A local newspaper publisher has been fined £2,000 after breaching an anonymity order by naming a child witness in a murder case.
The Glamorgan Gem, publisher of the Llantwit Major Gem and the Barry Gem, admitted two charges of breaching an order under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 by identifying a schoolgirl who was a witness in a murder case at Cardiff Crown Court.
The publisher was fined £1,000 for each offence – and also volunteered to pay the girl involved compensation of £5,000 at a hearing at the magistrates’ court at Barry, south Wales.
The court heard that the two newspapers carried stories about the murder trial which were supplied by the Wales News Service news agency.
But the copy included the name of the schoolgirl – even though the trial judge, Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, had made a section 39 order prohibiting the publication of anything which could identify her.
Court staff had also taken steps to ensure that news organisations were aware of the order.
Michael Jenkin, prosecuting, said publication of the story, in the spring of 2008, which included the girl’s name as well as that of her mother, had led to the child suffering considerable distress when she was subjected to spiteful comments from some of her peers at school who had read the articles.
Guy Vassall-Adams, defending, told the court in mitigation that the newspapers sincerely regretted the error – editorial staff were devastated when they learned of the mistake.
The copy used had come from the Wales News Service – the agency confirmed this in a letter handed in to the court – but its reporter had not picked up the fact that there was a section 39 order in place, although it was reasonable for the newspaper to have expected it to do so, he said.
The company had now told all its editorial staff to carry out independent checks on agency copy about trials in which a child was involved, Mr Vassall-Adams said.
This was to be done despite the difficulties caused by the absence of any official central database where the media could check details of reporting restriction orders made by courts.
The newspaper had also volunteered to pay the schoolgirl involved £5,000 in compensation, he said.
The newspaper was fined a total of £2,000 for the two offences – the maximum penalty for breaching a section 39 order is £5,000 for each offence.