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Legal Minds

23 September 2014 / by / in

Fleet Street – The Real Chief Police Officer

It was the stuff of newspaper editors’ dreams. A British boy, dying of a brain tumour, is denied life-saving treatment by the NHS. When his parents try to take him to a clinic in Prague to receive the cutting edge radiotherapy unavailable in Britain they are arrested at the behest of their local police force and forcibly separated from their seriously ill son. The prime minister wades into the debate criticising the heavy handed approach of the authorities and other politicians fall over themselves to be seen taking up the cause. In the words of a journalist friend, this is the sort of story that writes itself. It has human interest, implications of an under resourced and uncaring NHS, and police brutality.

However, almost as good for newspaper circulation would be the story of a terminally ill boy stolen from caring NHS doctors and world-class cancer treatment by his deluded fanatical parents and denied clinically approved treatment while the police stand by and doing nothing.

We are unlikely to ever know for sure what motivated Hampshire Police to apply for a European Arrest Warrant for Ashya King’s parents or the identity or seniority of the decision maker, but I can’t help but wonder whether that police officer had nightmarish visions of the headlines if he (or she) had done nothing and Ashya had tragically died. This was at a time when reporting of the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal was peaking. Was there a concern that Hampshire Police may become the next South Yorkshire Police and come under the spotlight for impotence and incompetence?

It is hard to get it right. Journalists have considerable scope to put a particular spin on a set facts to make it into a story. A story about the police taking appropriate action in relation to a sick boy being removed from hospital against medical advice won’t sell many newspapers.

Usually the police will not be able to win. Whatever decision they make can be portrayed to be unconscionable if it suits newspaper editors. Policing decisions therefore should not be made on the basis of how they might look in the following day’s headlines. There is no point trying to second guess the media. Decisions within policing are undoubtedly difficult and complex. There will inevitably be a balancing of offence priorities and budgetary constraints, but chief police officers make the task so much more difficult for themselves if they allow their vision to be obscured by red tops.



Roland Ellis

Roland qualified as a solicitor in 2004 and was awarded higher rights of audience in 2008. Roland is an experienced business crime and regulatory lawyer. He has been involved in some of the UK’s highest profile investigations and prosecutions brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). He also advises individuals and companies facing Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulatory investigations and proceedings.