Judge backs down following challenge by Mercury reporter

A Leicester Mercury reporter has successfully challenged a judge who expelled him from a "neighbour from hell" hearing.

District Judge Richard Merriman told Tom Pegden to leave about 25 minutes into the case at Leicester County Court.

The civil case was brought by Leicester City Council's Anti-Social Behaviour Unit which had applied for possession of a council flat rented by David Doughty.

The court heard that Doughty had made life a misery for his neighbours with his late night arguments and loud music.

When the judge realised Pegden was in court, he told him the case was being heard in private, comparing it to a rent arrears possession hearing.

The reporter left the court but, after checking with McNae's Essential Law for Journalists and the Mercury's lawyers, came back and asked the judge to reconsider. Court was adjourned for five minutes, and then District Judge Merriman admitted he had been wrong.

The judge ruled the council could take possession of Doughty's flat and the story made page three of the Leicester Mercury.

Pegden had been ready to argue that getting the story in the paper was in the public interest.

He said: "It was irritating being asked to stand up and explain who I was and then being told to leave a court, which I knew I had every right to be in.

"The case involved someone who had been a public nuisance for two years, which made me even more determined to talk my way back in.

"I checked McNae's, which said property possessions for mortgage and rent arrears were held in chambers, but said nothing about cases like this.

"I rang the Mercury's lawyers. They agreed that there was no reason why a case like this should be held behind closed doors.

"Because it was in chambers I had to get the clerk to ring the courtroom and ask if I could go back in again. I was given a chance to approach the judge and tell him I was unhappy with his ruling and he adjourned the case. Five minutes later he came back, said he had checked the law, and said I could stay."

Mercury editor Nick Carter said: "This is a classic example of a reporter standing their ground in the public interest and forcing a judge to reconsider.

Tom did exactly the right thing."

By Jon Slattery

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