Sky News facing contempt action on kidnap reporting

The Attorney General will today apply to the High Court for permission to bring contempt proceedings against Sky News over its coverage on the day kidnapped British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler were freed.

The channel is alleged to have breached an injunction prohibiting the media from publishing details of the “health and welfare” of the couple – kidnapped by Somali pirates – until they were outside the African country and in a place of safety.

The Chandlers were captured when armed raiders boarded their 38-foot yacht, Lynn Rival, as they sailed from the Seychelles to Tanzania in dangerous waters, and then held captive for 13 months, finally being released on 14 November last year.

The retired pair, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, were released after a ransom of up to one million dollars (£620,000) was paid.

A spokesman for Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC said Sky News is accused of breaching the injunction on the day of the couple’s release.

If Grieve is allowed to go ahead with the contempt proceedings, it will mean that he has launched more contempt claims against media organisations in the 18 months he has been in power than his predecessors did in the previous decade.

Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith QC brought only two cases against the media during his six years in office from June 2001 to June 2007, while Grieve’s predecessor, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, brought only one, against a broadcaster, during the two years and 11 months she held the post.

Since Grieve took office in May last year he has brought actions for contempt which saw the Daily Mail and The Sun fined for their use of photographs with website coverage of a murder trial, and the Daily Mirror and Sun fined over their coverage of the arrest of landlord and former teacher Christopher Jefferies – who was subsequently shown to be innocent – by police investigating the murder of landscape architect Joanna Yeates.

Last month Grieve launched a further action, against the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail in relation to coverage of Levi Bellfield’s conviction for the abduction and murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler which led the trial judge, Mr Justice Wilkie, to discharge the jury from returning a verdict on a charge of the attempted abduction of schoolgirl Rachel Cowles, because of what he said was the prejudicial nature of the material published.

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