Journalist hits out at public sector PR

A top journalist has launched a scathing attack on public sector press offices, accusing them of misleading him and concealing information.

Ian Cobain, a senior reporter at The Guardian, dealt with a number of press officers while working on an ongoing series of reports claiming that government agencies such as MI5 were involved in the torture of terrorism suspects.

Cobain said: 'You can see these press officers have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. And some of them have adopted dishonest means of attempting to deflect or mislead me, or to conceal the involvement of the organisations they represent.'

Cobain was most damning about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) press office. He said he did not believe anything its members told him any more. He recalled one conversation about a British man tortured in Egypt. 'When I asked whether they were sure of their facts, they told me they couldn't confirm what they had just said for data protection reasons ... I think that's disgusting,' he said.

But an FCO spokesman responded: 'We categorically reject this unsubstantiated allegation that we deliberately concealed evidence of torture or told deliberate falsehoods.'

Cobain also criticised a statement issued by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) on the reported torture of terrorist Rangzieb Ahmed as 'extremely misleading'.

Cobain claimed the report omitted judicial comments. However, GMP described this in an email to The Guardian last week as an 'honest oversight'.

GMP acting deputy director of corporate comms Smyth Harper said this week: 'GMP always takes an open and transparent approach to communicating with the public, and acts to the highest ethical standards. We don't mislead people.'

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