A judge made an order banning the press from reporting that the victim of a mugging was on the phone to Prince Harry at the time he was robbed – although the information had already appeared in a number of media reports.
Judge Richard Southwell yesterday told journalists at the hearing at Kingston Crown Court that he did not want them to report that mugging victim Thomas van Straubenzee was on the phone to Prince Harry at the time of the robbery, or that his stolen phone contained the phone numbers of members of the Royal family.
Today, the judge turned his warning into a formal order under section 4 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 after the issue was raised on behalf of a number of media organisations by barrister Victoria Jolliffe of chambers 5 Brick Court.
It is understood that Judge Southwell, who said in his order that it "appears to this court to be necessary for avoiding a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice", took the view that jurors had not been given the information it covered, and should not know about it because it had the potential to tempt them to speculate about connections with the royal family, which would be irrelevant but potentially prejudicial.
The order came to an end today when the jury convicted the defendant, Winful Taylor, of having robbed Mr van Straubenzee of two mobile phones and a wallet on November 30 last year.
When details of the robbery emerged it was widely reported that Mr van Straubenzee was on the phone to Prince Harry at the time – and that the Prince heard the mugging taking place and alerted police.
Reports appeared in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Sunday Mirror and the Observer.
Later reports also included the Royal link.
A story in the Sunday Mirror in May reporting a claim by Winful Taylor that he had been assaulted in prison started: "The man accused of mugging a friend of Prince Harry while he was on the phone to the Royal claims he was punched in the face by a prison officer."
Judge Southwell's order also went beyond what section 4 (2) of the 1981 Act allows, as it purported not only to cover reports of the proceedings but also the repetition of the facts of the Royal call and phone numbers.
Repetition of information published before the trial could not be covered by the order, although it would have been open to the judge to complain to the Attorney General that any such publication represented a breach of the strict liability rule.
Gill Phillips, director of editorial legal services at Guardian News and Media, said: "Regrettably, yet another example of a judge seeming to misunderstand and misapply his powers. If only he had read section 4.5 of Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts."
Section 4.5 of the guidance states, in part: "The subject matter of a postponement order under s4 (2) is fair, accurate, good faith and contemporaneous reports of the proceedings.
"Trial judges have no power under s4 (2) to postpone publication of any other reports, e.g. in relation to matters not admitted into evidence or prejudicial comment in relation to the proceedings.
"Likewise, courts have no power under s4 (2) to prevent publication of material that is already in the public domain. Such publications may incur liability for contempt of court under the strict liability rule and the media bear the responsibility for exercising their judgment in such cases."