'Lurid' coverage puts trials at risk, warns Soham judge

The judge in the Soham murders trial was so angered by press coverage of the case that he is understood to have thrown a pile of newspapers across the courtroom during a pre-trial hearing.

Mr Justice Moses described press coverage of the case as "sensational and lurid" and warned that serious trials were at risk because of the way they were being reported.

Following the conviction of Ian Huntley for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman on Wednesday, the Attorney General issued a statement repeating his "strong concern" about some of the reporting of the case.

A spokesman for Lord Goldsmith confirmed The People, Daily Mirror and radio station Beacon FM were still being investigated for possible contempt of court.

At the Press Gazette/Newspaper Society Law for Journalists Conference in London last month, Goldsmith said reporting before and during the trial was "frankly unacceptable".

His comments can only be reported in full now that the trial has ended.

He said: "The trial judge made his concerns plain in his ruling on an abuse of process application which was based on the extensive media coverage.

"Mr Justice Moses held that there could be a fair trial, but he was clearly very concerned about some of the coverage, which he described as 'stories written in emotional, sensational and lurid language'.

"He sounded a clear warning that one day prejudicial reporting will actually prevent a high-profile case alleging a serious crime from being tried at all."

He said: "I cannot imagine that any journalist would want to undermine that fairness. Would the author of any of these articles wish to face the families and the friends of the victims whose interests they so loudly seek to defend and confess that their stories and photographs prevented a trial taking place at all?" Goldsmith's comments were seen as a gaffe at the time because arguably he was breaking reporting restrictions by talking about a pre-trial application.

Following the incident, Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell called for a meeting with Goldsmith to discuss the confused nature of the contempt of court law. He said: "Even the Attorney General had some difficulty in knowing where the boundaries lie."

After the Attorney General had finished speaking an aide returned to the conference hall and asked journalists present not to report the comments made about the pre-trial hearing.

He said: "The Attorney General spoke to you this morning about a number of issues that concerned him regarding contempt of court. In doing so he referred to an abuse of process application made in the trial of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr.

"Many of you would have been aware of that application and the judge's comments in relation to it.

However, it has not been reported in accordance with reporting restrictions.

The Attorney General omitted to remind you of that this morning.

"The important thing is that no steps are taken that could prejudice the trial. It is for that reason that the Attorney General has asked me to remind you not to report his remarks relating to that abuse of process application."

SAILING CLOSE TO THE WIND

A local free newspaper described Ian Huntley as "evil to the core" in a comment column while he was still on trial at the Old Bailey.

Toby Hines, editor of the Helston News & Advertiser, called Huntley "disgustingly sick, twisted and dangerous" and described his defence as "so ridiculous it would be comical if it wasn't so serious".


He went on to say: "This evil sick bastard should hang at the very least."

Wolverhampton radio station Beacon FM is being investigated by the Attorney General's office for running a phone-in on whether listeners thought Huntley was telling the truth. Two breakfast show presenters went on leave following the incident.

By Dominic Ponsford

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