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Sunday, 25 August, 2002, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Soham press coverage 'could wreck trial'
From left, Kevin and Nicola Wells, Sharon and Leslie Chapman
The girls' parents at one of many press conferences
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is reported to have called for a top level inquiry into media coverage of the Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman murders.

There are fears that some reports have included too much detail and will prejudice any future murder trial.

Crown Prosecution Service logo
The CPS has scrutinised "acres" of print

Under the Contempt of Court Act of 1981, journalists are forbidden from writing or airing anything which creates a "substantial risk of serious prejudice to particular proceedings" after a suspect is arrested in connection with a case.

The CPS is reported to have asked the Attorney General to look into the "acres" of print it has scrutinised about the abduction and subsequent murder of the two 10-year-olds earlier this month.

Former Soham college caretaker, Ian Huntley, 28, is being held at Rampton secure hospital accused of murdering Holly and Jessica.

His girlfriend, Maxine Carr, 25, is on remand in Holloway prison accused of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The Contempt of Court Act 1981 states:
Nothing which creates a "substantial risk of serious impediment or prejudice to proceedings" should be published
It covers criminal and civil proceedings, industrial tribunals and mental health tribunals
It begins when a person is arrested, a warrant or summons for arrest is issued, an indictment is served or a person is charged
It ends when the arrested person is released, acquitted or sentenced, the case is discontinued or the defendant is found unfit to be tried

According to the Observer newspaper, the CPS has sent a series of articles to Attorney General Lord Goldsmith QC - the government's chief law officer who supervises the CPS.

He has the power to prosecute any paper or television channel whose articles contravene the Act.

The first trial of Leeds footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate collapsed dramatically in April 2001 after it was decided an interview published in the Sunday Mirror was in contempt of proceedings.

The players were facing charges arising out of an assault on an Asian student but the case came to an abrupt end when the newspaper published an interview with the victim's father - just as the jury was considering its verdicts.

The trial's collapse and subsequent re-hearing is thought to have cost at least 2.2m and it led to the resignation of the newspaper's editor Colin Myler.

In December 2001, the Manchester Evening News was found guilty of "significant" contempt of court for publishing an article about the whereabouts of the killers of toddler James Bulger.

The newspaper was fined 30,000 and ordered to pay costs of 120,000.

Cambridgeshire police are said to also have concerns about press reporting of events in Soham - Holly and Jessica's home town.

Senior officers are quoted in the Sunday Telegraph as saying "much" of the coverage has been in breach of the Act.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"A file of newspaper cuttings has been sent to the Attorney General"
Former Mirror editor Roy Greenslade
"The range, volume and tone of the content has, I think, demonised the couple"
Michael Fabricant, Culture Media and Sport Committee
"Will they actually get a fair trial whenever it takes place?"

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09 Apr 01 | UK
04 Dec 01 | England
25 Aug 02 | England
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