The Macclesfield Express is to appeal against a magistrates’ court refusal to lift a section 39 order to allow the victim of a phone sex pest to waive her anonymity.
The schoolgirl, 12 at the time of the offence, and her parents are outraged that they are being prevented from going public to discuss the case for which the defendant, serial offender Stephen Robinson, received 100 hours community service.
Editor Mike Quilley said the parents were horrified that a man who had made so many indecent phone calls to their daughter, and who had a previous conviction for similar offences, was not dealt with more severely. They believed he would be off the streets.
"They thought by going public and telling their story they would warn other people this man was still at large," said Quilley.
The Express’s court reporter, Pat Hills, who has had three section 39 gagging orders lifted already in her career, applied to Macclesfield Magistrates’ Court to have the order lifted. The bench refused after it heard from the Crown Prosecution Service that there was no provision in the Children and Young Persons Act to enable it to do so.
The CPS also asked the Child Protection Unit to dissuade the family from going ahead, said Hills.
Both parents were at the court, ready to put their case, and would have fetched the girl, now 13, from school if necessary, but were denied the chance to speak, said Hills.
McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists says that a youth court or the Home Secretary has the power to lift the restrictions on identifying any juvenile concerned in proceedings to avoid injustice to him or her.
In a front-page splash last week, headlined "Girl victim of phone sex pest asks: why is he free?", the Express used pseudonyms for the family to tell of its ordeal. The father was quoted as saying: "The court hearing was a joke. The court said we could have applied to remove the order on the day of the case. How could we do that when we weren’t even informed that Stephen Robinson was appearing?
"The application to lift the order was adjourned so that the court could warn Robinson that it was being made – to give him the opportunity to represent himself under the Human Rights Act. Where were our rights?"
Hills said that she and the parents were "shocked to the bone" when the application was denied.
Quilley said: "The family want to continue so we have instructed our solicitors to challenge the ruling, relying on case history."
by Jean Morgan