Judge gags press after defendants' prison van escape

A judge banned the media from reporting an armed raid on a prison van in which two defendants in a major trial escaped because of the effect news coverage might have on the trial.

A gang of masked armed men “sprung” Kirk Bradley and Tony Downes, both 25, from the van in Manchester city centre on Monday morning as they were being taken to Liverpool Crown Court, where their 10-week gun and grenades trial was coming to an end.

The pair both faces charges of conspiracy to posses prohibited firearms with intent to endanger life and conspiracy to commit criminal damage with intent to endanger life.

They are alleged to have put a hand grenade outside Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish’s home.

But as the break-out was being reported on television and internet, Judge Henry Globe QC, the Recorder of Liverpool, imposed a section 4 order which purported to postpone any reporting of the escape “until further order” to avoid “a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in these proceedings”

The Judge let it be known that he would hear representations from the press on the issue after lunchtime, once news of the order was publicised.

the reporting ban sparked immediate protests from the Press Association [PA], the BBC and other media organisations, which pointed out that the judge had no power to impose a restriction on reporting of events outside the court.

Later on Monday the issue was discussed at a hearing in Chambers. The Press Association, BBC, Liverpool Echo and its sister paper the Manchester Evening News, and Granada Reports all made representations.

PA argued the judge had no right to restrict reporting of events outside his court and that the banning order was a “serious and unnecessary restriction on the media, and the public’s Article 10 rights” to freedom of expression.

The order sought to ban reporting of a break-out which happened in Manchester city centre, causing major traffic problems during the morning rush hour, restricted the police’s ability to conduct a proper search for the fugitives or seek help and information from the public, and put the public at risk because they could not be informed about the escape and the presence of an armed gang on the streets.

The BBC told the court it had already broadcast the police appeals for information before it knew of the order, while the Liverpool Echo argued that the order was unsustainable.

After submissions by defence counsel in chambers, Judge Globe lifted the order, but reminded the media that the trial continued and the strict liability rule still applied.

“The order was in no way designed to inhibit those in the press who are trying to inform the public of a matter of public concern,” he said.

But yesterday the judge had to discharge the jury after some jurors said they could not “ignore” the escape of the two prisoners and try the remaining four defendants on the evidence alone.

Before being discharged the jury was told that Bradley and Downes remained “at large” and that it was not known whether the armed men who sprung them from the prison van were “friends or enemies” or if they went “willingly or unwillingly”.

Police issued photos of the pair on Monday and warned the public not to approach them but to call police if they were spotted.

Merseyside Police said an international search was being mounted for the pair.

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