MEN set to appeal Bulger killers contempt decision

Paul Horrocks: "took positive steps"

The Manchester Evening News, fined £30,000 for an article which breached court orders not to reveal the whereabouts of the killers of toddler Jamie Bulger, is considering an appeal.

Counsel has advised the newspaper there are substantial grounds for appeal.

Since the article was published, the MEN has disciplined five editorial staff, demoted a news editor, and sent many of its journalists on legal refresher courses.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, President of the High Court Family Division, branded what had happened as a significant contempt and a "lamentable failure of editorial control". She ordered the paper to foot the legal costs of the Attorney General, who brought the contempt proceedings. With the paper’s own costs, the MEN will face a bill of around £120,000.

But she also said the editor, Paul Horrocks, "took positive steps to comply with the order" and "had made a conscientious effort" to avoid the situation, which occurred in his absence.

The article was published in July on the day killers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables were freed from custody.

The Attorney General alleged that the newspaper article and information put onto the paper’s website breached an order made by Dame Elizabeth in January this year banning any details which might lead to the identification of the whereabouts of Venables and Thompson.

Greater Manchester Newspapers denied it had breached the order and was given leave to appeal.

The judge, in imposing the fine, said it was "not a case in which the newspaper took a calculated risk in order to advance circulation", but was a "sad blunder".

Sounding a warning to newspapers that it is not enough for them to mean well and make efforts to avoid breaching information, Dame Elizabeth said they had to be "careful and effective" in controlling the information they reveal to the public.

She said: "Any breach could have disastrous consequences, and I do not use those words lightly. It was very fortunate that no harm came from the information in the Manchester Evening News article."

She said that she entirely accepted that the newspaper had supported the injunction, that the editor was aware of the risk of publishing inappropriate information, had made a genuine attempt to avoid doing so, and had made a full and proper apology.

In a statement, GMN said it was pleased the judge rejected as an "elaborate edifice" the Attorney General’s main argument, that by taking a "long and complicated series of steps, a determined reader could have established the whereabouts of one of the two boys".

The case brought to light the fact that the exact whereabouts of the boys had been easily ascertainable for some years on the website of a Government department, said GNM.

 

By Roger Pearson and Jean Morgan

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