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Law Column: Why teenage killers were finally named

When reporting restrictions surrounding the murder of Liz Edwards and her thirteen year old daughter were lifted last month, shocking details of the killings were revealed. Most shocking of all, the identities of the killers: Ms Edwards’ fifteen year old daughter Kim Edwards and her fourteen year old boyfriend Lucas Markham. Both defendants were charged with, and ultimately convicted of, murder.

The reasoning for the initial reporting restrictions

The two teenage killers were initially granted protection under section 45 of the Youth and Criminal Justice Act 1999, which allows the court to prevent the identification of young persons involved in court proceedings until they reach the age of 18. The power is discretionary and the court may dispense with the restriction if it is deemed to be in the interests of justice to do so.

Prior to the trial, Lucas Markham pleaded guilty to murder and Kim Edwards to the lesser crime of manslaughter. At this stage, the court maintained reporting restrictions, noting that Kim Edwards was pleading a defence of diminished responsibility based on her mental state at the time of the murders. She had attempted suicide just three weeks before the murders and was described as “emotionally and physically vulnerable”. This led not only to considerations around her welfare, but to the integrity of the trial process. Although the court also considered the deterrent effect of naming the defendants, it was considered to have little effect. The judge also noted the “immediate and virulent social media storm” and press attention likely to follow identification, with the resultant burden on the secure unit in which she was housed.

Why the reporting restrictions were lifted

At the conclusion of the trial the court revisited the reporting restrictions, hearing representations from a number of newspaper organisations, the Press Association, the defendants and the Local Authority. The CPS adopted a neutral position. The trial having concluded and with Kim Edwards convicted of murder, the factual circumstances were much changed and the judge lifted the reporting restrictions, although they remained in place pending the hearing of an appeal (on both reporting and sentencing) to the Court of Appeal.

The key factors in the decision to lift restrictions were as follows:

  • The crimes committed by the defendants were exceptionally grave, the trial judge describing the crimes as having “few parallels in modern criminal history”, such that there was a high public interest in their identification. Without the identities, the trial would be deprived of meaning and context because it would be impossible to understand that the murders took place in a closed family context.
  • There was no evidence that identifying the defendants would adversely affect their future rehabilitation and therefore be contrary to the welfare of a child.
  • The order would in any event expire when the defendants reached 18 in three years’ time and their sentence (a minimum terms of 20 years, revised on appeal to 17.5) and process of rehabilitation would stretch well beyond that period.
  • While there would be a need for special attention to be paid at the time the press reported on the identities, the time delay between the lifting of the restrictions and reporting addressed this concern.
  • This was not one of the rare cases, as in the Bulger murder or A & B v Persons Unknown, where the risk of vigilante action was so high that the killers’ right to life was sufficiently engaged to justify a lifelong order.

The decision again highlights the fact sensitive approach required in challenges to reporting restrictions, with the judge specifically noting that submissions should focus on the particular facts of the case rather than abstract principles.