Hartley: challenged legal loophole
A press agency persuaded a Crown Court judge to tighten up a restraining order intended to stop a paedophile going into amusement arcades.
Judge Nicholas Coleman had banned Eric Long, 50, from going into amusement arcades in Britain for 15 years – unless accompanied by an adult.
But journalists at KNS news agency in Norwich spotted that the ruling would still allow Long to go into arcades.
And in the worst case scenario he could be accompanied by another paedophile.
Reporters from the agency contacted a police source, the Crown Prosecution Service, and children’s charity Kidscape.
All told KNS they were baffled by the ambiguity of the restraining order.
Dr Michelle Elliott from Kidscape described the order as “absurd” and “potentially dangerous”.
Reporter Jonathan Hartley decided to go to Norwich Crown Court, where Judge Coleman was sitting, and ask him in person to clarify the terms of the judgment.
Hartley said he passed a note to the court clerk requesting an audience with the judge “more in hope than expectation”.
However, the judge not only agreed to see Hartley but told him to step into the witness box.
Hartley had to swear on oath on the bible before speaking.
Hartley said: “I was rather bemused by the judge’s request to speak to me in the witness box and told the usher I would only swear an oath if the judge absolutely insisted.
“I felt having me in the witness box was an attempt to place me on the back foot.
“When Judge Coleman came into the court he asked me how he could help me and I pointed out the potential error in his previous court order.”
Judge Coleman refused to clarify why he had allowed Long to go into amusement arcades with an adult and his ruling was reported in the Daily Express and Daily Mirror the following day.
But a week later he reconvened the hearing at King’s Lynn Crown Court and said: “Following the sentencing of you, my attention was drawn to a newspaper report.
“It is necessary to review [the order] because of concerns expressed about its term. It is felt the restriction is not clear enough-on reflection I agree.
“I note that you do not disagree that the order should be amended to exclude you from any amusement arcade, whether or not accompanied for 15 years.”
He added: “I did not impose the order for you to be accompanied by another paedophile. Quite the opposite- the court has a duty to protect the public.”
Hartley said: “The apparent loophole in the judge’s order would have gone unnoticed had we not spotted it and pursued it with the relevant authorities, including the judge”
By Dominic Ponsford