Sun legal manager Tom Crone has accused the Attorney General of intimidation after he prevented the paper from publishing the names of two footballers accused of rape.
Crone has questioned Lord Goldsmith’s right to issue warnings to newspapers about prejudicial reporting of the case before any arrests had been made – as he did on Tuesday, 30 September.
Crone said: “There were no arrests, so why was the Attorney General sending out stuff that intimidates, chills and threatens the media?” Goldsmith stopped journalists from naming the two Premiership footballers with a phone call shortly before the paper’s deadline. The Sun was threatened with an injunction if it disregarded the Government’s advice.
The footballer gang rape affair stems from an incident alleged to have taken place in a room of the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on 27 September.
After numerous press reports suggested that eight men had been involved, the News of the World published an interview with “party organiser” Nicholas Meikle. He claimed four men had been involved in the incident and sex had been consensual.
The police asked to see the News of the World’s dossier, then last week arrested Meikle and another man (not a footballer) in connection with the incident. Both were named in the press but not pictured because visual identification could be an issue in the trial.
On Friday evening The Sun planned to name two Premiership footballers arrested in connection with the incident.
But as the presses were set to roll the paper was contacted by the Attorney General’s office.
Crone said: “We got a phone call at 6pm from a Mr Hussein of the Attorney General’s office, who said, ‘Don’t publish the names or pictures of the two Premiership footballers arrested on Friday. There is a strong likelihood of an ID parade.’ “I said, ‘That covers the picture, but how can that possibly prevent us publishing the name?'” Crone added: “It is a drastic injunction not to publish the names – it means people can be dragged off the streets by the police without being named. He said, ‘If you publish it I will go up to a judge now.’ “Why he has done it and how long is this in place? Are they going to walk into court unnamed? I’m hoping we will get some explanation, otherwise we will consider telling him to go to court so we can get the reasons in front of a judge.”
By Dominic Ponsford