Should we be allowed to know whom the police have arrested? Or should the accused have their anonymity preserved until police charge them or decide they have no evidence? The row between police chiefs and responsible media, which has been bubbling since the Leveson Inquiry, boiled over again this week as officers at Operation Yewtree – the investigation into historical sex crimes – refused to confirm the identity of a new suspect who still works at the BBC after they arrested him on Tuesday. It’s Paul Gambaccini, the media can now report (page 4). He says he denies all allegations.
This is a delicate balance: naming can destroy lives, regardless of the veracity of accusations. Remember the appalling treatment of Christopher Jefferies, wrongly arrested after the murder of Joanna Yeates.
The Conservative MP Philip Davies argues – correctly, I think – that police should be allowed to confirm the name of people arrested, when asked, to “encourage other potential victims to come forward”. Take Stuart Hall. After he was named, more of his victims approached police. Without the media coverage, he would have got away with his crimes. The 83-year-old is serving a 30-month prison sentence for sex offences, and will return to court on Friday to face charges of 15 rapes and one count of indecent assault, relating to girls aged between 11 and 16.
In the case of David Smith, the ex-BBC chauffeur who died this week on the day he was to be tried for abusing a 12-year-old in 1984, the victim’s partner only approached police after she saw his reaction to ITV’s Jimmy Savile investigation. Media coverage matters – and on this issue, Leveson’s recommendation that arrested suspects not be named “save in exceptional circumstances” was ill-conceived.