Sun naming of child arrested on suspicion of serious crime was unusual but not unique

The Sun’s decision to name the boy arrested for the murder of Leeds schoolteacher Ann Maguire was unusual, but not unique.

The paper – rightly, in my view – used an arrangement that has been in place for since 2000.

Pre-1999, there was a loophole in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The automatic anonymity provided for under-18s appearing in youth court did not trigger until proceedings started.
This loophole was controversially exposed in January 1999 by the Portsmouth News and its weekly stablemate, the Petersfield Post.

They named three boys – aged 14, 15 and 16, who were detained by police after a crash on the A3(M) that left three people dead. They also used their photographs and continued to identify the youths until court proceedings started several weeks later.

After that, they referred to them as ‘teenagers’.

The papers’ actions caused uproar, especially as legislation to plug the loophole, in the form of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, was going through Parliament.

But Geoff Elliott, editor of the News, said at the time: "Our policy is to publish all the news permitted by law, not censor what people are entitled to know. Three people had died in the most awful of crashes caused by an out-of-control vehicle being driven by a 14-year-old.

"Young people old enough to know right from wrong should be accountable. The boys were minors, but well above the age of criminal responsibility.

"It was our job to inform the public about what happened, to whom it had happened and by what cause."

The government originally wanted the YJCE to bring the trigger point for anonymity back when an investigation started.
But after discussions with the newspaper industry, they agreed not to use it, provided the press regulated itself responsibly.

Since then, the media have used the arrangement to name several under-18s at the point of arrest.
The Evening Standard, London, name Abu Hamza’s son when he was detained for carrying a weapon into a London court. He was 16.
And most media named Abdul Patel, 17, who was arrested as part of the police investigation into the plot to blow up passenger planes in August 2006. He was later jailed .

In 2003, the Manchester Evening News named a 16-year-old hit-and-run driver who left a five-year-old boy paralysed from the waist down in a road accident. The MEN also succeeded in getting a section 39 order on the boy lifted at his trial.

None of the post-YJCE examples, above, involved loss of life.

Which is why it’s difficult to argue that the Sun overstepped the mark by naming the boy charged with murdering Ann Maguire.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law.

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