PCC censures Full House for offering to pay witness in anti-freeze poison case

The PCC has censured Full House after the real life magazine offered to pay a witness during an attempted murder trial in February.

The weekly magazine, published by the Burda-owned Essential Publishing, was found to be in breach of Clause 15 of the Code of Practice, which covers witness payments in criminal trials.

The issue arose during the trial of Kate Knight, who was later sentenced to 30 years for poisoning her husband with anti-freeze.

The PCC has asked the magazine to provide it with details of how it has changed its working practices after a feature writer for the title approached the witness offering a fee for an interview once the trial had finished.

Although other magazines had approached the same witness, Full House was the only title to offer money, leading the witness to bring the matter to the attention of the court. There was no effect on court proceedings.

Full House editor Dave Claridge, explained that the letter, sent during an overnight break in the testimony of a prosecution witness, had been sent prematurely by the writer ‘as a result of a misunderstanding”. He accepted it had ‘fallen short of the high standards that are required’in this area, and said he had since reviewed the working practices of the magazine to ensure that the incident would not be repeated.

The Commission said it welcomed the fact that the editor had immediately accepted it was at fault, and said it was ‘a serious matter for which it was right to censure the magazine”.

The terms of Clause 15 state that there should be no offer of payment to a witness while proceedings are active to prevent payments having any real or perceived influence on the administration of justice.

The PCC said in its adjudication: ‘On this occasion, there was fortunately no evidence that the trial had been affected by the offer. But it is never acceptable for witnesses to be approached with offers of payment while they are giving evidence, and the journalist’s actions could have had extremely serious consequences. It was therefore right for the magazine to take steps to ensure that this transgression is not repeated.”

‘The Commission has asked the magazine to provide it with details of how it has changed its working practice.”

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