel such as “The move, which follows a recommendation by Lord Justice Leveson in his report into press standards, has been branded an attack on open justice and has led to comparisons with police states such as North Korea and Zimbabwe”. There is no move to attack anyone’s freedom, and therefore no story.

But it keeps the readers frightened and on-side, so that’s all right, then.

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