LEADING ARTICLE:Did the police put the Boots in?

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What are we to make of the story about the newsreader Julia Somerville and her family snapshots? Not having seen the pictures, none of us can judge whether the Boots lab technician was right to raise his doubts about them. The idea of Boots the Chemist as guardian of the nation's morals may not be very appealing, but where someone handling a set of photographs suspects he is looking at evidence of a crime, then it must be right that those concerns be reported to the police. The matter would be beyond argument if photographs suggested evidence of a murder.

But what cannot be right is that having reported a suspicion, the matter is splashed all over the papers the next day. Who couldn't resist letting the tabloids know: the police? Someone at Boots?

Whoever it was, the upshot is that Ms Somerville and her partner have their lives trailed through the press and, worst of all, a seven-year- old girl, who would have the right to remain unidentified if she were the subject of a court action, finds herself front-page news.

The official police story is that they behaved impeccably, refusing to confirm or deny what was happening and reminding each journalist of their responsibility to avoid printing anything that would identify the child. But identifying the child in this case was not illegal, although the Press Complaints Commission code of practice forbids the identification of anyone below the age of 16 in cases involving sex.

This is not the first time that the prime suspects for informing the press have been police officers. The exchange of information between police officers and newspaper reporters is part of the way both trades work. No one who knows either world doubts that in some instances, money changes hands.

There is no evidence that this is what happened in the Somerville case, but the circumstances suggest that the Metropolitan Police should not be satisfied with a cursory denial. It is a disciplinary offence for police officers to "without proper authority communicate to any person any information which he has in his possession as a member of the police force". It is up to the Met to eliminate their own officers from the inquiry in a more convincing style.

Only by cracking down and making it clear that such breaches of discipline are not to be tolerated will the police reassure us that this will not happen again. Meanwhile, on the home front, it looks as if the newspapers have found another loophole in their own industry's code of practice.

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