Weekly paper prevents anonymity order in kidnap case

A weekly paper in Hampshire has blocked an attempt to prevent it naming a woman who kidnapped a friend and left her bloodied and semi-naked in the New Forest.

New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times reporter Carolyn Dench successfully challenged a request made at Southampton Crown Court to grant Jessica Smith anonymity because she was 16 years-old at the time of the offence.

After initially agreeing to the request from Smith’s barrister, Jamie Porter, to impose a reporting restriction, Judge Peter Ralls QC, reversed his decision after Dench pointed out that the woman’s name had already been published in previous court reports.

The judge said he had been unaware that Smith’s name had already been published and agreed he therefore did not have the power to impose the reporting restriction.

The court had earlier heard how Smith, who is now 17, and 21 year-old Danielle Dixon set upon 19-year-old Heidi Brooks because Dixon was angry with the victim, believing she had lied about having a miscarriage.

During the 20-minute attack Brooks was kicked, punched, stamped on, her face forced in horse manure and piercings ripped from her navel and eyebrow.

She was then stripped to her underwear and eventually left in bushes by her attackers.

Both women pleaded guilty to kidnap, robbery and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Dixon was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail and Smith to six months’ detention.

Dench told Press Gazette: “Although it was quite nerve racking addressing the judge, I felt it was my duty as a reporter to challenge the order.

“Too often solicitors and barristers try to get these orders passed to protect their clients, when the law is not actually on their side.

“It is hugely important for local journalism that these orders are only made when necessary, so that freedom of the press is upheld.

“Our readers want to know about what is happening locally, and justice would not have been served if the defendant had remained anonymous.”

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