Sun web naming of 'kidnap' barrister sparks row in NZ

Sun: website can be accessed in New Zealand

An English barrister facing kidnapping charges in New Zealand is now at the centre of a press freedom battle after he, his two co-accused and the man who was allegedly their intended victim were named on The Sun website.

The battle has major implications for the media worldwide.

It focuses on the question of the effectiveness of gagging orders when public access to overseas websites is so commonplace.

Gagging orders had been imposed in New Zealand banning the naming of barrister John Burrett – though the orders on him have now been lifted – the two co-accused and the millionaire said to have been the intended victim of the alleged kidnap plot.

But The Sun named them in the UK and on the paper’s website, which can be accessed in New Zealand.

This sparked a furore among the country’s media, which campaigned to get the bans lifted.

While New Zealanders cannot read the names of those accused in their own media, they can log on to the internet and instantly find out who they are. The problem is one that is cropping up increasingly since the advent of the internet.

After The Sun’s story last week, the influential Dominion Post wrote: "Millions of Britons know the identity of the three men and the Wellington businessman they allegedly planned to kidnap but New Zealand media cannot publish the names."

They had been gagged by a High Court "suppression order" banning identification.

Later, when Burrett, who was mauled by police dogs during his arrest, appeared in court to be charged with attempting to kidnap, attempting to commit a crime while armed, conspiring to kidnap, intending to confine and conspiring to kidnap intending to obtain a ransom, no further moves were made for him to maintain anonymity.

However, name suppression orders were sought and granted in respect of the two other Britons charged with him.

Detective Inspector Norm Cook, head of Operation Mist which led to the arrest of Burrett and the other two Britons, has gone on record saying he is "disappointed" that the New Zealand media are attempting to overturn the suppression orders as he considered it was a move to "undermine" the police.

He said that police will investigate how The Sun obtained its information and that New Zealand’s Crown Prosecutor is looking at the situation.

 

By Roger Pearson

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