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Publishers fight off child death case secrecy bid

A group of national and regional newspaper publishers has successfully fought off a council’s bid for wide reaching reporting restrictions in a case involving the death of a young child.

Cumbrian Newspapers, publishers of the Carlisle News & Star, were among newspaper groups who opposed the attempt by Cumbria County Council to limit reporting of the case, which concerns children in foster care and a child who died in December 2012.

The Coroner is due to re-open the inquest into the child’s death over the summer which, following the ruling by the Honourable Mr Justice Peter Jackson, can now be reported by CN Group journalists.

The parents of the child, described in the judgement as P, are currently on police bail and charging decision will not be made for some months, the judgment states.

Anne Pickles, associate editor of the News & Star and The Cumberland News, said: “We felt we had no option but to challenge the far-reaching restrictions sought by the county council, which would have left us with no right to report the facts or circumstances of this child’s death, nor ability to examine the roles of public agencies concerned.

“Open justice, transparency and accountability were at risk. We were not alone in believing those principles were threatened, which is how and why a sizeable group of media publishers and broadcasters collectively opposed Cumbria County Council’s application.”

Referring to the council’s application for reporting restrictions, Justice Jackson said: “The breadth of the order originally sought….would have had the effect of concealing for the next 15 years the names of any of the family members, including the child that died and any of the agencies concerned and the geographical area in which the events occurred.

“The eventual order protects the children and some, but not all, family members.  It has a much narrower geographical focus and as a result conceals the identity of one agency only.

“In presenting its application (for reporting restrictions), the local authority indicated that it was asking for the widest restrictions on the basis that the court could cut back on its request.

“That scatter-gun approach is inappropriate in applications of this kind.  It is the responsibility of any applicant, particularly if it is a public authority, to analyse the need for restrictions and only to seek those that can reasonably be justified.”