19 December 2014

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Weekly newspaper fights gagging order on drunk driver

A weekly newspaper is appealing against a court’s decision to hide the identity of a drunk driver who smashed a military van into the side of a house causing £40,000 worth of damage.

The 29-year-old was found to be twice the legal drink-drive limit but the Ministry of Defence successfully applied to keep his identity a secret.

Now the Hereford Times is planning to appeal against the banning order, made in order to protect his “personal safety and security.”

The newspaper splashed this week’s edition with a story headlined ‘Secret Justice’ accompanied by a strongly-worded editorial on the case.

Deputy editor Andrew Doyle said the newspaper had come up against a “wall of secrecy” when its reporter Lauren Rogers attempted to cover the case.

Court staff refused to name the individual, who was referred to throughout as ‘Mr G’.

The driver pleaded guilty to drink-driving at Telford Magistrates Court last Friday and was disqualified from driving for 20 months and fined £520.

He was also ordered to pay the homeowners, Martin and Pat Bailey, £400 in compensation, £85 court costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

In its editorial, the paper said:  “Mr G could have – and arguably should have – expected to face the crown court on a dangerous driving charge or something equally as serious.

“But the charge Mr G faces in a magistrates’ court is one of standard drink driving and with his identity protected. Because the military applied to the courts to keep his identity a secret. And won that right.

“It is bad enough that the courts should effectively put Mr G above the basic principle of open justice but then to impose a sanction that is seen as unnecessarily lenient by those who were the victims of his crime diminishes some long-held principles.

“As usual there was the customary peep show pantomime in the Telford court to keep Mr G hidden from view and a blanket ban on publishing anything that might lead to his identification in any way was imposed.

“But at the Hereford Times we’ve got used to dealing with these situations and it is the views of Martin and Pat Bailey, into whose home Mr G crashed, which articulate the reason why we will continue to challenge these gagging orders on behalf of a county and a community which the Ministry of Defence – and, on the evidence, the justice system – thinks it can take for granted.

“The county’s military has some reaching out to do if it is not to alienate a community that rightly takes a pride in its presence. It doesn’t need to hide behind balaclavas when it is among friends. Maybe it is those metaphorical balaclavas that stop it seeing who its friends are.”

10 Comments

  1. Roger Jones, Bedworth Warwickshire

    All power to your elbow Hereford Times. Keep up the pressure.
    Incidentally, there is no such thing as “worth of damage.” Why not damage amounting to etc or some other alternative? This is a common mistake made by journalists.

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  2. Parvenu

    I have been on papers where the military have tried this on, and magistrates have always thrown out the demand for names and addresses to be kept out. I’ve seen commanding officers standing-up in court trying to keep names out…and never seen a court agree to it. It’s entirely spurious and these magistrates have no sound reason for this decision. Good luck to the paper.

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  3. Golam Murtaza

    ‘Mr G’ – makes him sound like a rap star…

    On a serious note, yes I agree that the Ministry of Defence has some explaining to do. The fact that someone is in the armed forces does not in itself mean they deserve to have their identity protected if they commit an offence. That’s the start of a VERY slippery slope.

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  4. Lawman

    This order is almost certainly invalid in law, The magistrates should be asked under what Act the order was made,. If, as seems probable, it was made under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act , there is plenty of legal precedent by which to challenge it (see Essential Law for Journalists). It is doubtful whether the magistrates have any power under common law to impose such a ban.

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  5. Capt. Starlight

    Worth remembering that Hereford has main SAS base and they’re very coy and strict about identifying personnel. Seems wrong in these circumstances. Good luck with pressure for appealing decision. Army chiefs are an absolute shower…..

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  6. All Subbed Out

    I feel bound by my oath of pedantry to clarify that Roger Jones’ comments must be referring to Hold The Front Page’s own summary of the story, not the Hereford Times.

    The newspaper itself began its intro “A Hereford couple left with a £40,000 bill after a drunk-driver drove into their home….” and later expanded with “…. they estimate that between £25,000 and £30,000 of structural damage was caused to their home plus a further £10,000 to items stored in the garage.”

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  7. Blustringer

    Don’t the SAS always get to stay anonymous?

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  8. Parvenu

    I could tell you Blustringer but I would have to kill you afterwards.

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  9. In the know

    The SAS are not MI5 or MI6 and should be named the same as any other soldier.

    For example

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3945358/Ex-SAS-soldiers-child-sex-crimes.html

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  10. Casper

    Well done Hereford Times.

    Incidentally, I always thought damage costs nothing: it’s repairing the damage that costs.

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