Campaigners are battling to stop a local paper naming serving SAS officers in spite of a court ruling saying it is legally entitled to do so.
As reported on HoldtheFrontPage in May, the Hereford Times won a court challenge allowing it to name a high ranking SAS soldier facing assault charges, although the officer in question was subsequently cleared.
Since then the Newsquest-owned weekly has also named three dead SAS officers whose inquests are to open in Hereford this week.
But the move has sparked a bitter protest from a group of local campaigners who believe members of the Herefordshire-based regiment should be allowed to remain anonymous within their home community.
The paper has now been sent a petition which the protesters claim was signed by 1,000 people asking it to stop naming the officers.
Organiser Martin Wymess claimed people in the city had been “outraged” by the paper’s attitude.
“The Hereford Times, a publication that prides itself on how it reflects local community feelings and concerns, fought to name an SAS officer who appeared in court over a minor matter of which he was subsequently cleared,” he said.
“This ruling now means that any serving member of the regiment can have his name published if he attends court, even if proven innocent and no matter how minor the charge.”
“Hereford knows that the SAS does a difficult job and have a long history of mutual benefit in the area. They also know the regiment appreciates being able to remain as anonymous as possible in its home community.
“Public response to this attitude has been unanimous. People are clearly outraged.
But Hereford Times editor Liz Griffin defended the paper’s stance, saying: “We need to protect our press freedoms. The principle of open justice is one we’ve had to fight long and hard for.”
She said that the court had made it clear that SAS officers were not exempt from being named and that the paper would abide by that unless Parliament decided otherwise.
In the original case, an order banning any identification of Dale John Loveridge was overturned following a challenge by the Times.
Lawyers for Loveridge had made a written submission saying the order should stand because their client was “a high ranking member of the SAS” and that the disclosure of his details might “jeopardise his personal safety and his career”.
But the Times argued that magistrates did not have the authority to make Loveridge the subject of such an order, which, on the evidence presented, went against established principles of open justice.
The district judge said that the risk of prejudice to a defendant because of proceedings brought against a defendant was the price paid for open justice and the benefits to society that outweigh the impact upon the individual.
John Carroll (29/09/2008 17:34:05)
Liz Griffin’s safety does not depend on her doing her job in secrecy, the freedoms she talks about are protected by the guys doing their job in secret. Wise up Ms Griffin
Phil Dott (29/09/2008 23:38:58)
Well said, John. The story is good enough, no names need be mentioned.
Jack Jameson (01/10/2008 11:49:28)
Should someone accused of a criminal offence enjoy automatiic anonymity simply because of their career choice?
The court ruled it was OK to name the accused so it’s up to Parliament to legislate otherwise.