Despite Captures, Police Quiet in London Probe

Police on Friday captured several key suspects in the failed July 21 London bombings, but still have not released all the detainees' names or what they're accused of. Authorities' caution in releasing information has become difficult to maintain, as public tension mounts.

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The British government is confronting one of the tough questions that follow a terrorist attack, what to tell the public and what not to tell. Today, the government begins a series of meetings with Muslim leaders around the country. It's an effort to improve communications after the attacks on the London mass transit system. Hazel Blears, the minister in charge, plans to focus on young Muslims.

Ms. HAZEL BLEARS (Minister in Charge): Do they feel that their voices are heard? Are there things that we can do around advocacy systems, trying to make sure that some of their genuine anger can be channeled properly?

INSKEEP: British authorities are also wrestling with how much information to provide about the investigation. Last night was a case in point. Police say they arrested two more men in South London. Police did not release much information about them. In fact, authorities have yet to say the names or the charges against many people in custody. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports that public tension has made it harder to keep quiet.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

When the Metropolitan Police want to release information on the bombing investigations, they often summon reporters, make their statement and leave. The Met, as they're known here, often refuse to answer reporters' questions. Following one recent briefing, Dick Fedorcio, the Met's director of public relations, explains the principles he uses in releasing details of the investigation.

Mr. DICK FEDORCIO (Director of Public Relations): And one is to put out information which will help us catch those responsible for these crimes. Secondly is to preserve any information for subsequent prosecution, so we must do nothing which is the integrity of our ability to bring a successful prosecution in due course.

KUHN: Experts and journalists say it would be inconceivable that the Met doesn't know the names of all the men whose pictures it had released and had been hunting since the July 21st attacks. Fedorcio would neither confirm nor deny whether the Met knew the identities of all four suspects detained. He said the police only release information that they're sure of. But former Metropolitan Police Commander John O'Connor says that in his opinion, the Met has still been too hasty in informing the public.

Mr. JOHN O'CONNOR (Former Metropolitan Police Commander): This case really has been identified by the amounts of information the police have given, and very often, in their anxiety to give information, they've given wrong information, which is unfortunate.

KUHN: The police's biggest public relations disaster was when it initially said the Brazilian man whom officers shot dead, was connected to the investigation into the recent bombing attacks. It turned out he had nothing to do with it.

The situation has been frustrating for British media, too. They've largely obeyed police-imposed embargoes on sensitive information. Tim Hames is an assistant editor at the Times. He says his paper has printed a lot less than it knows.

Mr. TIM HAMES (Assistant Editor, the Times): We, for example, as a newspaper have been aware of developments several hours before they've been formally confirmed either through our own sources or police sources. And so there's a sort of ...(unintelligible) two worlds, the sort of media class that's in the know and the rest of the public which sort of inevitably feeds off rumor until things are formally confirmed by the authorities.

KUHN: The public's hunger for information about the July 7th bombings was aggravated by the wave of attempted bombings of July 21st. As it became clear that the bombings were not isolated attacks, there was a noticeable increase in public tension, which has yet to dissipate. Bill Durodie is a professor at Cranfield University, who researches public perception of risks. He says the authorities have recently appeared to lose focus after managing things well following the first attacks.

Professor BILL DURODIE (Cranfield University): The government officials made measured statements not seeking to inflame the situation or speculate wildly. And in many ways, they led the agenda telling the media where and when they would be briefed. The second attacks led to a far wider range of speculation, both from officials and the media.

KUHN: While journalists and experts may be unhappy about the slow release of information, the public in general has approved of police handling of the investigation. One recent poll found that over 90 percent had either the same or a better impression of police after the London bombings.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, London.

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