Judges rule 'lethal' teenage motorist can be identified

By Roger Pearson and Gavin Bradshaw

Magistrates
who ruled that a teenager responsible for a fatal crash should be named
in the interests of protecting the public have won the backing of the
High Court. The test case gives new guidance on when anonymity for
young offenders should be lifted.

The order in respect of Wisbech teenager Damian Pearl, whose
dangerous driving on the wrong side of a dual carriageway led to the
death of a 16- year-old girl’s unborn baby, was made by magistrates at
King’s Lynn.

Now the decision by magistrates sitting in a youth
court that he should be named in the interests of public protection has
been upheld by two of the country’s top judges.

The youth court,
in reaching its decision, had ruled that the public should be able to
report Pearl, who was 17 at the time of the offence, to police if they
saw him “in possession of a dangerous weapon on the road”.

They ruled that his name, address and photograph could be published.

However, those details were kept secret pending last week’s challenge to that ruling.

In
challenging the decision to lift Pearl’s right to anonymity, Pearl’s
counsel, Kris Gledhill, argued that the magistrates’ decision was
“irrational”, breached laws protecting the anonymity of offenders under
18 and would succeed only in “naming and shaming” him.

However,
Lord Justice Maurice Kay, sitting with Mr Justice Penry-Davey, said in
upholding the order of the magistrates: “I am entirely satisfied that
the magistrates did not in any sense resort to the lifting of the right
to anonymity in order to further to punish the defendant or to name him
and shame him.

“It may be that that was the unintended consequence. I have no doubt that the magistrates would be aware of that possibility.

“However,
it seems to me they approached the question of public protection on a
rational basis and in a manner that was appropriate.”

“This was a
very grievous case, coming at the end of a very serious recent history
on the part of a 17-year-old. In my judgment, it has not been
demonstrated that the youth court erred in making the order.”

The
court had also heard representations on behalf of the Press Association
by its media law specialist Mike Dodd backing the naming of Pearl. PA
and the Eastern Daily Press made the first representations in the case
and the BBC made supporting statements.

The Eastern Daily Press was able to name Damian Pearl, whose driving resulted in the death of an unborn child

 

The paper’s view

‘OUR READERS HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW’

Eastern Daily Press assistant editor Paul Durrant said: “Obviously
it was in the public interest that people in Norfolk should know if
this lad got behind the wheel of a car.

What particularly concerned us was the ease with which he was granted legal aid and was able to mount a judicial review.

We queried whether this was an appropriate use of public funds.”

Durrant
told Press Gazette the newspaper’s focus had been on the severity of
the incident involving Pearl and the subsequent threat to public
safety. He added: “We don’t go in for what you might call ‘naming and
shaming’.

We were just defending our readers’ right to know.

“The
family of the girl who lost the baby were incredibly distraught that
their daughter should be named whereas he [Pearl] retained anonymity,
as a result of public funding.”

Wisbech Standard editor Brian
Asplin said of the battle to name Pearl: “Here is someone who is a
potential menace. It’s our job to warn the public.”

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