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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 

Scum-watch: Can we get Wade arrested for this?

At 4:30pm on Tuesday this article was published on the Guardian's website:

Suffolk Constabulary has written to editors asking them not to identify any individuals involved in its investigation into the murder of five women in Ipswich, despite nearly every major news outlet naming the first arrested man.

The Suffolk chief constable, Alastair McWhirter, wrote to editors reminding them that legal proceedings were now active in its investigation.

"We would ask that the media do not publish any material that may hinder the investigation, especially where identification might be an issue, or may prejudice the right of anyone to a fair trial at a future date," he wrote.

"The editor who chooses to make public any material that prejudices the right of any potential defendant to a fair trial will carry a heavy burden, should that person be acquitted as a consequence of that prejudice.

"I put you on notice that Suffolk Constabulary will take all necessary legal steps to ensure the integrity of all future legal proceedings.

"We strongly advise you to take legal advice before naming any individual or individuals."

5 hours later, and this (I'm not going to reproduce the front page on this occasion) rolls off the presses at Wapping.

Now, the argument can convincingly be made, given the coverage of the arrest of the second man, that his partner and friends had already put his name into the public domain by giving interviews and making clear their belief in his innocence.

The Sun's front page today though is quite clearly out of order. Whether it potentially does make a conviction more or less likely is open to debate, but it's the kind of potentially prejudicial news reporting that ought to be much more carefully thought about before being published. The article itself is also a typically breathless Sun piece, with all the details seemingly being fed to them by a police source, with the details of the suspect from a ex-wife who has likely trousered a hefty cheque. It's worth noting that two of the journalists responsible, Julie Moult and Mike Sullivan, have been involved in previous Scum stories which have been thoroughly debunked. Moult was one of those that reported on the imaginary "Muslim yobs" which vandalised a house soldiers had looked into moving into, and never responded to an email from Unity to explain herself, while Sullivan wrote complete bollocks about the house of horrors that, err, wasn't and had a hand in the still uncorrected Rochelle Holness story, as well as other articles of dubious accuracy.

For comparison's sake, today's Mirror also publishes a photo of the suspect on its front page, but blocks out his face, which is more sensible, but do we really need to see a photograph of the man at all until he's charged? He was arrested without resisting, and was not a fugitive or wanted for questioning before he entered the police's inquiries, which would be the two defenses for publishing the photographs of those suspected of criminal activity. Most of the rest of the media has given the suspect's name, and I don't think there's much wrong with that, although the police request is reasonable and should be taken seriously by all.

Elsewhere, MySpace has been defending its decision to remove Tom Stephens profile:

"We have taken down the profile and preserved the data should it be useful for law enforcement in their investigation," said Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer at MySpace.

"While we cannot go into detail about the case because it is an ongoing investigation, we can say that since the site's inception, MySpace has met with law enforcement officials around the globe to solicit their viewpoints on how we can enhance our cooperation with law enforcement and increase user security," Mr Nigam added.

"In this particular case, we have taken action to preserve the account for law enforcement purposes and in order to provide information to investigators through the appropriate legal channels."
This isn't exactly convincing. Only those who were on Stephens' friend list could have altered the page in any way, unless there was someone else who had access to Stephens' account. Considering that he lived alone, and that his house is being apparently taken apart by the police, no one was that likely to. Anyway, doesn't MySpace have caches of pages themselves? Mirrors of the page also exist in the Google archive, so there were plenty of potential other available copies for the police, should any of the information on the profile be of any relevance, which seems doubtful itself. Unless MySpace were directly asked by the police to remove the page, then the embarrassment factor still seems to be the most rational reason for why his profile was hastily removed.

Update: This blog has more on the MySpace aspect.

Elsewhere still, Not Saussure, BlairWatch and Five Chinese Crackers have all been examining the dubious claims that Mustaf Jamma, wanted for the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky, fled the country with his sister's passport while wearing the niqab. The police themselves aren't convinced:

Asked whether Mustaf Jama had used a full Muslim veil to evade checks, a spokesman for West Yorkshire police said: "It's a possibility. He could have been wearing a pantomime horse outfit as well. But until we get him, we won't know for sure."

No further comment necessary.

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