Rapist loses legal bid to prevent media naming him after release from prison

A convicted rapist who became embroiled in a legal dispute with the Ministry of Justice has lost a fight to keep his name out of media reports.

Senior judges ruled that Stephen Fagan, who is in his late 40s and comes from Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, could be named after newspapers argued that the public had a right to know.

Fagan was given a 14-year jail term by a judge sitting in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2006 after being convicted of committing two rapes, and of administering a drug with intent to commit a crime, in the north-east
of England.

The dispute over the publication of his name developed earlier this year after he began publicly-funded legal action in an attempt to win the right to live in Scotland following his release from prison on licence.

Fagan, who wants to re-settle in Airdrie, said members of his family might become a "target of hostility" if his return was reported. And his lawyers argued that there was a need to "prevent the risk of violence".

In June a High Court judge ruled that Fagan could be named, but he imposed a temporary reporting ban until the case had been analysed by the Court of Appeal.

Three appeal judges today also ruled that Fagan could be named, after a hearing in London, and lifted the reporting ban.

High Court judge Mr Justice Irwin had analysed the anonymity issue at a hearing in London in May and given his judgment in a written ruling in June.

He said Hugh Southey QC, for Fagan, had suggested that anonymity was necessary "to prevent the risk of violence" and had argued that members of Fagan's family might become a "direct target of hostility".

Southey had accepted that Fagan's dispute with the Ministry of Justice over where he should be allowed to re-settle raised a "legitimate public interest".

But he had said the case could be "properly addressed" if anonymised and argued that there was "no general public interest" in knowing where ex-offenders were settled.

But Victoria Jolliffe, who represented a large number of media organisations opposed to anonymity, said it was "inevitable" that the family life of serious offenders would be affected by crime and its consequences.

And she said the placement of sex offenders while on licence was a "legitimate subject of debate" and the public had a "very substantial interest" in understanding any court decision.

Mr Justice Irwin said there was "undoubtedly" a "legitimate public interest" in Fagan's dispute with the Ministry of Justice and in the "general issue of resettlement of serious offenders".

And he questioned whether debate could be "properly conducted" if Fagan's name was not reported.

"It is very likely that any such debate, even reported in general and anonymised terms, would give rise to immediate and accurate speculation in Airdrie that the case concerned was this case," said the judge.

"Thus in practice anonymisation would be ineffective in preventing the undesirable consequences of publicity."

He added: "It is an extremely difficult balance to take." 

The Court of Appeal today refused to overturn Mr Justice Irwin's decision, following an application by Fagan's lawyers.  

Appeal judges said they would give reasons for their ruling at a later date.

Mr Justice Irwin had explained how Fagan had been released on licence from an English jail in September 2012.

But the judge said Fagan wanted to be allowed to re-settle in Scotland under the supervision of Scottish probation officers.

And he said Fagan had started legal action against the Ministry of Justice with the aim of securing a transfer north of the border.

Fagan's lawyers had then applied for an order preventing his name from being publicised in reports of that judicial review claim.

A judge has yet to hear argument on Fagan's dispute with the Ministry of Justice.

And the Court of Appeal today heard that the claim might not proceed in any event because, since launching the legal action, Fagan had been recalled to prison.

They indicated that he had been returned to jail earlier this summer but did not say why.

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