Leveson Inquiry: Local media 'balanced' over reporting Suffolk murders

 

The local media were more balanced than national newspapers in reporting the "Suffolk Strangler" murders, the Leveson Inquiry heard today.

Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, said he felt it was the responsibility of his journalists to put the 2006 killings of five women working as prostitutes in Ipswich into context.

He told the press standards inquiry it was a "very fast-moving and frankly horrifying" story but had to be treated carefully.

"Obviously it was a very significant, unprecedented story for Suffolk, but it was part of our responsibility to put this into some kind of context," he said.

"We had to keep very balanced and very contextual in terms of our reporting. I was aware of how the nationals were reporting it."

Mr Hunt suggested that some of the national media gave a misleading impression about the impact of the murders.

He said: "One or possibly more of the nationals would take a picture of the centre of Ipswich on a Monday night and suggest it was quiet because everyone was frightened, which wasn't the case.

"Obviously people were taking additional precautions, but my perception at the time was not that everyone was going home and locking the doors...

"It probably would have been quiet under normal circumstances, so it wasn't anything exceptional."

The inquiry heard that Suffolk Police's then-chief constable Alistair McWhirter wrote to all newspaper editors after the arrest of suspect Steve Wright amid concerns that the way the case was being reported in national tabloid papers could prejudice his trial.

Wright was handed a whole-life sentence in February 2008 after being convicted of murdering all five women.

Anne Campbell, head of corporate communications for Norfolk and Suffolk Police, said police built up a "positive relationship based on trust" with journalists during the Suffolk Strangler investigation.

"My understanding is that there was no off-the-record guidance. It was all on the record, and lots of it," she told the inquiry.

Colin Adwent, crime reporter for the East Anglian Daily Times and the Ipswich Star, told the inquiry that a new requirement for Suffolk Police officers to record all contacts with journalists was "not overly helpful".

He said some officers were more nervous about speaking to him since the force introduced the system at the end of last year.

"I just feel - and this is a personal view - that it may well inhibit officers from talking to the press in certain cases," he said.

Mr Hunt criticised Suffolk Police for not releasing information to the media quickly enough on occasions, giving the example of the escape of three dangerous inmates from a secure mental health unit in October last year.

He said: "That information didn't get into the public domain for, I believe, 12 hours, which I thought was a matter of significant public concern."

People affected by the killing spree of taxi driver Derrick Bird in Cumbria in June 2010 were distressed by the way the national media reported the incident, the inquiry heard.

Former Cumbria Police chief constable Craig Mackey said: "The overwhelming feeling of the local community and the families is one of anger and dismay at the way they were perceived and they were treated."

Gill Shearer, Cumbria Police's head of marketing and communications, said there were notable differences between the way local and national journalists covered the story.

She said: "(There were) a number of occasions that we had to put out instructions to all the media. The local media adhered to those, whereas the national media didn't."

A regional journalist told the inquiry that the national media tended to "grab whatever they can and then disappear again" during big stories.

Anne Pickles, associate editor at Cumbrian Newspapers, which publishes the Carlisle News and Star and the Cumberland News, said: "It has always been my experience that national media are liable to swoop in, do what they do, and swoop out again into some sort of black hole of anonymity.

"The local press and regional press, we have to live with the people whose lives we are reporting."

She said she had experience of this during the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper in the 1970s and suggested that the situation has not changed significantly today.

"High-profile incidents more recently in Cumbria have shown a similar drive by the national and international media, both print and broadcasting, to grab whatever they can and then disappear again, pay for it if necessary," she said.

Ms Pickles said her journalists worked "very positively" with police when reporting on Bird's rampage, in which he shot 12 people dead before killing himself.

"We didn't want to spend a lot of time harassing victims' families, knocking on doors, looking for screaming sensational headlines," she told the inquiry.

"For all it was a dreadful, dreadful incident, it was - perversely, I know - an extremely successful police-local media operation."

The inquiry, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, was adjourned until tomorrow, when it will hear from the chief constables of Durham and Avon and Somerset Police.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager (EMEA) - City, London

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Manager...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?