Friday, July 20, 2012

High Court Finds Two U.K. Dailies in Contempt in Murder Trial Coverage

English: Levi BellfieldLevi Bellfield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)In HM Attorney General v. Associated Newspaper Ltd. & Anor [2012] EWHC 2029, the High Court of Justice found The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mail violated the Contempt of Court Act of 1981 (Ch. 49) in their coverage of the trial of Levi Bellfield for the murder of Milly Dowler, The Guardian ( reports.

Coverage of the trial of Bellfield for the murder of Dowler and attempted kidnapping of Rachel Cowles began in early May 2011. Bellfield, convicted of the murder of two women in 2008, was found guilty of killing Dowler by the jury on June 23, 2011. While the jury was still deliberating on the Cowles kidnapping charge, the Mail and Mirror published articles on June 24, 2011, containing information not previously presented to the jury, the High Court found.

Specifically, the Mail article concerned Bellfield's alleged murder of another woman and the drugging and raping of schoolgirls, while the Mirror wrote about Bellfield's alleged mistreatment of his ex-wife and a former girlfriend, as well as the purported rape of a disabled woman.

The High Court, in a judgment by Sir John Thomas,  found both papers' articles "seriously prejudicial" as had the trial judge, who cited the prejudicial nature of the articles in discharging the jury before it decided the kidnapping allegation.

Although the High Court's decision is consistent with the strict liability provision of the Contempt of Court Act, it is arguable whether a jury that already knew of Bellfield's 2008 homicides and itself had convicted him of Dowler's murder could be prejudicially influenced against him by the Mail and Mirror articles.
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