Victory for press as judge backs pixelated yob pics

Booth, right, welcomed judgement over his front page of youth and victim

A judge has thrown out a prosecution against an evening paper accused of identifying a teenage criminal by using a pixelated picture of him on its front page.

In a move bound to be welcomed by the rest of the press, District Judge David Chinery found that the Peterborough Evening Telegraph had no case to answer.

His ruling at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court follows the shock conviction of the Plymouth Evening Herald in January for criminal contempt after it published the picture of a 15-year-old with his facial features blocked out accused of stabbing a fellow pupil. The Herald was fined £1,500.

An appeal against the conviction failed in April, sending a chill through the media, which believed it was a safe and common practice to use pictures of juvenile criminals as long as their faces were obscured.

The Evening Telegraph had run the pixelated picture of a 17-year-old after he was convicted last year of assaulting a pensioner in a road rage case.

The title’s publisher, East Midlands Newspapers, was prosecuted for allegedly breaching Section 49 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act. It followed a complaint by the teenager’s family that he could be identified from The Evening Telegraph’s picture.

The youth, his mother and two family friends gave evidence to the court. But Judge Chinery ruled the paper had no case to answer after hearing the prosecution evidence and concluding that it had not been established that the youth had been identified.

Significantly, he said: “By pixelating [the picture] it seems that the editor appreciated the risk and had gone on to try to avert it.”

Evening Telegraph editor Kevin Booth described the outcome of the case as “a victory for common sense”.

He said: “Through many years’ experience we have received legal advice that it is OK to publish an image as long as pixelation or other methods are done to prevent identification. The prosecution was attempting to say the publication of any image of a defendant was in breach of the act.

“Fortunately, the judge felt it had to be viewed in conjunction with whether there was an appreciable risk, and that’s very much a common sense ruling.”

Booth added that the Plymouth judgment had set “alarm bells ringing” and made editors extremely cautious about using what had been a common practice in papers across the country.

Tony Jaffa, of Foot Anstey Sargent, who acted for the Telegraph, said: “I cannot help feeling that this was a prosecution that should never have been brought. I cannot understand why the Crown Prosecution Service started the action.

“It has long been established that the press may publish photographs of young criminals as long as their features are obscured – a principle that was reaffirmed just last year at the Old Bailey in the Damilola Taylor trial.

“When The Evening Telegraph published the photograph of the youth, it was following a long-established and lawful practice, which is why it was so surprising that the CPS argued that publishing it was unlawful.

“I dread to think how much public money has been wasted by the decision to prosecute over what was after all an article which was undoubtedly published in the public interest.”

By Jon Slattery

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