Paper overturns ban on naming fugitives

The Gravesend Messenger has overturned an order that prevented it from identifying two murder suspects who are still on the run.

Assistant editor Denise Eaton and editor Sandra Hembery worked together to overturn the Section 4 order made under the Contempt of Court Act, which allows courts to postpone the identification of defendants to avoid prejudice to future judicial proceedings.

Last July trainee reporter Jon Kaila reported how father of three Kamaljit Kolan was stabbed to death in public by two men on a busy summer’s day in Gravesend. The pair fled to a nearby house, which belonged to Bhupinder and Surinder Lehal, where they washed, changed their clothes and then escaped.

When approached by the police, Mr and Mrs Lehal denied any knowledge of the men entering their house. They eventually admitted the claim and earlier this month Judge McKinnon at Maidstone Crown Court gave them a 12-month suspended sentence for perverting the course of justice.

At the same hearing, the court imposed a Section 4 order preventing identification of the two murder suspects on the grounds that it could prejudice any future trial – even though the suspects had yet to be questioned, arrested or charged.

Representing herself at a hearing this week to challenge the order, Eaton argued several points, including the fact that proceedings were not active at the time the order was imposed, identification would not have substantially prejudiced any future trial – partly because of the length of time between publication and trial – and the CCTV footage could have been used to enable any witnesses to come forward.

She said: “I believed it set a worrying precedent for such orders to be secured by the Crown, preventing the press from publishing material it would rather be withheld.

“Bearing in mind the suspects had yet to be apprehended, it put into question many aspects of crime reporting for newspapers and the media in general – especially the use of CCTV images which, under the interpretation of this order, would all be deemed prejudicial.”

Eaton added: “I believe the anonymity granted the suspects more security and overturning this order proves the press can be used to enhance rather than hinder justice.”

In revoking the order, McKinnon said: “That is a coherent and powerful series of arguments put very succinctly.”

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