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Publisher fined after naming child murder trial witness

Local newspaper publisher Glamorgan Gem was fined £2,000 after breaching an anonymity order by naming a child witness in a murder case.

The company, which publishes the Llantwit Major Gem and the Barry Gem, admitted two charges of breaching an order under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 after it identified a schoolgirl involved in the murder case at Cardiff Crown Court.

The publisher was fined £1,000 for each offence as well as volunteering to pay the girl compensation of £5,000, reports Media Lawyer.

The maximum penalty for breaching a Section 39 order is £5,000 for each offence.

The court heard the two newspapers carried stories about the murder trial which were supplied by a news agency.

But the copy included the name of the schoolgirl even though the trial judge, Mr Justice Lloyd Jones, had made a Section 39 order prohibiting the publication of anything which could identify her.

Court staff had also taken steps to ensure that news organisations were aware of the order.

Michael Jenkin, prosecuting, said publication of the story last spring, which included the name of the girl and her mother, had led to the child suffering considerable distress when she was subjected to spiteful comments at school.

Guy Vassall-Adams, defending, told the court in mitigation the newspapers sincerely regretted the error, with editorial staff devastated when they learned of the mistake.

The staff had also co-operated fully with the prosecution.

The copy used had come from the Wales News Service which the agency confirmed in a letter handed in to the court.

However, the agency’s reporter had not picked up the fact that there was a Section 39 order in place, although it was reasonable for the newspaper to have expected it to do so, he said.

The newspaper publisher had now told all editorial staff to carry out independent checks on agency copy about trials in which a child was involved, Mr Vassall-Adams added.

This was to be done despite the difficulties caused by the absence of any official central database where the media could check details of reporting restriction orders made by courts.