Levi Bellfield contempt fine for Daily Mail and Daily Mirror
- 22 October 2012
- From the section UK
Two national newspapers found guilty of contempt of court over their coverage of Levi Bellfield's conviction for the murder of Milly Dowler have been fined.
The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror were each fined £10,000 by two judges at the High Court in London in a case brought by Attorney General Dominic Grieve.
When the articles were published, jurors had still been considering a separate attempted abduction charge.
They were discharged after coverage of the verdict was considered prejudicial.
During the contempt case earlier this year, the judges were told that stories in the Mail and Mirror were part of an "avalanche" of adverse publicity that followed the guilty verdicts against Bellfield.
Jurors had still been considering a charge that Bellfield had attempted to abduct Rachel Cowles, then aged 11, the day before he snatched 13-year-old Milly in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 2002.
Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Tugendhat heard that as a result of the "totality" of the publicity, the Old Bailey jury was discharged from returning a verdict on that count.
The action was brought against Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail, and MGN, publisher of the Mirror.
'Error of judgment'
Bellfield - who in 2008 had been convicted of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy - was found guilty on 23 June last year of Milly's murder.
The newspapers argued during the contempt case that their articles would not have created a substantial risk of serious prejudice. But the two judges ruled in favour of the attorney general.
Announcing the penalties, Sir John said it was clear that "both newspapers went further than what was permitted" in what was published.
He said: "We have little doubt that they should have appreciated the risk under the strict liability rule at the particularly sensitive point in time at which the decision was made to publish.
"However, we can conclude that this was a case where there was an error of judgment through a failure to properly analyse the articles - an analysis which was nonetheless essential at that point in time."
Sir John said the case was important for the media in "pointing out the necessity of very careful analysis of material that is to be published as part of a background, when one verdict (or more than one) has been delivered but others are outstanding".
"There is a particular need for caution at that time because the risks can be so great," he said.