Thursday, December 21, 2006

Will media frenzy prejudice fair trial...?

Just suppose for a minute that the two men being questioned by police in Ipswich turn out to have nothing to do with the Suffolk murders…and get released at the weekend without any charges being brought against them.

What future could they expect, given the media feeding frenzy this week and the job tabloid journalism has done on them since their arrest a few days ago.

There is of course an insatiable appetite for every tidbit of information.

The redtops oblige with every edition competing for the biggest, most outlandish, most salacious headline – about two men who have not actually been charged with anything to date.

I noticed today’s offerings on the news-stand at Peterborough Railway Station:

My hell as wife of ripper suspect – The Mirror.

Suspect Nr 2 knew Suzy Lamplugh – The Sun.

Strangler suspect is secret tranny – The Star.

The Star’s story won today’s award for most bizarre revelation about the “ strangler suspect” as they “unmasked” him as a secret cross-dresser.

He squeezed into high heels, a PVC mini-skirt and a lady’s wig as he prowled the streets for sex.

It wasn’t long before the Mirror was updating their website with details from the Star’s “exclusive”.

Even The Times is not immune, with a colour banner across the top of their front page declaring: “Suffolk Murders – More unsolved prostitute killing to be reopened”.

Inside, The Times also reported what the Star claimed as an “exclusive”, with an Ipswich prostitute saying that one of the detained suspects:

“often dressed up as a woman…he wore a wig. When he got out of the car he had a PVC shirt and high heels.”
As I write this, anticipation of a significant breakthrough in the murder inquiry has been heightened with BBC TV just reporting that a press conference has been called by Suffolk Police in a few minutes time.

On Friday, the first arrested suspect will either have to be charged or released by police. On Saturday, the second arrested suspected will also have to be charged or released.

If they are released, they will have to try to rebuild their lives – after a week in which the media has played a big part in turning their lives upside down.

Even worse, if they are charged, could the defence claim that the headlines and stories have prejudiced a fair trial.

UPDATE 1: Suffolk Police have charged the second arrested man - Steve Wright - with murder of five young women. First suspect has been released on bail.

Appeal made at press conference to media to show restraint in reporting to ensure "due process of law" can take place.

UPDATE 2: Full text of the warning to the media read out by Michael Crimp, senior prosecutor for Suffolk Crown Prosecution Service following the charging of Stephen Wright with murder and the release on bail of the first man to be arrested in the inquiry:

At this time I would like to remind you of the need to take care in reporting the events surrounding this case. Steven Wright stands accused of these offences and has a right to a fair trial before a jury.

It is extremely important that there should be responsible media reporting which should not prejudice the due process of law.
Exactly my point: When I went to journalism college (over 30 years ago, but I don't think the law's changed on this since), once a person has been charged, reporting restrictions strictly apply.

As I understand the law, the only information that can now be given by the media about the accused man before the trial is his name, age, address, occupation, and the exact wording of the charge which will be put to him Friday morning before Ipswich magistrates.

I'll watch with interest...


Andrew. said...

Perfectly well timed. I imagine the one that's been released will be given police protection for a number of weeks, wait for everything to die down and then assume a life largely similar to the one before, might make getting along with the neighbours abit more difficult though, what with just recently moving anyway.
As for the other one receiving a fair trial - I think Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr received a fair trial in the face of all the media, don't think this will be any different.

fairdealphil said...

i was literally posting as the announcement was being made!!!

i take your point on the huntley/maxine carr trials following similar media frenzy...

let's hope so anyway.

Anonymous said...

Until yesterday I thought a tranny was a type of van. I was most shocked when Morag told me it is someone who has a willy but pretends that they haven't.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a type of wireless set without valves.