A local newspaper has succeeded in a challenge to an order which would have stopped it identifying a man who stole £25,000 from a charity appeal intended to pay for his daughter to have surgery in the United States.
The Knutsford Guardian, part of the Newsquest group, faced a two-month battle to cover the case after discovering that father-of-seven Simon Boam, whose young daughter is blind in one eye and suffers from the genetic disorder Peters Plus Syndrome, had admitted stealing money raised to help pay for her surgery.
The case is believed to be the first successful challenge to a reporting restriction imposed under section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, which replaced similar powers under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 in all criminal courts except Youth Courts on April 13 this year.
The newspaper's battle started after it discovered that Boam had already appeared in a magistrates' court on a charge of stealing the funds, and that the court had imposed an anonymity order covering his daughter and other children under section 39 of the 1933 Act, on the basis that they were all victims of the offence.
Boam subsequently appeared at Chester Crown Court.
A Knutsford Guardian reporter who went to a hearing on 10 July, at which Boam was sentenced to 40 months in jail, asked about reporting restrictions and was told that the section 39 order was in place.
When the reporter challenged the order with a written submission, Judge Nicholas Woodward rejected it.
Knutsford Guardian editor Carla Flynnn then called in Newsquest head of legal Simon Westrop, who prepared a detailed submission for the judge, explaining that the anonymity order could not be valid as section 39 ceased to have effect in criminal courts in March this year, and had been replaced by section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
In addition, the court was required to allow the press to make representations, but had failed to do so.
Westrop also pointed out that the order as originally framed prevented the media from running any kind of sensible story about Boam's theft of the money and betrayal of donors who had given large amounts to the fund, even though it was a story of great public interest.
Westrop also stressed that in reality the victims in the case were the people of Knutsford who had given money but did not know it had been stolen.
Judge Woodward then ordered a transcript of the sentencing hearing – which took more than three weeks to arrive – and, after the newspaper confirmed that it wanted to challenge the order, arranged a hearing for 25 September.
Flynn, who attended that hearing, said Judge Woodward acknowledged that the far-reaching implications and effects of the order made should have been given more consideration, and conceded that the anonymity order was also made under the wrong Act.
He put in place a new order under section 45, banning publication of the disabled daughter's name or any picture of her, or the name of the school she attended, but allowing reporting of the relationship so that Boam could be identified.
Flynn told Media Lawyer: "We published several stories about this little girl's appeal in 2010 and it attracted a huge response from Guardian readers.
"For the father to be jailed for stealing the money that was raised was an important story for us.
"There was initially a lot of confusion about the actual order itself, but the reality was that it prevented us from reporting anything meaningful.
"Even though Boam was jailed, we argued that for justice to be done it also had to be seen to be done too. Challenging the order wasn't straightforward. There were a lot of phone calls and emails going back and forth but I'm pleased we stuck with it and the order was eventually relaxed. It meant we could report the full extent of the crime that had been committed."