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Complainant Name:
Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary

Clauses Noted: 1, 16

Publication: Sunday Mirror


The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary complained that the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Daily Express made or offered payments to witnesses or potential witnesses in the Fred and Rose West murder investigation in breach of Clause 9 (Payment for articles) of the Code. He further complained that the Daily Express and the News of the World published the statements of one potential witness in the investigation which were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The complainant submitted two detailed reports regarding press coverage of the West case.

In the first he said that evidence existed that individuals who could be regarded as "witnesses or potential witnesses" in the case, had received payments or offers of payment from the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror during 1994 and 1995. He also provided details of other newspapers which he said had offered or made payments.

In the second report he said that two women who had made allegations that they were the victims of serious sexual offences connected with the case, had in 1995 received offers of payment from the Daily Express despite the fact that the newspaper was well aware that both women were potential witnesses.

The West case served to focus attention on the issue of the possible repercussions for the legal system of payments made by newspapers to those involved in criminal proceedings. Prior to the West case, the Press Complaints Commission had not received a single complaint alleging improper payment to witnesses (or potential witnesses) in criminal cases. Partly as a result of the valuable information provided by the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary, the industry's Code of Practice Committee looked again at Clause 9 of the Code, which it completely revised. The revised clause states that "An editor authorising such a payment must be prepared to demonstrate that there is a legitimate public interest at stake involving matters that the public has a right to know. The payment or, where accepted, the offer of payment to any witness who is actually cited to give evidence should be disclosed to the prosecution and defence and the witness should be advised of this.".

Not Upheld


Given that the events detailed in the complainant's reports occurred in 1994 and 1995 and that Clause 9 of the Code of Practice was revised in November 1996, the Commission did not believe that it could reasonably consider complaints made about events which occurred when a previous clause of the Code was in operation. Nevertheless, the Commission recognised the value of the evidence submitted by the Chief Constable and is grateful for his very significant contribution to the debate and to the subsequent strengthening of this part of self regulation.

Under Clause 1 of the Code, the Chief Constable complained about articles in the Daily Express and News of the World which reported the allegations made by one of the potential witnesses referred to above, that 25 Cromwell Street - the home of the Wests - was used by police officers as a brothel and drinking club and that one policeman had watched as she was raped by Fred West.

The complainant said that the allegations made by the woman had not been validated sufficiently by the newspaper and in view of the subsequent internal police examination which found flaws in her story, the articles were in breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

The Commission considered that both newspapers clearly presented the woman's version of events at the West house as no more than her allegations. The police had not disputed that there had been allegations.

There was therefore no case to pursue under Clause 1 of the Code.


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