Westbourne Communications succeeds with campaign to limit pre-charge bail

Westbourne Communications has succeeded with its Justice Delayed, Justice Denied campaign as Home Secretary Theresa May announces that the Home Office will advance proposals for a legal limit of 28 days on pre-charge bail.

John Higginson: head of comms at Westbourne Communications, whose wife was held on pre-charge bail for a year
John Higginson: head of comms at Westbourne Communications, whose wife was held on pre-charge bail for a year

Under the new plans, bail will be extended only if there are exceptional circumstances and this must be approved by a judge or senior police officer.

Campaign group JDJD is run by Westbourne Communications, and funded by the Telegraph Media Group and Guardian Media Group. The organisation has been calling for police bail to be limited to 28 days except in exceptional circumstances and reviewed by a judge.

It is supported by the Howard League for Penal Reform, Big Brother Watch and the Law Society as well as a number of senior legal experts, MPs, Lords and civil rights campaigners.

It was set up by Westbourne founder James Bethell and head of communications John Higginson after Higginson’s wife, The Sun’s Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley, was subject to a lengthy pre-charge bail.

Hartley was cleared of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office for paying for stories by an Old Bailey jury last month. Prior to this, she spent two and a half years awaiting trial after arrest, having spent a year of that on pre charge bail.

Higginson said: "We started this campaign after I saw the effect it had on my wife and other journalists - many of whom were held on pre-charge bail for years before no further action was taken.

"However this campaign is not about journalists who have already been through the wringer, it is about the thousands of ordinary people – teachers, nurses and soldiers – who have found themselves left in legal limbo fighting onerous bail conditions despite there not even being enough evidence to charge them."  

Pre-charge bail is bail imposed by the police after arrest but before a charge has been made. On October 15, a survey by Radio 5 Live revealed that 72,000 people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were being held on pre-charge bail. It also found that of those people, 5,480 were held for more than six months on pre-charge bail.

JDJD has been applying pressure over the last few months. Its latest effort was a letter to editor with 28 high level signatories, which featured in five national newspapers on 2 December, including Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Metro and Independent. Westbourne said it was a first for five UK newspapers to feature the same letter to editor.

Westbourne Communications has also run the successful scrap the 50p tax campaign and the anti-BNP campaign, Nothing British.

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