Thomas Orchard died in police custody in October 2012. Three Devon and Cornwall Police staff are charged with various crimes in relation to the death of Mr Orchard, as you can see in this article from the Exeter Express & Echo.
The Thomas Orchard case is next in court for a case management hearing at Bristol Crown Court on the 5th of June; assuming the defendants plead not guilty in June, the trial is likely to be held in January 2016.
In the event of a trial of the accused in the Thomas Orchard case, it goes without saying the trial will be a major event for West Country journalists and others to cover.
As you can see in the above-linked article, there is a reporting restriction on this case, namely that the defendants’ home addresses cannot be published “for security reasons.”
Even if it were legal for me to do so, I would not publish these addresses, and, generally speaking, I’m rarely able to find any good reason for publishing anybody’s address prior to trial. It might occasionally be in the public interest but generally it is not. I do think it’s often appropriate to give a broad indication of somebody’s whereabouts in news articles, as this is often helpful to telling the story, but not to give full addresses. In this case, even to hint at the defendants’ home locations would be to transgress the will of the court.
That said, though I wouldn’t report such information in this case, even if I were permitted to do so, as a point of principle, is this reporting restriction strictly necessary?
This case does not involve terrorism or organised crime. I’m not aware of any specific threat against any of the defendants to date, or that any of them are in any way vulnerable people.
I fail to see the logic in the argument that the defendants’ location at their workplace at the time of Mr Orchard’s death somehow renders their home addresses irrelevant, if indeed a journalist wanted to inform the public of what is fairly standard background information (the general whereabouts of a subject) in any news article.
An incident occurs in a location not being the home address of the persons involved; therefore journalists must be suppressed from giving standard background information about the general whereabouts of these newsworthy persons? Frankly I fail to see the logic. This is hardly a common argument – much less a sound one – and why should we accept it?
When a person is involved in a newsworthy incident at a location which happens not to be their home or in their local neighbourhood, is it unusual for the press to report, for example, that ‘It is alleged that Mrs Sally Smith, 77, a retired hairdresser from Timbuktu, was caught with her hand in the till by store detectives in Glasgow’? It’s not unusual. It’s standard press practice.
Of course, these defendants are police staff and, as far as I can see, that’s why it cannot be reported that Sarah’s from Timbuktu, Sally’s from San Diego and Jane’s from a north-eastern suburb of Paris.
But why should the mere fact these defendants are police staff mean they are treated any differently to everybody else?
Other than in very exceptional circumstances and for genuine reasons, I strongly disapprove of police defendants being treated differently to any other.