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Secret Society Analysis

g and compass

Nottingham Evening Post
Feb. 11, 2000
E. Pritchard
Secret Society Analysis

Britain's "secret society" is being laid bare in a major campaign by the Nottingham Evening Post.

Cabinet-style councils are only part of the story in an eight-day series, launched with a Page One comment by editor Graham Glen and followed by daily two-page spreads.

Secrecy in town halls, the police, Government quangos and the health service has been put under the microscope and the paper has looked abroad to see how Britain compares with other countries.

The series ends today (February 11) but future news stories involving secrecy will include the Post's Secret Society logo - and Mr Glen says the paper has "a real success story" up its sleeve as a result of public response to the campaign.

His front-page comment declared: "A culture of secrecy is growing in Britain. It is a menace to your freedom."

Inside, local government correspondent Caroline Smith detailed "how the secret society is alive in Nottingham" by recalling recent Post exclusives on:

Notorious paedophiles being housed at a special unit at the city's prison - without the knowledge of MPs and local residents. City councillors' pension fund jaunts abroad, costing 400,000. A hospital's cover-up over an outbreak of malaria that left one patient dead.

The paper set out to test "how open is our 'open' society" with a series of questions. Among its findings were:

Police refused to say how many Notts officers had registered their membership of the Freemasons. The 75m-a-year publicly-funded East Midlands Development agency refused to admit the public to its board meetings. Hygiene reports on city restaurants were kept secret. There was "no information available" on the performance of NHS surgeons. Patients who had been struck off by their GP had no legal right to know why. The following day, local government minister Beverley Hughes defended the Local Government Bill and declared that it would be "against the spirit of what we're trying to achieve were any councils to use the new structures to reduce access to information". Meanwhile, one Notts council was operating a secrective cabinet-style system which had a local MP declaring: "Stalin would think they were terrific."

Health correspondent Catherine Scott told how a nurse who tampered with a life-support machine at Bassetlaw Hospital had managed for 10 years to hide psychiatric reports warning she was a potential danger to patients.

After the Post revealed this, new measures on the passing of information between health service managers were introduced.

But the malaria outbreak at Nottingham City Hospital flew in the face of demands for more openness.

The Post also examined the Freedom of Information Bill and called on the Government to amend what it called a series of flawed clauses.

Clause 28, it said, would prevent the public learning which NHS hospitals or care homes were being investigated for allegedly withholding food and drink from elderly patients.

Clause 34 would deny the public a right to see scientific advice about hazards such as BSE, while Clause 41 would conceal information about firms lobbying the Government to promote GM foods.

Crime correspondent Tim Whitehead told how police policy in Notts prevented the Post carrying pictures of the burglars who had terrorised a local family - while a different approach by police in Manchester meant the Evening News could publish a police picture of a prolific shoplifter.

But one of the most damning comments on Britain's culture of secrecy came from abroad. Reporter Vicky Anning revealed how a Nottingham professor who uncovered troubling evidence about a new drug used to treat high blood pressure was prevented by British law from seeing unpublished data - only to find it readily available thorough the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Mr Glen believes there is more official secrecy now than at any time in his 30 years as a journalist.

"That's ironic when the Government in opposition was committed to freedom of information and I think the opposite has happened," he said.

"I think authorities have become more adept at covering their tracks and I think more and more the spin doctor culture is about."

How does your paper tackle secrecy? Have you come across any outrageous examples? Contact us and let us know.

Do you have a story for us?
Ring the HoldTheFrontPage newsdesk on
01332 291111 x6022
Or e-mail us now at epritchard@derbytelegraph.co.uk

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