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Newspaper wins legal precedent on reporting trial

A regional daily has won an important legal precedent over the reporting of trials where the defendant has previously been acquitted of the crime.

The Oxford Mail appealed to the Lord Chief Justice after it was blocked from covering any court appearances by Mark Weston, who was charged for the second time with murdering a woman in West Oxfordshire in 1995.

Weston had been acquitted by a jury 14 years ago of killing mother-of-two Vikki Thompson but was re-arrested and charged again in December 2009 after new evidence was discovered by Thames Valley Police’s cold case review team.

The move followed the scrapping of ‘double jeopardy’ laws preventing people from being tried again for the same offence.

Weston appeared at Oxford Crown Court on the fresh charge and was remanded in custody, before prosecutors then applied to the Court of Appeal to set aside the original acquittal.

An order under section 82 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was made by the Court of Appeal stopping the media reporting the case because it did not want the jury in the second trial knowing of the first acquittal.

Weston’s defence team said the court order prevented the reporting of his appearances in the Crown Court on the new charges, as well as the proceedings in the Court of Appeal.

But the Mail disagreed and applied to the Lord Chief Justice last February asking for the order to be varied to allow normal coverage of any appearances in the Crown Court.

In June, the Court of Appeal granted the paper’s application but the title has only now been able to publicise its victory after Weston was convicted at his second trial last month and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 13 years.

Oxford Mail assistant editor Jason Collie, who made the application, said: “There was an important principle that needed clarifying because we felt the Court of Appeal’s order was being misinterpreted.

“The making of the order to stop the media publishing anything about the acquittal or the attempts to quash it was absolutely correct because that would have prejudiced the new jury.

“But that should not stop publication of any of Weston’s appearances at the Crown Court.

“The murder of Vikki Thompson was probably the most high profile unsolved murder in Oxfordshire of recent times and there was a genuine public interest in being informed about how those proceedings were progressing.”

He said the paper had removed mentions of the original trial from its online archives so as not to prejudice the subsequent one.

Jason added the decision of the Court of Appeal could prove useful to other newspaper in future.