HC Deb 03 March 1983 vol 38 cc357-8
4. Mr. McNally

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in the light of the Press Council report on press handling of the Sutcliffe case, he has any plans to give guidance to police forces concerning relations with the news media during and after the investigation of a serious crime; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Whitelaw

On 29 December 1982 my Department issued circulars of guidance to chief officers of police on the investigation of a series of major crimes and on the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Copies of these two circulars were placed in the Library. The circular on the 1981 Act took full account of the relations between the police and the media during and after the investigations in the Sutcliffe case. I see no need to issue further guidance on this matter in the light of the Press Council's report.

Mr. McNally

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House of any further thoughts that he may have had on the Press Council's strong recommendation about people under pressure and harassment from the press and the help that the police can give in such circumstances? Will he make it clear to owners and editors of newspapers that, despite their hiding behind the claim of freedom of the press, the House is determined to uphold a more important freedom—that of a fair trial?

Mr. Whitelaw

The importance of a fair trial cannot be overstressed. That has been a major feature in all the guidance that we have given. As for giving guidance to editors, that is something that they must take on board for themselves. Some editors would not take any pleasure in receiving guidance from me, considering what some of them think about me.

Mr. Foulkes

In the light of what the Home Secretary has said about the importance of a fair trial, will he comment on the press coverage of the case of Mr. David Nilson, allegedly—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a separate question, and in any case the matter is sub judice.

Mr. McQuarrie

My question also related to Mr. Nilson, so I shall not now ask it, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Dickens

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the reign of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper reduced the quality of life in Yorkshire for five years? Does he further accept that people did not want to walk the streets alone or open their doors? Was not the much-criticised early press conference given by the chief constable of west Yorkshire perhaps given against the background of trying to alleviate the tremendous distress of people in Yorkshire at having such a criminal at large?

Mr. Whitelaw

There is no doubt that there were particular problems in that case. Many people will have learnt a good many lessons about the handling of that case—including the press, the police and everyone else. I regret that I am no great expert on the quality of life in Yorkshire or anywhere else.