An eight-week trial against one of the Britain's most prolific child abusers nearly collapsed at the 11th hour after Channel 4 News published "misleading and inaccurate" material about the story, it can be revealed.
Simon Harris was found guilty at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday of a host of sex offences against vulnerable young Kenyan street boys.
The case was nearly thrown out after Channel 4 News – whose tip-off about Harris's offending triggered events which saw him charged over his crimes – published a news item wrongly stating he had already been convicted only hours after jurors began deliberating, on Wednesday afternoon last week.
The offending article was shown to have been accessed by dozens of computers and included what the trial judge criticised as "triumphant" and "boasting" pre-recorded interviews with senior investigating police officers.
Judge Philip Parker QC said he regarded the broadcaster's mistake as "beyond unfortunate" and has referred the matter to the Attorney General to consider possible action under contempt of court procedures.
Addressing prosecution and defence counsel in court, Parker said: "I regard it as repugnant.
"It shows no respect for the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty."
In further comments, aimed at what he described as a "repugnant practice" he blasted police for giving pre-recorded interviews to the media, in which officers were anticipating guilty verdicts, saying it rode roughshod of police's independence.
"If it reveals there is a practice of pre-recording triumphalist police interviews boasting about success before a verdict it is a practice that to my mind should stop," he said.
"To consider how wrong it is – why was it not recorded before the case started?
"Might the answer be that the police are supposed to show some independence?
"Am I to publish my sentencing remarks to the media before verdicts on the off-chance the defendant is convicted?
"This is a repugnant practice."
The matter only came to light when Harris' sister found the article more than 48 hours after it had apparently first been published to the broadcaster's news channel website.
On Monday, three-and-a-half days after deliberations began, jurors were asked if they had seen or been told of a "misleading and inaccurate report", however none had.
The report, including three videos, would not have shown up on a Google search according to Channel 4 News lawyers and had only been accessed by 68 computer IP addresses, although exactly how many members of the public saw the page is unclear.
Gavin Millar QC, for the broadcaster, said: "We obviously profusely apologise".
He said the page had been published to show "Channel 4 executives and others" internally, and was only viewable from searching Harris' name on the news site.
However, Millar said: "It seems to us unlikely in the extreme that those non ITN/Channel 4 News hits on Friday, after the jury had been sent home (for the weekend) would include jurors, who had been given a direction not to search on the internet."
Parker replied he had given no such direction and that while jurors were directed not to research the case, they were "perfectly entitled to look at the news and how it is reported".
He considered the material would be "highly prejudicial to a fair trial, had anyone seen it".
The case only came to court after a documentary team working for the Unreported World Channel 4 series passed on evidence it had uncovered of 55-year-old Harris' offending, while filming in Kenya.
Members of the documentary news team, including the channel's news anchor Cathy Newman and Emmy award-winning producer Wael Dabbous, were in court as the matter was discovered.
However, it was another member of personnel at Channel 4 News who is understood to have uploaded the article, so it could be viewed by channel executives.
In a statement, the broadcaster said: "Channel 4 News apologises unreservedly for publishing a draft article in error within its website. As soon as we were made aware of the error, we removed the piece. Jury members confirmed none of them saw the article."