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Reporter overturns ‘ridiculous’ lifetime gagging order protecting car vandal

Tanya FowlesA court reporter has won a fight to overturn a “ridiculous” order that gave lifetime anonymity to a woman who had damaged a car.

Tanya Fowles has successfully named Martina Mary McCloskey, who was given a suspended sentence after admitting deliberately causing £4,393 damage to a car using a pair of scissors.

After sentencing at Magherafelt Magistrates Court in July, District Judge Oonagh Mullan ordered there should be “no press reporting of the case given this lady’s medical issues” after the defendant presented just a GP’s note as evidence – a move described as “ridiculous” by Tanya at the time.

The decision brought the total number of lifetime anonymity orders in the UK to 10, the last three being imposed in Northern Ireland and all on the basis of alleged mental health or medical issues.

Tanya, a freelance court journalist who also works as a local democracy reporter, has now succeeded in winning the right to identify McCloskey, who also sometimes goes by the surname Collins, following a complaint to the Office of the Lady Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

Tanya, pictured, told HTFP: “I think it’s only fair to say the judge fully accepted procedures were not adhered to and took steps to rectify the situation, but even getting to that point was a struggle.

“In reality this shouldn’t have happened and beyond the entirely disproportionate approach by the court it demonstrated a lack of procedural awareness, which must be addressed.

“I genuinely hope this case has been the turning point to indicate judicial training and awareness on Press rights must be to the fore.

“The judicial guidance on these matters refers to press as the public watchdog but that terminology is pointless if we are being prevented from performing that role and have to fight to be able to do it.”

In recent times, Tanya has also been gagged while covering the cases of two sex offenders given the same right to lifetime anonymity.

Until these recent cases in Northern Ireland, previous lifetime anonymity orders all related to cases of murder and generally applied to new identities for offenders on release from prison – including James Bulger’s killers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, as well as Soham schoolgirl murderer Ian Huntley’s partner Maxine Carr.