On the day that news breaks that the police have sent a letter of apology to Christopher Jefferies, saying sorry for the distress caused to him by his arrest for the murder of Jo Yeates, maybe it is time to question the laws relating to reporting and police suspects.
Jo Yeates, you may remember, was the young landscape architect who was murdered in December 2010. Christopher Jefferies was her landlord, and at that time looked quite a bit different to his current look. His wild hair inspired the tabloid newspapers to judge him without waiting for a trial, with words such as ‘creep’, ‘peeping Tom’, and ‘strange’ appearing on the front page, next to his photos, with stories that made him out to be the obvious murderer. In fact, Yeates was murdered by her neighbour, Vincent Tabak, who, it was later revealed, had made phone calls to the police, falsely implicating Jefferies.
Jefferies sued the eight tabloid papers that had printed defamatory stories about him, and settled out of court, with compensation from each paper, whilst at the same time, two of the papers (the Sun and the Mirror) were found guilty of Contempt of Court over their reporting of the Yeates/Jefferies story. The Mirror was fined £50k and the Sun £18k. The Mirror sought leave to appeal, but was refused.
The press have said that this case has made them think again about their reporting methods, but having worked for one of the offending tabloids, I know that these fines are not enough to set the pulses of the accountants racing, or even anywhere close to the slush funds that exist for this type of eventuality. It would need to be a much bigger figure if we are to believe that the press would see this as a deterrent. Or maybe a prison sentence, like the two jurors who were found guilty of misusing the internet, during the trial that they were sitting on. There are many who would quite like to see some newspaper editors behind bars.
The Law Commission have recently published the findings of their consultation paper on contempt, and the response to it (by senior judges) makes interesting reading.
Medialawblogger is not convinced that the law will be able to stop the tabloids publishing material that is defamatory or incriminating, and prejudicing trials. All the while the public is dragged in by juicy headlines, the redtops will continue to take risks, knowing that the story and the increased readership is worth the possible fine. Meanwhile, the public, like bees round a honeypot, continues to lap up the sensationalized stories that they are duped into buying.
Why can’t the public just mind their own ‘bees’ness?