Despite ignoring warnings from police not to identify two men arrested in connection with the deaths of five prostitutes in Ipswich, national newspapers appear to have avoided breaching the law on contempt of court.
On Wednesday 20 December, both The Sun and Daily Mirror printed photos of Steve Wright, a 48-year-old truck driver who had been arrested in connection with the deaths.
This was despite letters sent out on Monday and Tuesday by Suffolk Police Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter which warned newspapers that no material should be published where ‘identification’might be an issue.
However, this week the new chair of the Bar Council Geoffrey Vos told the BBC: ‘I think the practice is probably pretty well in line with the [contempt] law at the moment. The problem with the Ipswich murders was that the press reporting was absolutely monumental – huge, perhaps unprecedented.’Vos added: ‘In my view, the law is probably quite adequate. It’s a question of the press exercising some kind of restraint, and in showing that, its publicity properly meets the situation.’He conceded that a lot of reporting ‘raises eyebrows”, but added: ‘You mustn’t underestimate the sophistication of the public.’Mike Dodd, editor of Media Lawyer magazine and an in-house legal expert at the Press Association, said: ‘Has anyone said that he’s guilty? In what way is the reporting prejudicial?
‘If anyone is arrested it might be as much as a year before a possible trial. I cannot accept that a jury is going to be far more influenced by the front page of The Sun than by a highly-paid advocate in court. A great deal of coverage is not the same is a great deal of prejudice’Dodd said he believed there was a case for the ‘strict liability’clause of the Contempt of Court Act to be amended. At present, journalists must avoid publishing anything which could cause a ‘substantial risk of serious prejudice’to a trial from the point of arrest. Dodd said this should be changed to the point when a suspect is charged.
He said: ‘The law is too strict. With the Suffolk murders, this is something of great public interest and the British public has a right to know.”