[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 20:51 GMT
'Concerns' over Soham reporting
Ian Huntley denies murder
A journalist went undercover in the prison where Huntley was held on remand
From the day young Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were reported missing, their tragic story dominated the media unlike any other.

And with the arrest of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr soon after there was a media frenzy surrounding the case.

But blurring of strict contempt rules regarding the reporting of crime cases was called into question early on by defence lawyers, politicians and legal officials.

Contempt laws are designed to ensure juries are not prejudiced by facts or hearsay that may have been written before a case is heard and may never be mentioned in court because it is deemed inadmissible evidence.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, warned all media outlets that restraint had to be shown in order for Huntley and Carr to receive a fair hearing, saying newspapers should "exercise a great deal of care" in reporting.

Journalists must bear in mind that the consequences of a prejudicial report can be high
Attorney General's office

But after reading some of the subsequent reporting he told a conference of newspaper editors that coverage had been "frankly unacceptable".

Freedom of speech

Three particular reports in The Mirror, the Sunday People and one radio station, were referred to the Attorney General to consider whether there had been breaches of contempt.

In a statement issued following the verdict, Lord Goldsmith's office said: "The attorney general has made it clear his strong concern about some of the reporting of the investigation and trial of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr.

"The attorney agrees that journalists have a vital function in the administration of justice. This is supported by the right to freedom of speech. But journalists must bear in mind that the consequences of a prejudicial report can be high.

Lord Goldsmith
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith warned the media to show restraint
"Those consequences are felt by individuals, often those who are particularly vulnerable, such as victims and witnesses as well as defendants. And it is in the public interest that we have a fair, decent and effective system of justice."

Trial judge Mr Justice Moses had to wade through 21 bundles of newspaper clippings after Huntley's defence counsel argued there was little chance of their client getting a fair hearing.

Among the headlines he would have seen were:

  • Huntley buys a lad's mag with pocket money (Sun) - about Huntley using his prison allowance to buy a pornographic magazine

  • School bully who went for the throat (News of the World) - a man says Huntley bullied him while they were at school

  • Huntley: I will kill myself (News of the World) revelations reportedly written by Huntley to Carr while on remand

  • Sex shock past of murder quiz lovers (Daily Star) details of Huntley's private life which revealed his brother had married his ex-wife

  • Miss Jekyll and Hyde (Sun) A former boyfriend of Carr's says she had an erratic personality

    One undercover journalist even worked at the jail where Huntley was being held, detailing a poster of fictional cannibal Hannibal Lector on his prison wall.

    Carr's lawyer Kevin Hubbard QC said the media coverage had been a "complete free-for-all".

    And a number of high-profile cases have collapsed because of prejudicial stories.

    One example was the collapse of the assault trial of Leeds footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate when a contemptuous interview was printed as the case was still being heard.

    Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman
    The pictures of the girls dominated newspapers
    The Sunday Mirror was later fined 175,000 for printing the story.

    Praise

    Justice Moses rejected Huntley's defence argument. He did admit some stories did "assume the guilt of the defendants" but could not halt a trial on those grounds.

    Although there was criticism about some of the reporting, the media has also been praised for its role in the case.

    Leslie Chapman, the father of Jessica, thanked the media for their help in the investigation during a news conference shortly after the verdicts.

    And the media kept to a pact to give the families privacy after the arrests, as they retreated from the limelight.

    Maxine Carr and Ian Huntley
    The judge warned against "trial by media"
    In the weeks following the murders, the Reverend Tim Alban Jones of St Andrews Church in Soham requested the people of the village be given "space now to be alone and heal and to grieve in private".

    This was a sentiment that was generally adhered to, with everyone staying away from the private funeral held in September.

    But with convictions now recorded against Huntley in this highly emotive case, the papers are likely to go to town, dissecting every inch of his past.

    Although libel laws are still in place, newspapers realise a double murderer is unlikely to take them to court over any reports - whether true or not.




  • RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


    PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

    News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
    UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
    Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
    Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific