Contempt proceedings granted against Sun and Mirror

The High Court today granted the Attorney General’s Office permission to bring contempt of court proceedings against The Sun and the Daily Mirror over their coverage of murdered architect Joanna Yeates and her landlord Chris Jefferies.

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC claims the publication of two reports by the Mirror and one by The Sun following Jefferies’ arrest last year created a risk of prejudicing any future trial.

Joanna Yates was murdered on 17 December and Jefferies was arrested on 30 December. On 31 December, Grieve gave an interview to Radio Four in which a warning was issued in the context of Jefferies arrest.

The first allegedly contemptuous article was published by the Mirror that day, with another following on 1 January. The Sun article in question came out on 1 January.

In today’s skeleton argument, the AGO said: ‘While not probative, it will be noted that the Attorney General was sufficiently concerned at the time to mention the risk of prejudice in an interview on the World at One on 31st December 2010… and, after publication, an Advisory Notice on 1 January 2011.

‘The interview was circulated by the Press Association in the early afternoon of 31 December in ample time for it to be considered before the publication of the 1 January 2011 articles in the Daily Mirror and the Sun.”

Commenting on the ‘fade factor’ in contempt cases – the gap between publication and trial – Grieve said: ‘The starting point must be the impact of the publications at the time.

‘It is submitted that the impact of each could hardly be greater in relation to all the articles in terms of their prominence, presentation, subject matter, the use of photographs, other visual techniques, emotive language, the extent of the coverage on the issue in question and their general message.

‘There is naturally a close public interest in the character and conduct of a person arrested for such a serious and disturbing crime.”

The report continues: ‘Had Mr Jeffries been charged and tried, his distinctive appearance was likely to prompt recall of the publicity. His position as a landlord in the flats was almost certainly bound to figure, bringing naturally to mind the prominent allegations…”

The Attorney General argued that, if remembered, ‘the potential effect of each category of information is plainly serious, suggesting, as it clearly was intended to suggest, CJ’s increased propensity to commit the offence for which he had been arrested”.

The report added: ‘This application must be approached on the basis that CJ could have been charged at any time and that, once charged, his legal advisers would have set about preparing his case.

‘Such preparation was almost bound to involve CJ‟s movements at or about the time of the murder and his relations with Ms Yeates.

‘The sources for such information were likely to be in the locality and to include residents in the flats and other locals.

‘They are a class of persons, who would clearly be sensitive to the material complained of.

‘It is submitted that there was a very real risk that they might be deterred from assisting in consequence.

‘It also has the potential to deter any positive character evidence, which CJ might have been advised to seek. At the permission stage, it is submitted that the existence of such a risk is plainly arguable.’

Last month, lawyers for Christopher Jefferies began libel and invasion of privacy actions against The Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star ‘and others”.

Lord Justice Moses said there was clearly an “arguable” case against the newspapers and gave permission for contempt proceedings to go ahead.

The hearing was adjourned for a date to be fixed.

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