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.”