A regional daily journalist convinced a prosecutor to amend an application for reporting restrictions to allow the naming of two people whose actions led to a baby being permanently brain damaged.
Amy Fenton, left, chief reporter at South Cumbria daily The Mail, successfully worked with prosecutors at Preston Crown Court to amend the application in relation to the case she was covering.
The collaboration, which saw both come to an agreement before making representations to the presiding judge, subsequently allowed The Mail to reveal the identities of Callum Crowe, who was convicted of wounding with intent and child cruelty, and Abigail Wood, who was found guilty of child neglect.
A restriction on the naming of the child involved remained in place with the agreement of all parties.
The case concerned an eight-week-old baby who had been left permanently brain-damaged as a result of injuries inflicted by Crowe.
The Mail had been served with advance notice of an application for reporting restrictions on Thursday, the day before the Wood’s sentencing was due to take place.
Amy was preparing to challenge the proposed restrictions, with the support of Mail editor Vanessa Sims.
On the day of the sentencing, prosecutor Nicola Gatto approached her asked to speak to her in private prior to the hearing. They then spent 45 minutes discussing the case.
Said Amy: “I was frank in telling her that in this case, and as is my usual practice, I had no inclination or desire to name the child; my only concern was that no unreasonable restrictions would be placed on the case which would prevent the reporting of the defendants or the offences.
“And something quite remarkable happened; Nicola, who I must pay complete credit to, then said how she believed that such a scenario should be dealt with ‘collaboratively’, and with advance discussion, so that both sides could explain their intentions and look for a way to work together; instead of against each other in front of the judge.
“Miss Gatto agreed with my viewpoint that any restrictions should only be used for the purpose they were intended for, and she agreed that restrictions should only be sought in the interests of the child, and so she worded her application for restrictions accordingly; so as not to prevent our naming of the defendants, and purely so that the name of the child in the case was not reported.
“During the case, and after Miss Gatto submitted the request to the judge, he asked me to stand up and make any representations; and so I made my case clear in stating that our only concern would be that we could report the case without any unreasonable restrictions.
“I told the judge that my only intention was to be able to name the defendants and that from my perspective nothing would be gained from naming the child. He seemed to appreciate my honesty and frankness and so allowed the application on the basis we had agreed.
“This is how it should be; this illustrated how the prospect of reporting restrictions was intended to be implemented, and although it’s the first time I’ve ever encountered such cooperation, or common sense, I would hope it is something which becomes more commonplace so that lawyers not only appreciate the ability to collaborate with reporters but they respect our understanding of the law.”
Miss Gatto told the court how Crowe, 23, had “controlled and manipulated” Wood to the extent where she waited two days before seeking help for the baby’s injuries.
Jacob Dyer, defending, highlighted Wood’s social isolation and said she had only been 20 at the time of the offence.
Judge Graham Knowles QC gave Wood a prison sentence of nine months, suspended for 18 months, and accepted she was “not a risk to the public”.
Crowe is due to be sentenced at Preston Crown Court on 23 May, when he is expected to receive a sentence of at least 15 years.
Vanessa told HTFP: “Amy dealt with this case like a true professional. Not only did she prepare to stand up in court to challenge the order she met the prosecutor applying for the order to discuss a halfway house. Being able to report the defendant’s name was vitally important in securing justice for the injured baby. To let them hide behind an unnecessary court order would have been a travesty.
“”By applying the law and a reasoned argument Amy was able to find a solution not only acceptable to the court but also the prosecution. As journalists we should never just accept reporting restrictions on face value and we should always be prepared to challenge them in the public interest.”