Judge pays 'immense tribute' to press for 'instrumental' role in securing return of missing three-year-old

The judge dealing with the case of amother who disappeared with her three-year-old son after a court ordered that the child should live with his father has praised journalists for their reporting of the case.

Police launched a hunt for Rebecca Minnock and her son Ethan after they disappeared from their home in the Highbridge area of Somerset on 26 May.

Officers searching for the pair were unable to give many details about the case because Minnock, 35, and her former partner, 39-year-old Roger Williams, were involved in private law Family Court proceedings about his contact with Ethan.

Minnock handed herself and her son in to police in Oxford on Friday night after having spent more than two weeks on the run.

On Monday she appeared at Bristol Crown Court – where Judge Stephen Wildblood QC, sitting as a High Court Judge, branded her "utterly irresponsible" and accused her of trying to manipulate the press.

But the judge praised the way in which the press handled the story, and reported court hearings about the pair's disappearance at which details of Minnock's efforts to block Williams' contact with Ethan emerged.

Judge Wildblood said: "The hearings last week all took place in open court and in the presence of the press.

"There is a significant public interest in this case and it has been important that I should explain things as openly as possible to ensure that misunderstandings do not arise.

"I would wish to pay an immense tribute to the press for the way that they have reported this case.

"Journalists have a difficult but important job to do as the eyes and ears of our society and that job comes with the demands for near instantaneous reporting in the modern electronic world.

"It has been a privilege and very rewarding for me to witness how swift, balanced and informed that reporting has been. The press organisation has been instrumental in securing the return of Ethan. Thank you."

According to the The Guardian, the judge also accused Minnock attempting to "play the press" after The Sun and Daily Mail ran interviews with her while on the run.

He said: "Huge amounts of time, effort and money were spent on the case and it is simply unfair for a party to attempt to use the press in an attempt to deny another person justice.

"Not only is it absurd for anyone to try to 'play the press' in that way, because that inevitably backfires, but it is also an utterly irresponsible way to behave from the point of view of the welfare of a child."

Minnock could now face the prospect of being jailed for contempt of court because of her failure to obey court orders relating to Ethan, and as a result of her disappearance.

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