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Ottawa police probe mistaken release of confidential homicide file

Police have launched an internal probe into how a homicide file was mistakenly released to local media and assessed whether it could jeopardize witnesses whose personal information had been disclosed.

Duty Inspector Patricia Ferguson responded to another officer’s error in an incident believed to be the first of its kind as she spoke to the media Sunday afternoon outside the Mariott Hotel on Walkley Road.

That was where responding patrol officers had found a man dead in a room on Saturday night.

“It’s something that we apologize for and something we take very seriously and we’re going to be taking steps into looking into how this happened and how we can prevent it from happening in the future,” said Ferguson, who was tightlipped about the homicide investigation.

The media was quickly contacted with a request to destroy the 24-page report and not to use the information, she said.

“We notified the people whose information has been released to ensure that they are aware this has happened. We’ve assessed any risks for safety, any of that type of issue,” Ferguson said.

Asked if the release had jeopardized the investigation, Ferguson noted the report was released to members of the media and not to the general public and that investigators “are going to do whatever they can to make sure that this has no impact.”

Early Sunday morning, the report marked “confidential” was distributed to about 180 people on a media list used to disseminate official news releases. It included the names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses, what they told police and the identity of the deceased man, whose next of kin hadn’t been notified yet.

A recall for the e-mail containing the report was issued about 90 minutes later.

Police confirmed the unintentional release in a subsequent e-mail, asking that media not publish any information contained in the document because it “could jeopardize the safety of individuals in our community and compromise the ongoing investigation.”

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