Newspapers fined for contempt

Posted: 22nd October 2012

Two national newspapers that were found guilty of contempt of court over articles published after a killer’s conviction for the abduction and murder of schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, have each been fined £10,000 by the High Court.

Articles published in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror were part of an ‘avalanche’ of adverse publicity which followed a guilty verdict being returned against Levi Bellfield but which appeared whilst jurors were still deliberating their verdict on another charge against him. As a result of that publicity, the jury had to be discharged from returning a verdict on that further count of attempting to abduct an 11-year-old girl.Bellfield

Bellfield, who was previously convicted in 2008 of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, was found guilty on June 23 2011 of Milly’s murder.

The newspapers argued that their articles would not have created a substantial risk of serious prejudice. However, Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Tugendhat imposed the fines after ruling in favour of the Attorney General, who brought the action against the newspapers’ publishers.

Sir John said that it was possible to impose fines ‘at the very bottom end of the scale’ in the light of mitigating features, however he observed: ‘This case is important to the media in pointing out the necessity of very careful analysis of material that is to be published as part of a background when one verdict (or more than one) has been delivered but others are outstanding. There is a particular need for caution at that time because the risks can be so great.’

‘For the future the message is clear and the court's observations, we hope, will ensure others exercise the most scrupulous care at the critical time in a case where only some verdicts have been returned and others remain outstanding.’