Weekly fined £900 for naming teens in court report

  • Junior reporter thought legal age of an adult in court was 16
  • Mistake not spotted by any senior staff
  • Paper pays compensation to three youths

A newspaper has been ordered to pay a fine of £900 and compensation to a group of youths whose details were wrongly included in an article by a junior reporter who broke a court order.

Free weekly the Milton Keynes Citizen, which has a circulation of 99,284, published the name, age and address of a defendant who was aged 17 or under, in a news in brief that was just a few lines long. They also published the names of two other youths concerned in the proceedings.

The case, about a mobile phone robbery in September 2011, was in fact heard in youth court at Milton Keynes Magistrates' Court and the three were automatically covered by a section 49 order banning the reporting of anything that would lead to their identification.

Publisher Premier Newspapers, part of the Johnston Press group pleaded guilty to the single charge of breaking the court order today (Thursday) at St Albans Magistrates' Court and fined £900.

It was also ordered to pay £25 compensation to each of the three youths.

The same charge against the editor of the MK Citizen, 56-year-old Olga Norford, was subsequently dropped. She was sat in court alongside Chris Pennock, managing director of South Midlands Publishing Unit at Johnston Press.

Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, mitigating, told the court that the junior reporter who wrote the article was under the impression that the court, which intermingled cases of adults and youths, was not acting in a youth court situation at the time the case was heard.

He added that the reporter also believed the legal age of an adult in court was 16, and not 18.

The mistake, not spotted by any senior staff, was printed on January 19 this year.

Scherbel-Ball said: "Premier Newspapers fully accepts responsibility and have asked me to express their deep regret to those involved and to the court for the inconvenience this has caused.

"The publisher takes it legal obligations very seriously.

"It was a completely innocent mistake made with no intention against those involved or to interfere with the course of justice."

During his mitigation he urged chair magistrate Bernard Greenwold not to hand out an "excessive fine" because he feared it could have an effect on the future of court reporting by regional papers, who he added were struggling financial during the economic downturn.

He added that the paper has never previously had any libel or PCC  complaints made against it and that staff were horrified when they realised the mistake.

Roseanne Smith, of the Crown Prosecution Service, told the court that the publication of the defendants' names had caused them embarrassment and anxiety.

Alongside the compensation and fine, Premier Newspapers were ordered to pay £85 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

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