Rival squash news ban on PC's careless driving case

A collision with a police vehicle cost Sadie Steven her leg

A policeman whose careless driving cost a child her leg was publicly exposed thanks to the efforts of the Birmingham Evening Mail and the BBC in overturning a “draconian” gagging order.

Evening Mail reporter Jane Tyler was covering the crown court appearance of PC James Hibbert when she was handed an order, made under Section Four of the Contempt of Court Act, which was so wide-ranging she could hardly report a word of the case.

She said: “I realised it was a complete blanket ban to the point where I couldn’t even say the case had taken place. It banned reporting of the proceedings and the terms of the order. To me it was unprecedented.”

Tyler tried to challenge the ban in court, as journalists have the right to do, but the district judge refused to let her speak, saying he had no power to overturn the order because it was made at a prior magistrates’ court hearing.

“When I got back to the office the editor rang up our legal people who said it was the most draconian order they’d ever seen and that if we even wrote a single word about the case we’d be in breach of it.”

The Evening Mail, which is owned by Trinity Mirror, decided to share the cost of hiring a barrister with the BBC in order to challenge the Section Four. It was duly overturned when the case was reconvened after the judge heard submissions from the barrister in camera .

It was only then revealed that the policeman had tried to gain anonymity because he was due to be a witness at a trial connected with the notorious murders of January 2003 in which two schoolgirls were gunned down outside a hairdressers.

He argued that publicity might expose him to gangland intimidation.

District Judge Robert Zara lifted the Section Four because there was no connection between the two cases.

Hibbert was driving in a bus lane responding to an emergency call when he hit 11-yearold Sadie Steven on a pedestrian crossing. He pleaded guilty to careless driving and is due to be sentenced in the spring.

Evening Mail editor Roger Borrell said: “This is an excellent case of two rival news organisations working together to overturn yet another ridiculous gagging order.”

Section Four of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 gives courts the power to delay publication of certain details of a case in order to avoid prejudicing those or other proceedings.

By Dominic Ponsford

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