Changing the law ... from a local level

The success this week of an eight-month campaign by The Press in
York to place child kidnappers on the Sex Offenders’ Register and
prevent them working with children highlights the power of the regional
press in achieving wide-ranging changes to the law. Press Gazette takes
a closer look at the local press law-changers.

Northern Echo
Criminal Injustice

Billy Dunlop thought he had got away with murder. On account of the 800-year-old double jeopardy law, he thought he could not be tried for the same offence twice.

Northeast
mother Julie Hogg went missing from her home in 1989. It wasn’t until
three months later that Hogg’s mother Ann Ming discovered her
daughter’s mutilated body behind a bath panel. It emerged that Julie
had been sexually assaulted.

Dunlop was tried, but a jury could
not find him guilty and he was acquitted. He was so confident he would
escape justice that he openly admitted the brutal killing of Hogg to a
police officer.

He was convicted of perjury and jailed for six
years after the reforms were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act
in 1995. The Northern Echo backed Ann Ming’s battle for a change in the
law.

Dunlop was brought to trial once more and found guilty of murder last year.

Echo
editor Peter Barron says: “The double jeopardy campaign took a long
time, but we felt very strongly about the situation. People who had
been wrongly convicted could do something about it, yet when
significant new evidence came along that showed someone had escaped
justice, nothing could be done.”

A Year and a Day

The
Echo also helped the mother of Michael Gibson change an archaic year
and a day law that protected his killer. Gibson lay in a coma for 16
months, before he died.

The rule meant that as Gibson lived for
more than 366 days after the attack, his attacker could not be charged
with manslaughter or murder. The killer was instead charged with
grievous bodily harm and was released from jail before Gibson died. In
1996 the law was scrapped.

Barron says: “This was also a very
significant case; people were getting away with murder because the law
was an ass. Newspapers have to do what they can to bring the law up to
date.”

Manchester Evening News
Protect Our Heroes

Following an increasing number of attacks on emergency workers, the MEN
demanded more protection for those who work to protect communities.

The paper backed a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Labour MP for Swansea West, Alan Williams.

The
campaign won praise in the House of Commons after pressuring the
Government to introduce an Emergency Workers Obstruction Act, which was
given Royal Assent on 10 November 2006.

The Act made it a specific offence to impede an emergency worker responding to an emergency.

Teachers,
nurses, bus drivers and other public workers would also be given
protection. Home Office Minister and Salford MP Hazel Blears praised
the MEN’s success as “brilliant”.

News editor Sarah Lester says:
“There were an increasing number of attacks, particularly against
firemen. People would call them out, bait them and chuck stones at them
— there were some really vicious attacks in the poorer areas.

“There
is a particular law that says you get a tougher sentence if you attack
a policeman, but we felt there should be one for all 999 workers.

We were really pleased to make such a difference like that — it makes your job worth doing.”

‘Air bombs’

Another MEN campaign two years ago was responsible for seeing
restrictions on fireworks put in place under a new Fireworks Act in
2004. As a result of the campaign, limits were introduced on what times
of year fireworks can be let off.

The law change also made it an
offence to set off “air bombs” as editor Paul Horrocks dubbed them,
between 11pm and 7am apart from on bonfire night, Diwali, New Year’s
Eve and the Chinese New Year.

The paper is continuing to campaign
over regulations and eventually hopes to see a complete ban in over the
counter sales of fireworks.

Reading Evening Post and The Argus, Brighton
Justice for Jane

The Reading Evening Post and The Argus in Brighton backed a campaign led by the mother of murdered teacher Jane Longhurst.

The
papers launched campaigns after Graham Coutts strangled Longhurst to
satisfy a sexual fetish, and a bill was introduced last year to outlaw
the accessing of violent pornography.

The Home Office was to rule
that possession of violent and extreme pornographic material, including
images downloaded from the internet, could be punishable by up to three
years in jail.

Prior to the law change, it was only illegal to
publish material including images of necrophilia, torture and
asphyxiation — possession was not an offence. More than 50,000
signatures were collected and handed to Reading West MP Martin Salter
and MP for Brighton Pavilion David Lepper in December 2006.

Amnesty International and an all-party group of 180 MPs officially backed the campaign.

The
Home Office has indicated that it will try to change the law as soon as
it can. A bill to bring in a ban on violent and extreme pornography was
included in the Queen’s speech in November. A Home Office spokesman
said that the new law should come into force next year.

The Argus, Brighton
Domestic Violence

When four-year-old John Smith died eight years ago, his adoptive
parents Simon and Michelle McWilliam were tried for murder. A loophole
in the law protected the couple, as they both denied landing the blows
that killed John. They were jailed for eight years for child cruelty
and all murder charges were dropped.

In 2000, after their trial,
The Argus campaigned for a change to the law with the support of
Brighton Kemptown MP Des Turner. The aim was that, in a similar
situation, parents would have to say what had happened or face going to
prison for “causing or allowing the death of a child”.

Following
four years of campaigning by The Argus, the law was finally changed,
with the passage of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill,
which created the offence of “causing or allowing the death of a child
or vulnerable adult.” The new “familial homicide” law means parents can
be ordered to explain the circumstances of the death. Parents who
refuse now face jail sentences of up to 14 years.

Evening Chronicle, Newcastle
Airgun Control

The Chronicle’s campaign was launched after a schoolgirl was blinded in
one eye when she was shot by an air rifle in 2001. The paper had the
support of MPs and readers, and ran a series of stories on the issue.

MPs
raised the campaign in the Commons, and the Chronicle was widely
credited with prompting the Government to introduce new legislation
which restricted the ease with which airguns could be bought, and the
age at which they could be purchased.

Justice for Rebecca

The Chronicle launched its Justice for Rebecca campaign following the
death of six-year-old Rebecca Sawyer when her parents’ car was rammed
by a banned driver on New Year’s Eve in 2002.

In court, the trial
judge said his hands were effectively tied when it came to sentencing
the driver, due to existing legislation under the Criminal Justice
Bill. In 2003, the maximum sentence was 10 years and a discount could
be given for confession.

Following the campaign, the Home Office
raised the sentence to 14 years. Serial offenders who kill while
driving and are sentenced to more than 10 years face indefinite
detention until they can prove they no longer pose a danger.

The
Echo continues to campaign for life sentences for such crimes. Editor
Paul Robertson says: “Drivers were being locked up, only to come out
and do it again. David Blunkett came up and raised it with us on a
visit to the Northeast, Radio 4 featured our campaign and the law
change was the subject of a BBC documentary.

“We got an astonishing 43,000 signatures on petitions and presented them to David Blunkett.”

Birmingham Mail
Justice for Abigail

The Birmingham Mail published a front page picture of 20-year-old
Abigail Craen lying dead in hospital in November 2005 after being run
over on a pelican crossing, as part of its bid to see tougher sentences
for hit and run drivers.

Craen’s mother took the unusual step of
releasing the picture in the hope her killer would receive a longer
sentence than the original 18-months, which she and the Mail believed
was too lenient. The driver’s sentence was considered by a panel of
Appeal Court judges and was subsequently doubled in June 2006.

The
Mail’s campaign for tougher sentences for hit and run drivers was then
given the backing of transport secretary Alistair Darling.

Darling
has since led a bill through Parliament aimed at clamping down on
dangerous and uninsured drivers. The original four-year driving ban has
since been increased to 10 years.

Sunday Sun
No to Knives

A spate of killings in Newcastle prompted the launch of this nine-week
campaign in summer 2006, calling for anyone carrying a blade without
lawful excuse to receive an automatic jail sentence.

Editor Colin
Patterson says: “We eventually received the backing of the chief
constables in our area after one of them had originally refused. We
wrote to the Home Secretary, John Reid, and received the support of
thousands of readers who returned the forms we printed.

“The Home
Secretary then doubled the maximum sentence for those convicted of
knife offences to four years. Former police officer Lord Brian
Mackenzie of Framwellgate hailed the campaign as a success and an
important victory.”

Eastern Daily Press
We Care Appeal

The EDP set up an appeal in 1998 to make life easier for carers — with a funding target of £1 million.

To
date, the paper has raised £750,000, which it pays into the Norfolk
Millennium Trust for Carers and funds grants to help carers buy
essential items such as washing machines, cookers, computers and
power-packs for wheelchairs.

The EDP applied for a lottery grant,
but was rejected because the money goes into an endowment, and
charities which work in this way were precluded from receiving lottery
help.

The paper campaigned with the trust to get the lottery laws
changed. A cross-party parliamentary campaign was mounted, which
resulted in a “We Care Bill” being taken through the Houses.

The
law was successfully changed, in The National Lotteries Amendment Act,
to enable endowment charities to apply for Lottery help.

EDP
feature writer Angela Kennedy says: “It was a real triumph, but our
excitement at achieving this change was dashed when our subsequent
appeal to the Lottery was turned down.”

Western Daily Press
Don’t Stamp out our Post Offices

During Tony Blair’s first year in office, The Press was successful in
persuading the government to rewrite bills threatening the closure of
10,000 out of 14,000 post office branches across the country.

The campaign secured a number of safeguards including the protection of the way pensions and benefits could be paid.

Assistant
editor Andy Smith says: “It did alter the Government’s mind. They had
three million signatures on petitions and we hired a lorry, drove to
Downing Street and dropped them on their doorstep.

The law
actually gave post offices an extra four or five years.” The Press has
launched a similar campaign against renewed threats.

In a
separate campaign in 2001, Western Daily Press journalists flew 2,000
feet over a nuclear plant to highlight inadequate protection against
terrorists following the attacks in America. The story led to “no-fly
zones” being introduced across the country.

Nottingham Evening Post
Fake Guns No!

The Post launched its “Fake Guns No!” campaign
in 2003 to persuade Government to ban the manufacture, sale and import
of fake guns as part of its Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

Deputy
editor Martin Done says: “The Government finally bowed to the common
sense expressed by all who have supported our campaign.

“Fake
guns may not be able to fire bullets, but they still have the capacity
to strike fear and make crime easier. That is why we demanded a change
in the legislation.

As far as we are concerned, the sooner the
legislation comes in, the better.” The legislation will also bring in
tougher sentences for people carrying imitation firearms and more
rigorous manufacturing standards to ensure imitations cannot be
converted into real ammunition.

Comments
No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 × four =

CLOSE
CLOSE