A local newspaper reporter successfully challenged attempts to ban identification of a woman who left her six-year-old daughter home alone for five days.
Dartford Messenger reporter Keith Hunt spoke out at Maidstone Crown Court when prosecution and defence lawyers attempted to impose a Section 39 Order which would prevent the naming of the mother to protect the child.
Natalie Terry, 28, was jailed for 18 months after admitting child cruelty when she appeared at Maidstone Crown Court.
Judge Martin Joy rejected submissions from both prosecution and defence lawyers that a Section 39 Order preventing publication of any details leading to identification of the child, now aged eight, should be imposed following a challenge from Keith.
The girl had knocked on a neighbour’s door and told her: “Mum has left me for five days and she has not come back.”
She had survived by eating crisps, drinking water and watching television.
Keith told the court: “The public interest in knowing the full background to this case, we believe, far outweighs the need to maintain the child’s anonymity.”
It was also submitted that a child as young as eight would not be affected by publicity.
Prosecutor Peter Forbes submitted that not making the restriction would be harmful to the child and at the very least would cause intense embarrassment at scrutiny of her private life.
Trevor Wright, defending, said the child could suffer emotional abuse if identified
Judge Joy said there was no automatic restriction in such cases and the court had to have good reason for restricting the press.
He said: “Quite plainly, in cases such as this there must be a public interest in persons knowing that such conduct by a single mother does and can receive significant punishment.
“The press make a point that a child as young as eight would not be affected by publicity or detrimental to her long-term well-being.”
Judge Joy said possible embarrassment to the child and the possible impact on the relationship with her mother were factors he had to consider.
But he added: “Ultimately, I have to balance these arguments and apply the test I have set out. Having considered the arguments, I take the view I should not make an order under Section 39.”
Bob Bounds, editor of Dartford and Medway Messengers, said: “This was a brave and bold challenge by Keith. He stood up in court and argued against both the prosecution and defence cases. The judge weighed everything up and ruled in our favour.
“This was a big success and shows the importance and benefits of challenging restrictions on what we can report.”
When the case concluded a press officer from Kent Police initially refused to release a picture of the woman saying it was against their guidelines, despite the judge saying one should be issued.
The police later release a picture when the story was covered by some national newspapers but it was too late for the Messenger’s print deadline.