A weekly newspaper has been ordered to pay a fine of £900 and compensation to a group of youths whose details were wrongly included in a story in breach of a court order.
The Milton Keynes Citizen published the names of two defendants and one victim, who were all aged 17 or under, in a news in brief item about a mobile phone robbery.
The case, in September 2011, was heard in youth court at Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court and the three were automatically covered by a section 49 order banning the reporting of anything that would lead to their identification.
Publisher Premier Newspapers, part of Johnston Press, pleaded guilty to the single charge of breaking the order at St Albans Magistrates’ Court yesterday and were fined £900. It was also ordered to pay £25 compensation to each of the three youths.
The same charge against the Citizen’s editor, Olga Norford, was subsequently dropped. She sat in court alongside Chris Pennock, managing director of JP’s South Midlands Publishing Unit.
Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, in mitigation, told the court that the junior reporter who wrote the article was under the impression that the court, which also dealt with adult cases, was not acting in a youth court situation at the time the case was heard.
He added that the reporter also believed the legal age of an adult in court was 16, and not 18.
The mistake, not spotted by any senior staff, was carried in the newspaper on 19 January this year.
Mr Scherbel-Ball said: “Premier Newspapers fully accepts responsibility and have asked me to express their deep regret to those involved and to the court for the inconvenience this has caused.
“The publisher takes it legal obligations very seriously. It was a completely innocent mistake made with no intention against those involved or to interfere with the course of justice.”
During his mitigation he urged chair magistrate Bernard Greenwold not to hand out an “excessive fine” because he feared it could have an effect on the future of court reporting by regional papers, who he added were struggling financially during the economic downturn.
He added that the paper has never previously had any libel or PCC complaints made against it and that staff were horrified when they realised the mistake.
Roseanne Smith, of the Crown Prosecution Service, told the court that the publication of the defendants’ names had caused them great embarrassment and anxiety.
Alongside the compensation and fine, Premier Newspapers were ordered to pay £85 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
Mr Pennock said afterwards that he had nothing to add.