By PA Mediapoint
20 March 2012
Police could have reduced negative media coverage in the cases of Madeleine McCann's disappearance and Joanna Yeates's murder if they had given journalists off-the-record guidance, Daily Star crime correspondent Jerry Lawton told the Leveson Inquiry.
Lawton praised the way many UK forces share information with reporters, in particular West Yorkshire Police and Greater Manchester Police.
But he criticised Leicestershire Police, who assisted Portuguese detectives in investigating what happened to Madeleine, and Avon and Somerset Police, who led the Joanna Yeates investigation.
"Unusually both forces refused to give any guidance on any of the multiple lines of inquiry that came in to most newspapers during those on-going investigations," he said in a written statement.
Madeleine's parents Kate and Gerry McCann, and Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested over Joanna Yeates's murder, have told the Leveson Inquiry of their distress at a series of damaging newspaper articles about them.
Lawton noted in his statement: "It is surely of significance that the cases in which individual police forces have chosen not to engage with the press have resulted in some of the most vociferous complaints about coverage.
"Had Leicestershire Police chosen to give off-the-record guidance to the press about the state of the Madeleine McCann investigation then coverage may have been markedly different.
"Instead Leicestershire greeted every query with, 'It is a Portuguese police investigation, you need to contact the Portuguese police', in full knowledge - as you have previously heard in the inquiry - of the fact the Portuguese police refused to comment officially on any aspect of the case due to that country's official secrecy laws."
He added: "Had Avon and Somerset Police chosen to give discreet off-the-record guidance regarding Mr Jefferies' background and the nature of his arrest it is possible he may have been spared the ordeal he described to the inquiry.
"In my experience journalists, news desks and editors listen to, respect and react to police guidance."