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"The likelihood of something appearing somewhere that prejudices a trial grows ever greater"
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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK
Recent contempt cases
Lee Bowyer leaves court after the trial is halted
Strict laws govern the reporting of court cases

By BBC legal affairs correspondent Jane Peel

Mr Justice Poole's decision to halt the Bowyer-Woodgate case is not the first time a judge has stopped a trial because of prejudicial publicity.

Some have been stopped even before a jury has been sworn in, or in the course of the evidence.

Lisa Taylor (left) and her sister Michelle
The Taylor sisters: cleared on appeal
In others, convictions have been overturned in the Court of Appeal, or retrials ordered as a result of media coverage.

The 1995 assault charges trial of Geoff Knights, the partner of the former EastEnders actress Gillian Taylforth, failed to get off the ground at all because of what the judge described as "scandalous" reporting.

Another famous case involved two sisters, Lisa and Michelle Taylor, who were convicted of murder but cleared on appeal in 1993 because of sensational reporting during their trial.

In neither case did the newspapers involved suffer any sanction.

Contempt proceedings brought by the Attorney General in the Knights case failed.

None were brought against the media in the Taylor sisters case.

In 1997, however, the London Evening Standard newspaper was fined 40,000 for contempt after it published an article that halted the trial of the men accused of escaping from Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire.

The article, which was printed while the trial was in progress, revealed that some of the six men were IRA terrorists.

Jury reform

In the Bowyer/Woodgate case the defendants face the prospect of a re-trial, while the Sunday Mirror newspaper could be prosecuted for contempt of court.

The decision to halt the case at such a late stage is not one Mr Justice Poole will have taken lightly.

But when it became clear that members of the jury had seen the offending newspaper article - which risked prejudicing their verdict, the judge had little choice but to abandon the trial.

The Attorney General will now have to decide whether to take action against the Sunday Mirror.

This course of action is likely if he agrees with the trial judge that the article created a "substantial risk of serious prejudice" - the test for contempt.

A re-trial of the four defendants has now been ordered for 8 October, before a new jury.

And this case raises one further issue.

In days past, juries would almost invariably be sent to hotels overnight when they failed to reach verdicts.

Jury bailiffs would ensure they were kept away from newspapers and television news programmes to avoid them having contact with anything that might prejudice them.

The overwhelming practice now is to send jurors home.

It would not be surprising if the Bowyer-Woodgate case led to calls for the policy to be reversed.

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See also:

09 Apr 01 | Leeds United
Profile: Lee Bowyer
09 Apr 01 | Leeds United
Profile: Jonathan Woodgate
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