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8 January 2019 / by / in

Drone Suspects Disclosure intensifies case for preserving pre-charge anonymity

The recent naming and shaming of two completely innocent suspects for the flying of drones over Gatwick Airport shortly before Christmas once again brings into the spotlight the need for proper regulation of the disclosure of the identity of persons under criminal investigation. In this particular incident, it is reported that the suspects in question had an alibi for the period when they were assumed to have been committing the alleged offence. Yet their identities were released to the media before proper investigation of the facts had been completed. They were later released without charge having spent 36 hours in police custody. In the interim, the Daily Mail on its front page asked “Are these the morons who ruined Christmas?” and the TV presenter Piers Morgan described them as “clowns” on twitter, although he later withdrew the slur.

As previously discussed in Sir Cliff – the case for pre-charge anonymity – 31 July 2018, this is an issue that has been the subject of proposed legislative reform in the past. This recent example of how harmful the premature and misconceived disclosure of a suspect’s ID can be, reinforces the need for reform. Surely the time has now come for there to be a process whereby the police are required to obtain judicial consent to the disclosure of a suspect’s identity before they have been charged. The drone investigation demonstrates once again that this is not a decision that should be left to the discretion of the police alone.

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Stephen Sharp

Steve is a highly experienced criminal lawyer specialising in white collar and business crime for over 25 years. He has defended in cases brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), HM Revenue and Customs, Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Economic Crime Unit (ECU), NHS Counter-Fraud Service and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).