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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Paper's 'contempt' ended footballers' trial
Lee Bowyer at Hull Crown Court
Mr Bowyer, cleared of any offence, may sue the paper
The Sunday Mirror was guilty of an "extremely serious" contempt of court in the trial of Leeds footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate, the High Court has heard.

The first trial, for charges arising out of an assault on an Asian student, collapsed last April after the newspaper published an interview with the victim's father as the jury was considering its verdicts.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, is seeking to impose fines on the newspaper's publishers, MGN Ltd.

His counsel Andrew Caldecott QC, said he was not arguing that the paper was deliberately contemptuous - but it nonetheless remained liable for the trial's collapse.

Sarfraz Najeib
Sarfraz Najeib suffered a number of injuries
Student Sarfraz Najeib, now 21, was left with a broken nose and cheekbone following the attack in Leeds city centre in January 2000.

Mr Bowyer was cleared at a second trial in December of causing grievous bodily harm and affray.

Woodgate was convicted of affray and ordered to do 100 hours community service, but cleared of grievous bodily harm with intent.

'Racist' attack

The original trial jury had been considering their verdicts for three days and had been sent home for the weekend when the "prominent double-page spread", based on an interview with Mohammed Najeib, appeared, Mr Caldecott said.

He said the "whole thrust" of the main section of the article was that the attack was racist.

Jonathan Woodgate at the time of the trial
Woodgate, convicted of affray, faces a huge legal bill
Yet the trial judge stressed during his summing-up that the prosecution was not arguing the attack was racist, he said.

Accompanying sections of the paper implied as true the evidence of another defendant, who had already been acquitted, and which implicated three of the remaining four defendants.

"The combined effect of the article suggested that the attack was racist and that at least three of the four were involved in that racist attack."

The original trial judge ruled that the interview created an atmosphere in which justice could not be done, and collapsed the trial.

The other two defendants were Woodgate's friends Paul Clifford and Neale Caveney, both 22.

Clifford was jailed for six years for GBH, and Caveney was ordered to do 100 hours community service for affray.

'Stressful' retrial

Mr Caldecott said that the case, because of its high media profile, was a very stressful time for all those involved, and it was quite clear that the professional careers of the footballers were on the line.

Former Sunday Mirror editor Colin Myler
Editor Colin Myler resigned after the trial collapsed
He said that the case was aggravated by the fact that Mr Najeib had been assured by a reporter that the interview would not appear until after the end of the trial.

He said the paper had still given no reasons for overriding this assurance, despite an express reminder from the Attorney General.

Mr Caldecott put the total costs of the first trial at 1.113m and for the retrial, 1.125.

He said the fact that it was a long trial with such a costs bill was an added reason why the paper should have given "the most careful consideration" to publication.

Trial costs
First trial: 1.113m
Retrial: 1.125m
Costs estimated by attorney general

The newspaper's editor Colin Myler resigned three days after the trial collapsed.

Mr Caldecott agreed that an apology forthcoming from a director of MGN should be taken into account - but said no individuals responsible had apologised.

Lord Justice Kennedy and Mrs Justice Rafferty, at the High Court, will not rule on the case until at least Friday morning.

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