Named: The Daily Star identified Titus Bramble and Carlton Cole
The naming by the Daily Star of Premiership footballers Titus Bramble and Carlton Cole after they had been arrested in connection with the alleged gang rape of a 17-year-old girl was a “bad mistake”, Express Newspapers admitted at the High Court.
Just how bad was revealed on Thursday last week as two of the country’s senior judges fined the company £60,000 for contempt, even though the naming of the two turned out to be harmless as no charges were ever brought.
None of four men questioned by police, including Newcastle United defender Bramble and then-Chelsea forward Cole, were ever charged.
Nevertheless, Lord Justice Rose and Mr Justice Pitchford imposed the fine under the “strict liability” contempt rules in respect of the naming, which came during investigations in which identity was said to be an issue.
The two were named, despite warnings from the Attorney General and the police, in a piece which included a pixilated photograph of Bramble headed “Bramble is bailed”. Judges found this fulfilled the strict liability contempt criteria.
In his judgment Lord Justice Rose said that for a court to decide that a piece was published in contempt it had to pose “a substantial risk that the course of justice will be seriously impeded” in proceedings which were active.
He said the burden of proving contempt to the criminal standard rested with the Attorney General, who had brought the proceedings against the Daily Star .
“Substantial risk means risk which is more than remote or not insubstantial or real. It must be practical, not theoretical,” he added. The court considered that the Attorney General had succeeded in establishing that the piece did meet the necessary criteria.
Imposing the fine and ordering Express Newspapers to pay the Attorney General’s legal costs, Lord Justice Rose said the “aggravating feature” of this case was that the press and media had been repeatedly told not to name or carry photographs of the players and a warning had been given on the day before publication of the article on 23 October last year.
He said that neither the Attorney General nor the police could have done more than they did in their warnings to the media. Express Newspapers, he said, had known precisely what course to adopt. Had the rape trial gone ahead he said the publication actions could have led to its abandonment on the ground of tainted evidence.
For Express Newspapers, which the judge said had admitted during the hearing that the publication was a “bad mistake”, it was argued that there was “a real possibility” that the girl alleging rape knew the identities of the men prior to publication. It was claimed that in these circumstances the publication could not be shown to have created a risk of prejudice.
Rejecting those claims, Lord Justice Rose said: “There is no evidence from which it could properly be inferred she did know their identity.”
By Roger Pearson