Newspaper battle forces court to drop banning order

Success: Emilie Bradshaw’s challenge launched Post’s anti-gagging fight

Magistrates performed a U-turn after the Lancashire Evening Post used its front page to challenge unprecedented reporting restrictions imposed in an Anti-Social Behaviour Order Case.

The dispute arose when Preston youth court was hearing an application brought by police to ban a 16year-old boy from entering certain parts of the city.

The bench agreed to a defence application barring the media from naming the boy, photographing him or even reporting the crime for which he was convicted.

Trainee reporter Emilie Bradshaw challenged the ruling and was granted permission to address the court.

Bradshaw, 22, pointed out she had covered seven similar cases in the past few months and argued that the scope of the magistrates’ order was not within the court’s powers to impose.

However, magistrates refused to back down.

On its front page the following day the LEP condemned the reporting restrictions as draconian and contrasted the court’s position with a crackdown on anti-social behaviour announced the same day by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

The following day Lancashire Magistrates Courts Service chief executive Anthony Egerton wrote to the Evening Post and admitted the ruling was outside the court’s powers.

He said: “We plan to reopen the case tomorrow on the grounds that the restrictions placed on reporting the substantive charge may have gone beyond what Parliament has indicated should normally be allowed, in the absence of exceptional circumstances.”

When the case was subsequently reopened, the Evening Post was able to report that the ASBO was imposed following an attempted robbery the boy had been involved in.

However, the restrictions covering his name and address remain in place pending another trial.

LEP editor Simon Reynolds said: “This is not the first time Emilie has stepped forward and argued the case for open justice.

“She is one of our most junior reporters but she has the tenacity of a veteran. ” Executive director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, said: “The key thing is if you are going to stamp out anti-social behaviour, the local paper has a vital role in telling the public who the offenders are.

“If it’s prevented from doing so, all of the legislation and the government’s intentions will be wasted.”

HOME OFFICE EASES BLOCKS ON REPORTING

The Home Office has said it will take action to make it easier for the media to report breaches of ASBOs.

The promise was contained in the Home Office’s five-year-plan that was published last week.

The Strategic Plan covers the period from 2004 to 2008.

It states: “We will take action to ensure that it is easier for local media to report prosecution for breaches of ASBOs – a key part of reassuring members of the public that perpetrators are being brought to justice.”

Newspaper Society head of legal and regulatory affairs Santha Rasaiah welcomed the Home Office move.

She said: “The strategy documents variously acknowledge the importance of local community information and the involvement and the role of the media. We will be following this up.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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