Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 17:06 UK

Force disciplines police blogger

Blogger
Anonymous blogging may not be protected by the courts in future

A serving detective whose anonymous blog carried criticisms of government ministers and police bureaucracy has been disciplined by his force.

The action, by Lancashire Constabulary, follows the exposure of the blogger "Night Jack" by the Times newspaper.

He was unmasked after the High Court rejected his plea that his anonymity be preserved "in the public interest".

Lancashire Constabulary said the blogger, named as Det Con Richard Horton, had received a written warning.

A spokeswoman said: "The commentary in the blog is indeed the work of a serving Lancashire detective and clearly the views and opinions expressed are those of the author himself and not those of the wider Constabulary.

"We have conducted a full internal investigation and the officer accepts that parts of his public commentary have fallen short of the standards of professional behaviour we expect of our police officers."

He is keeping his head down and won't be making any comment
Night Jack's lawyer

Earlier, Mr Justice Eady refused an injunction to prevent the Times identifying "Night Jack", who won an Orwell prize for blogging in April.

The judge said said blogging was "essentially a public rather than a private activity".

The blogger's lawyer had argued that preserving his anonymity was in the public interest.

Hugh Tomlinson QC said thousands of people who communicated via the internet under a cloak of anonymity would be "horrified" to think the law would do nothing to protect their identities if someone carried out the necessary detective work to unmask them.

Local criminals

But the judge ruled any right of privacy on the part of the blogger would be likely to be outweighed by a countervailing public interest in revealing that a particular police officer had been making such contributions.

In his blog "Night Jack - An English Detective" an unnamed officer had chronicled his working life in an unnamed UK town with descriptions of local criminals and his struggle with police bureaucracy.

Mr Justice Eady said the blog contained opinions on a number of social and political issues relating to the police and the administration of justice.

He added "Night Jack" had expressed strong opinions on matters of political controversy and had also criticised a number of ministers.

The judge said the blogger had known he risked disciplinary action if his employers found out one of its officers was communicating to the public in such a way.

This was one of the main reasons why "Night Jack" was keen to maintain his anonymity, he added.

Entitled to know

Rejecting the argument that all the blogger's readers needed to know was that he was a serving police officer, the judge said it was often useful, in assessing the value of an opinion or argument, to know its source.

"For so long as there is anonymity, it would obviously be difficult to make any such assessment.

"More generally, when making a judgment as to the value of comments made about police affairs by 'insiders', it may sometimes help to know how experienced or senior the commentator is."

He did not accept that it was part of the court's function to protect police officers who were, or thought they might be, acting in breach of police discipline regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors.

The public was entitled to know how police officers behaved and the newspaper's readers were entitled to come to their own conclusions about whether it was desirable for officers to communicate such matters publicly.

Det Con Horton's blog has now been removed from the internet.

His lawyer, Dan Tench, said his client had nothing to say, following the announcement that he had been disciplined.

"He is keeping his head down and won't be making any comment," he said.



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