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Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 02:41 GMT


Press fury over Lawrence injunction

The Sunday Telegraph's first edition

The injunction banning the publication of leaked extracts from the Lawrence inquiry report, later eased on appeal, has ignited an angry debate on press freedom and government practices.

Special Report: Stephen Lawrence
It is little surprise that Monday's newspapers have denounced as one the Home Office's failed action to try to suppress reports from the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder investigation before Wednesday's official release.

The Daily Telegraph, sister paper of the Sunday Telegraph which printed the leaked details in its early edition, leads the criticism.

The BBC's Torin Douglas reports on the press reaction
"There is no conceivable justification for an injunction in the case of the Lawrence inquiry," it says.

"The matter is not sub judice; it does not involve libel; there is plainly no question of national security; and the full report will, in any case, be published the day after tomorrow."

The Times agrees, saying that "when a government bans the media from reporting a story it must have a good reason to do so".

"This was a fit of pique that the carefully planned 'spin' for the launch of the report on Wednesday has been upset," it adds.

Sun attacks 'arrogance'

The Sun targets its attack on the core of the government, asking: "Is this the most arrogant Cabinet in history?"

A front-page photograph of Tony Blair and his Cabinet is accompanied by the opinion: "It would be hard to find a more pompous, high-handed, self-important, autocratic bunch.

"New Labour rides roughshod over Parliament, public opinion and at times the very basics of democracy. The last straw - the supreme manifestation of Labour arrogance - came on Saturday night when Home Secretary Jack Straw went to court to gag a newspaper."

The Mirror fills its front page with the headline "Humiliated" and warns that "the government cannot have it both ways".

"It cannot say its leaks are perfectly OK but unofficial ones are not," it adds.

The Independent says Mr Straw's legal action was "heavy-handed, pointless and wrong".

"In no sense can early publication of the Macpherson report be 'profoundly unfair', either to the Lawrences or the police, as the Home Office claimed," it says.

"But even if it were, the right of a free press to be unfair is a vital safeguard in a democracy."

The Guardian is also concerned about issues of freedom.

"It's not a pretty sight watching the British right to free speech reduced to a prop in a Whitehall farce," it says.

"It has exposed the frailty of what should be one of our most basic human liberties and supplied a glimpse of what seems an alarmingly authoritarian streak at the highest levels of government."

'Disregard for press freedom'

The Mail asks: "Just what did Jack Straw think he was likely to achieve by rushing to gag newspapers which wanted to publish leaks of the Lawrence inquiry report?"

It adds: "All he has done has been to show an arrogant disregard for press freedom and the public's right to know, that observers will think unworthy of him."

The Express welcomed "common sense" in the relaxing of the injunction, which allowed the broader publication of information already printed by the Sunday Telegraph.

But it added: "Unfortunately for the government the damage has been done.

"It claims to believe in freedom of information. Yet the moment it is put to the test, its first instinct is to gag journalists."

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