Articles published in The Sun and the Daily Mirror following the arrest of a suspect in the hunt for landscape architect Joanna Yeates’s killer were in contempt of court, the Attorney General alleged at the High Court today.
Dominic Grieve QC told a hearing in London that he wanted an “order for committal or other appropriate penalty” made against the publishers of the Sun and Daily Mirror.
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Miss Yeates, who lived in Clifton, Bristol, disappeared on 17 December last year after going for Christmas drinks with colleagues. Her frozen body was found on a roadside verge in Failand, Somerset, on Christmas Day.
Grieve – the Government’s chief legal adviser – told the court that his concerns related to coverage following the arrest of Miss Yeates’s landlord Christopher Jefferies, who is in his 60s, on December 30.
The newspapers dispute Grieve’s claims and deny contempt.
Three judges, including Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, are scheduled to hear evidence over the next two days.
Grieve obtained permission from the High Court on 12 May to pursue contempt proceedings against the publishers of The Sun and Daily Mirror.
He alleged that that two articles which appeared in the Daily Mirror and one published by The Sun after after police arrested Yeates’ landlord Chris Jefferies might have prejudiced a trial.
Jefferies was later released without charge and was “entirely innocent”, Grieve told the court.
Grieve added that the articles contained material which was “exceptionally adverse and hostile” to Jeffries, a retired teacher, who later challenged” material contained in the stories and had made a “separate libel complaint”.
The articles not only posed a “substantial” risk of prejudice and “impedance” to any trial but also contained material which would not have been placed before a jury as “admissible evidence”, Grieve said.
He had warned the media about coverage “in the context of [Jefferies’] arrest” during a BBC radio interview on 31 December 31.
Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), publisher of the Daily Mirror, and News Group Newspapers (NGN), publisher of The Sun, deny contempt.
A 33-year-old Dutch engineer, Vincent Tabak, has admitted killing Miss Yeates, and has pleaded guilty to manslaughter but denied murder.
Tabak, who lived next-door to Yeates, is due to go on trial accused of murder at Bristol Crown Court in October.