25 October 2014

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Advertiser wins fight to lift 'unlawful' reporting restrictions on hammer assault verdicts

The verdict on a violent attack in a school playground almost went unreported after a judge imposed “unlawful” reporting restrictions.

The Swindon Advertiser has been covering the story of Henry Webster who was attacked with a hammer in his school playground 14 months ago.

The 17-year-old suffered a fractured skull and four teenagers were found guilty of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm at Bristol Crown Court.

But when the jury returned guilty verdicts on all four, the judge banned journalists from reporting them.

The Section 4 order from the Contempt of Court Act 1981 was made after a request by the defence because of a separate pending trial.

This second trial, which has since started, involves other defendants charged in connection with the same attack.

Advertiser editor Dave King told holdthefrontpage that not only had the order been made unlawfully, but the defence team also questioned the paper’s coverage.

He said: “We appealed against the order but were unsuccessful.

“We did a front page saying why we were unsuccessful and included some background.

“At the start of the second trial the judge received representations from the defence team. They were not happy with the coverage we had done of the trial.

“Questions were raised about how balanced our reporting was.

“We were singled out in court and there were a lot of questions asked about the second trial and whether it could go ahead.

“We made representations for the order to be lifted to enable us to report the verdicts.

“The judge was asked to look at what was published and she didn’t feel that we had prejudice proceedings.”

Finally, two weeks after the jury returned guilty verdicts, the judge lifted the Section 4 order and the full verdicts could be reported.

Dave added: “We just took a strong line. We said the ruling was unlawful and that we were very unhappy about this.

“It had got to the stage that the (second trial) jury were going to be told the verdicts from the first trial. It was a quite ludicrous situation.”



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