National newspapers today continued to ignore a warning from police handling the Ipswich murder enquiries not to prejudice possible future trials by identifying two men arrested in connection with the deaths.
The Sun and the Daily Mirror both printed photographs of the second suspect arrested yesterday – Steve Wright, a 48-year-old truck driver from Ipswich – although the Mirror blanked out his eyes.
This is despite two letters sent to all editors on Monday and Tuesday from Suffolk Police Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter which pointed out that “legal proceedings are active" from the point of view of contempt of court.
He also said: "We would kindly ask that the media do not publish any material that may hinder the investigation, especially where identification might be an issue, or may prejudice the right of anyone to a fair trial at a future date."
However, Press Association’s media law expert Mike Dodd told Press Gazette that any prejudice created by the current media coverage of the two suspects would not affect a future trial.
And he called for Britain’s contempt of court law to be changed to allow more detailed reporting of potential crimes.
Dodd, who is also editor of Media Lawyer magazine, said that juries should be trusted to make their own minds up.
He said: “Has anyone said that he’s guilty? In what way is the reporting prejudicial? At the moment all they [newspapers] are doing is creating background.
“If anyone is arrested it might be as much as a year before a possible trial. I cannot accept that a jury is going to be far more influenced by the front page of the Sun than by a highly-paid advocate in court. A great deal of coverage is not the same is a great deal of prejudice”
Dodd called for the strict liability contempt law, which stops journalists from reporting anything which could create a substantial risk of seriously prejudicing a future trial, to be changed so it only applies after a suspect has been charged.
Under the current rules a case is “active” under the Act from the point of arrest.
“The law is too strict,” he said. “With the Suffolk murders, this is something of great public interest and the great British public have a right to know.”