Judge revokes S39 on accident victim

A newspaper publisher in Clevedon managed to get a section 39 order lifted almost two weeks after a crown court case had ended.

Clevedon
Newspapers had been covering the case of 15-year-old Josh Nicholas, who
was hit by a car on his way to sit his GCSE exams. The driver was a
schoolteacher who was four times over the drink-driving limit.

Its papers the Clevedon Mercury and Weston & Worle News had published details of the accident and the magistrates’

hearing
and had featured Josh with a picture caption that read: “Best medicine:
Josh Nicholas achieved 12 A*-C passes despite recovering from a traffic
accident on his way to an exam”.

But a front page story had to be held pending the result of the Bristol Crown Court hearing.

Editor Carol Deacon said: “We were relying on a freelance to file copy for us.

Imagine
our horror on learning that the judge had imposed a section 39 banning
us from naming Josh. My news editor/chief sub Kevin Lee was having
apoplexy.”

After the case closed, the Weston & Worle News
tried frantically to challenge the ban but was hampered by the
unavailability of Josh’s parents, the original reporter and the
freelance.

Deacon said the initial legal advice was “you don’t stand a hope in hell of getting the decision reversed at this late stage”.

The
paper wanted to publish the boy’s reaction to the one-year jail
sentence imposed on teacher Xenos Cottam but was gagged by the
order.Nigel Hanson of Foot Anstey’s media group – the solicitor who
submitted the application – said: “I think full credit is due to the
judge, Mr Recorder William Hart, for ensuring a just result.

“Even
though the request to lift the section 39 order was made more than a
week after the conclusion of the case, he agreed to deal with the
matter and revoked the reporting restriction in a cost-effective way.

“He did not require all the parties to reconvene, and simply gave the CPS the option of objecting if it wished.

“We
may have been helped by the fact that the section 39 order related to a
young witness rather than a young defendant, and both the witness and
his mother wanted the restriction lifted.”

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