A weekly newspaper has won the right to name two teenagers who took photographs of their murderer grandfather inside a courtroom.
The Northamptonshire Telegraph successfully fought to publish the names of Luke and Jamie Welch, now aged 18 and 16 respectively, who broke contempt of court laws on what was due to be the opening day of the trial of Stephen Welch in September.
The pair admitted contempt of court the following month, but Judge Adrienne Lucking QC had banned their identity from being revealed after imposing an order under Section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act.
However, the order was lifted after the Telegraph made representations at Northampton Crown Court when their grandfather, 61, was sentenced on Monday to a minimum of 27 years behind bars after being found guilty of murder.
Stephen Welch had helped best friend Michael Reader when the latter man shot dead his estranged wife Marion Price, before flying to Spain.
On the first day of proceedings, Luke and Jamie Welch, both of Northampton, were seen fiddling with their phones while watching the trial on a video link from an overspill court, despite being told not to use them by an usher.
After an investigation by police, the two were brought before the court on contempt charges on 5 October, where it emerged one of them had taken a picture of their grandfather in the dock and shared it via WhatsApp, while the other had taken a picture of the court with no-one in it.
The Kettering-based Telegraph’s written challenge was put together by senior reporter Sam Wildman, pictured, who submitted that lifting the order was in the public interest and that Luke Welch had turned 18 since the hearing, meaning it no longer applied to him in any case.
In his submission, Sam wrote: “Both defendants have been sentenced for contempt and were fortunate in this case that their actions did not impede the trial.
“In taking pictures and sending one to another person via WhatsApp, the picture could have easily ended up on social media and out of their control.
“This could have led to a course of action which could have caused the trial to collapse – causing considerable distress to Marion Price’s family, wasting the court’s time and costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds.
“Any Section 45 order is discretionary and can be lifted if it is justified and proportionate to do so. We submit that the defendants are not young children and knew exactly what they were doing.”
Sam went on to note there were signs across the courtroom reminding court users not to use their phones or take photographs, adding the Welch brothers “deliberately disobeyed this.”
He wrote: “Further, we submit that naming these defendants would act as a deterrent to others who may consider taking photographs in a court an appropriate action to take.
“There is a legitimate public interest in knowing the outcome of proceedings in court and justice must be seen to be done.
“Many have never stepped foot in a courtroom and may not be aware that such action can result in a criminal record and potentially imprisonment.
“Others may believe it is a risk worth taking as media reports of people being prosecuted for such an offence are so rare. Being identified may prevent others from committing the same offence as the Welch brothers.”
The brothers, who had been reprimanded but not fined for their “foolish” behaviour after the October hearing, again appeared before the court on Monday to make representations on the potential lifting of the order.
Both answered that they had “nothing” to add when asked for their representations.
Lifting the order and allowing the pair to be identified, the judge made it clear to both defendants that, had they been older, they may have faced a jail term.
Sam’s colleague Kate Cronin, who covered their hearing, told HTFP: “This was a stand-out case that took a monumental effort to bring to court despite the many challenges posed by Covid-19.
“There was a huge amount of effort from the court staff to ensure the jury was Covid-secure. A large number of police officers had worked around the clock to deliver some very complicated evidence and a dedicated legal team had diligently put together an impressive case against these two men.
“Most importantly, the family of the victim had spent months psychologically preparing themselves to give evidence in court. For that whole process to be placed under threat from the actions of two ‘foolish’ boys was unthinkable.”
Kate added she and Sam had agreed at the outset that the S45 order “was the right course of action to protect the integrity of the proceedings”.
She said: “We are grateful that Judge Lucking gave us the chance to oppose her order at the end of the trial.
“The challenge was put together by senior reporter Sam Wildman who did a great job of convincing the judge that the boys should be named as a deterrent to others tempted to take photos in court.
“In the end our challenge went unopposed by the defendants and the order was swiftly lifted by the judge. We are glad to now be able to report the names of the teens.”