Police refuse to issue photos of wanted people

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Police sparked anger last night by refusing to name or issue photographs of 12 people wanted for serious crimes who are on the run in Norfolk. The 12 - all wanted for "category A" offences - jumped bail when facing charges including serious sex offences, drugs possession, burglary, theft and affray.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Police sparked anger last night by refusing to name or issue photographs of 12 people wanted for serious crimes who are on the run in Norfolk.

The 12 - all wanted for "category A" offences - jumped bail when facing charges including serious sex offences, drugs possession, burglary, theft and affray.

The details were revealed after a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but Norfolk police refused to give details or photos and said identifying them could breach their human rights.

But law specialists and the government's Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) said legislation allowed police to print "wanted" pictures if it was in the public interest and would lead to the prevention of crime.

Politicians and pressure groups also attacked the decision, saying it defied commonsense and could put the public at risk.

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However Dawn Clarke, data protection and freedom of information manager at the police, said releasing the information would constitute breaches of human rights and data protection acts.

She said: "There are circumstances in which the police will release the personal data of alleged offenders. Such disclosure is considered on a case-by-case basis."

The force said information would only be released on this basis if it was "in the significant public interest to do so, for example when the individual presents a risk to public safety or the alleged offence is very serious".

A spokesman for the DCA said: "Nothing in the Human Rights Act prevents publish-ing the photograph of an escaped criminal if he pre-sents a danger to the public."

One of the suspects, a 48-year-old accused of sex offences, has evaded police capture for 17 years. The others have been at large for between one and 10 years.

Norman Brennan, a serving police officer and founder of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "The public should be given sufficient information to be able to identify those who are evading the police.

"This just shows the contempt that criminals have that when they are being told to answer to bail they are failing to do so."

Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson said: "This is ludicrous. If people have committed crimes of this type then the public needs to know who they are and the police need to find them."

Tony Jaffa, a lawyer with media law specialists Foot Anstey, said the Data Protection Act allowed personal data to be released for "the prevention and detection of crime" or the "apprehension or prosecution of offenders". He said: "What they should be citing is the Contempt of Court Act and assessing whether this information would present a substantial risk of serious prejudice, which in this case it certainly would not."

A police statement said: "The decision to release pictures of people to the media who have not responded to court bail, and are therefore not convicted, will be in exceptional circumstances and is strictly regulated within the national policy.

"We must take into account issues concerning policing purpose, necessity and proportionality, privacy, public interest, the right to a fair trial and above all, people's safety which is of paramount importance."