Innocent' man's media gag curbs freedom of speech

The Home Office has been accused of curbing freedom of speech by imposing a media gagging order on a man convicted of murder.

Devon man Brian Parsons has always maintained he is innocent of the murder of 84-year-old Ivy Batten in 1987. But despite two appeals, his conviction was never overturned and he was finally released last year.

Parsons still claims he is innocent, but is unable to talk to the press as one of the conditions of his parole.

John Fletcher, a reporter for the Torquay-based Express & Echo, has been following the case since the original trial. He said: “The people who proclaim Brian Parsons’ innocence say this is another incident of the conspiracy that’s been surrounding this case.”

Fletcher said there had always been concern in Devon that the police arrested Parsons because they were under pressure to get a result and there has subsequently been a cover-up.

Former Matlock Mercury editor and miscarriage of justice campaigner Don Hale said he has frequently encountered resistance from prison authorities in his efforts to speak to inmates about their cases. He said: “They don’t like people seen to be rocking the boat and they don’t like their dirty linen aired in public.”

Hale added: “I don’t see that there’s a law in the land that can prevent a prisoner speaking to a journalist or a journalist visiting a prisoner.”

Last year, Hale was the only journalist to visit Barry George – the man convicted of murdering Jill Dando – in prison. Since then, he said, George has been banned from having further media visits.

When asked about the Parsons case, a Home Office spokesman said: “We can’t comment on individual cases, but someone on licence in the community and being supervised by probation cannot profit from their crime by taking media money.

“It is possible for additional conditions to be placed on a licence where these are justified for public protection or prevention of re-offending reasons. But we would not want to discuss the specifics of any case.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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