Yet again, British tabloids have gone too far with biased reporting and dubious methods, now, untypically, they are set to pay a heavy price as the Attorney General brings contempt charges, and worse could follow for one of their number.
For those who have been following legal proceedings in the United States, in particular the ongoing murder trial of Casey Anthony or the Strauss-Kahn affair, it may seem quaint even bizarre that a newspaper could find itself in front of a judge charged with contempt of court, but while almost anything goes both inside and outside American courtrooms, British and especially English courts have an entirely different approach to open justice.
On Christmas Day last year, the body of a young woman who had been reported missing was found dumped in a country lane. The last person to see her alive – bar one – was her elderly landlord. Like friends and family, such a person is always a potential suspect, but for some reason detectives regarded former schoolteacher Christopher Jefferies as the man most likely to, and he was grilled for three days before being released on police bail.
Although not a celebrity, he has the type of persona that certain scurrilous tabloids often consider fair game; this time though, for once, the target bit back, and Mr Jefferies issued writs against no less than six newspapers. Worse still for the papers concerned, not only has he now been totally exonerated by the confession of another man – who is currently awaiting trial – but the Attorney General took a dim view of their misreporting too, and today the High Court, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice himself, is hearing his application for an “order for committal or other appropriate penalty”.
This could theoretically see their editors gaoled, although it is more likely the papers will be fined heavily and warned, if convicted. Another, and altogether far more serious matter is also in the headlines today. On June 23, Levi Bellfield was convicted of the murder of 13 year old Amanda Jane Dowler. The victim disappeared on March 21, 2002, and her skeletonised body was found six months later. Now it has come to light that a private investigator working for the News Of The World is alleged to have hacked into her mobile phone and to have deleted some of her messages.
Although these allegations have only just come to light, they have been known to the police for some time. It should be stressed that these are still only allegations, but a number of similar – though less sickening – allegations against the same paper involving celebrities have already been substantiated, and out-of-court settlements reached.
If though this latest allegation is substantiated we can certainly expect to see, possibly substantial, gaol sentences handed down, not simply for privacy issues but for far more serious charges including perverting the course of justice.