Revealed: Number of murder bids in Northern Ireland public not told about
Transparency of PSNI under scrutiny after silence over one third of murder bids revealed
The public is not told about one in three murder bids here, it can be revealed today.
A total of 172 attempted murders were investigated by the PSNI in the last two years.
Yet on 56 occasions, including 18 attempted killings in the Belfast area, the media was not informed.
Often local papers and broadcasters are first alerted to major crime by PSNI Press notices.
While police said there are legal and operational reasons for not publicising certain cases, others argue that the public has a right to know about serious crime.
Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act show that in 2017 a total of 99 attempted murders were recorded in Northern Ireland, of which 31 did not have Press releases issued.
The following year 73 attempted murders were recorded, of which 25 had no Press release issued.
Broken down by area over the two years, Belfast had the highest number of attempted murders not reported to the media (18), followed by nine in Lisburn and Castlereagh.
Five more were in Derry and Strabane, as well as Ards and North Down, while four occurred in Fermanagh and Omagh.
The PSNI's crime statistics, released annually, will include all recorded attempted murders, but this will often be months after the incident and will not state where the incident took place.
Ian Murray, executive director for the Society of Editors, said the public has a right to be informed about such serious crimes.
"Unfortunately, I'm not surprised at the poor flow of information being released by the PSNI regarding serious crimes, particularly in this case incidents of suspected attempted murder," he said.
"All too often it seems the police take the attitude that 'least said, soonest mended', especially if they have someone in mind for the crime and feel they do not need the public to come forward with information or to act as witnesses.
"This is not only harmful because it denies the public the right to know the facts surrounding important issues in their communities and enables gossip and rumour to run freely, but should the police need information or witness evidence at a later date, then the trail will inevitably have gone cold."
Police said: "The PSNI corporate communications department do not issue Press appeals regarding every single incident and the decision to issue a Press appeal for information will often depend upon the investigative merit and the nature of the incident.
"Consideration is given to the wishes of victims, especially where the incident of attempted murder may be of a domestic nature. Appeals for information may not be issued if a suspect is identified or arrested at an early stage."
Former Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan said transparency in policing was vital for public confidence, but it was right to restrict information in some cases.
"I believe the police should be as open as possible but there are limits on that because of the circumstances of individuals," he said.
"The key issue is for the Policing Board to stay informed about these things to get a clear picture of what's happening.
"Ultimately, if there's a good reason they shouldn't tell the public, it's going to boil down to minimising harm and maximising the chances of catching the offenders.
"For example, if there had been two or three attacks in a particular area, if you had an operation in place to catch the individual, to publicise those at that stage would be counterproductive."
Mr McQuillan added there had been a "revolution" in policing since the 1990s as the Troubles ended.
"Officers had been reticent to speak out in public as they could be identified, followed home and targeted as they were seen as the face of the organisation," he added.
"Now you have younger officers communicating through social media as well as fronting interviews and campaigns.
"That's got to be right. It's part of a changing atmosphere."
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank-and-file officers, said all cases are included in the annual crime statistics.
"The Police Federation for Northern Ireland is all too aware that the workload of officers is considerably more than is reflected in the number of Press releases or appeals that are issued," it said.
"In a significant number of cases, incidents are not publicised for very sound reasons, including personal circumstances and sensitivities.
"A considerable amount of positive work by officers goes unseen, but is appreciated by individuals and families who find themselves in a distressed state, and that is a central function of the service that is provided by a stretched and under-resourced PSNI.
"At any rate, all cases are included in crime statistics published by the PSNI annually."