UK attorney general Dominic Grieve is starting “proceedings for possible contempt of court” charges against the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror for their June 24 articles on Levi Bellfield, the Guardian and Journalism.co.uk reported.
In question is both newspapers’ reporting on Bellfield, the man who was convicted this year of murdering and kidnapping teenager Milly Dowler in 2002. The UK News of the World hacked Dowler’s phone in the days after she went missing, as we’ve previously written. Days after this hacking was revealed this summer, the tabloid was shut down. News International paid $4.8 million to Dowler’s family and charity this fall because of the hacking.
Bellfield was also accused of attempting to kidnap a girl named Rachael Cowles. However, the jury was dismissed because the judge claimed news stories about Bellfield were “hugely prejudicial,” according to the Guardian.
Cowles is quoted as saying the dismissal of the case made her “extremely hurt and angry that some of the media reporting has robbed me of justice.”
A senior press officer for Grieve, Russell Hayes, told StinkyJournalism that Grieve’s hearing is “a permission hearing for an application to bring contempt of court proceedings for coverage in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror after the conviction of Levi Bellfield for the murder of Milly Dowler on 23 June. On 24 June his Honour Mr Justice Wilkie discharged the jury which was still considering the attempted abduction of Rachel Cowles on the grounds of adverse publicity and referred the matter to the Attorney General.”
The next step, according to the Press Association, is a “full hearing of the contempt allegations.”
In a separate article, the Guardian reported that Grieve is also looking into charging Sky News with violating an injunction. Sky News reportedly broke the injunction against reporting on a “kidnapped British couple…in the process of being released by Somali pirates.” The couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, were released late last year “after being held in captivity for 13 months.”
Journalism.co.uk explained a high court judge gave Grieve the OK to start prosecuting Sky News.
However, Grieve claims Sky News aired “details about their release before they had left Somalia,” despite the injunction concerning reports on the Chandlers. Sky News denies the charges, claiming that it “scrupulously observed the terms of the injunction,” the Guardian reported.
According to Sky News’ own report on the possible charges, the Chandlers asked Grieve to look into the charges “in the public interest.” Grieve’s charges against Sky News concerning its reporting on the Chandlers is because the couple “lack the finances to do so,” Grieve’s senior press officer Russell Hayes told StinkyJournalism. As such, Grieve’s role is as “Guardian of the Public Interest.”
Grieve’s representative, David Perry, is quoted by Sky News as saying “The intensive media interest that followed damaged efforts to secure their release.”
According to the Press Gazette, “If Grieve is allowed to go ahead with the contempt proceedings, it will mean that he has launched more contempt claims against media organisations in the 18 months he has been in power than his predecessors did in the previous decade.
We wrote to Grieve’s office to learn more about Grieve’s recent surge in investigating the media’s reporting Russell Hayes, a senior press officer for Grieve’s office, told StinkyJournalism that “it’s not quite the case [that] there have been numerous investigations from this office as we largely have matters referred to us.”
Perry noted that the hearings concerning the Chandlers and Bellfield reporting are both “to be listed for a full hearing.”
Grieve fined the Daily Mirror and the Sun with contempt of court this summer because of their reporting on the murder of Jo Yeates, as we have written. We also wrote earlier this month when a UK judge called on Grieve to look into possible contempt charges against the Spectator magazine for an article related to his trial.
UPDATE: 11/23/2011 9:35 AM EST: Made copy edits