Was Myler’s the only error of judgement?
We are left to wonder just what turned Trinity Mirror from gung-ho to grovel. One day it was briefng counsel to challenge the judge’s ruling that a Sunday Mirror piece was enough to derail the Leeds football stars’ trial. Three days on, the company was throwing the editor to the wolves.
What happened between the Monday ("We deny contempt") and the Thursday ("It is a considerable sadness that Colin Myler has departed")?
What jellfied the spines of his bosses? Was it advice that the long arm of the law might reach into the boardroom? And into the cash flow to recoup the £10m wasted on the trial?
Ever helpful, The Sun ensured that the point was not missed by Trinity Mirror chairman Sir Victor Blank and chief executive Philip Graf. It ran their mugshots and reported that the prospect of an unlimited fine had sliced £40m off the shares. (It did not have space to add that, since the company is worth £1.25bn, such fluctuations do not spell the end of civilisation as we know it.)
Of course, neither Myler nor his friends suggested that publishing an interview with the victim’s father before the verdict was other than his responsibility, whether or not Mirror lawyers had given the green light.
There was much sympathy for a nice guy whose career lay in ruins. But that was not what drove rival editors to query whether the judge really needed to stop the trial.
They doubted that the article amounted to the substantial risk of serious prejudice specified by the Contempt of Court Act.
The Daily Mail said: "However stupid the Mirror’s blunder, the reaction of Mr Justice Poole has made matters infinitely worse."
The Guardian said: "The anger of the judge is understandable – And yet there is still something seriously wrong with his decision."
With a retrial in mind, the judge made a Section 4 order to forbid reference to the contents of the article. So full debate is not yet possible.
Should the Attorney General decide on a contempt trial, Myler will surely take the opportunity to defend himself. As for Trinity Mirror, unless it changes its mind again and decides to stand and fight a case of major importance to the press, we shall hear only its mitigation plea.
Until then, the juries of press, political and public opinion ought to suspend their verdicts on whether Myler deserved the supreme penalty for a less than supreme error of judgement