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Conscientious effort to avoid situation

The Manchester Evening News has been found guilty of contempt of court after writing about the killers of Jamie Bulger.

Click here to read the full story.

But what went wrong on the day of publication?

According to the evidence of Greater Manchester Newspapers Ltd, on June 21 it was believed that the release of the two boys was imminent.

The editor of MEN, Paul Horrocks, held an editorial conference on June 21 and reminded the news editor, Steve Panter, and others present that there was an injunction in existence and warned Mr Panter against the publication of geographical information concerning the boys’ whereabouts and that he should not include any reference to the location of the Parole Board hearings or to the region of the country where one of the boys was believed to be going on holiday.

The editor had previously warned the news editor to the same effect.

On the June 22 the editor was on leave.

The first edition of MEN referred to an expected announcement by the Home Secretary that the boys were to be released. The article in the second edition was on the front page and said:

Bulger killers ‘freed today’
[original detail excluded] …Thompson and Venables, both now 18, have undergone parole board examinations this week.
They are being held in institutions where they were awaiting news at lunchtime.

At the time of publication Mr Panter knew the actual addresses of the two secure units where the boys were detained.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division, said in her judgement: “It appears that he believed that they would have left those units before the issue of the second edition and that the injunction did not cover their past whereabouts.”

The managing editor, Brian Rhodes, discussed the story in general with Mr Panter but did not read the article in the second edition. He did, however, read the article which was proposed to be repeated in the third edition and ordered the passages quoted above to be removed.

The judgement continued: “It is clear from the wording of the July 2 letter [from the MEN solicitors to the Attorney General] and the instructions given on June 21 that the editor recognised what was acceptable to print in this case and what was not acceptable.

“He had made a conscientious effort to avoid the very situation that occurred in his absence.

“If they [the editorial team on duty] had had the words of the injunctions in front of them I do not consider that the editor or the managing editor would have had any difficulty in understanding what was required by the order.”

See also:
Communications breakdown caused lapse

Discussion would have made duty clear

Would publication have revealed boys’ location?

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