Spectator charged over Stephen Lawrence article

Rod Liddle
Image caption Rod Liddle: Article allegedly broke reporting restrictions

The Spectator magazine is to be prosecuted for breaching a court order over an article written during the trial of Stephen Lawrence's killers.

Rod Liddle's article claimed the two defendants would not get a fair trial.

It appeared after the trial had begun when judges had already banned reports that could influence the jury's view of the defendants.

The magazine could be fined £5,000. Editor Fraser Nelson said it would not contest the prosecution.

Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted of Stephen Lawrence's murder earlier this year after a complex trial relating to fragments of DNA evidence.

Before the trial began, senior judges imposed a ban on any media reports referring to allegations that either of the defendants were violent or racist.

This kind of reporting restriction is a standard procedure used in many trials to ensure the jury is not influenced by the media.

In the Spectator article, Mr Liddle wrote that Dobson and Norris had already been presented as violent racists and any judge who took action against him for saying so was "singularly perverse".

Mr Justice Treacy, the trial judge, ordered the jury not to read the article and referred the matter to the attorney general for possible contempt of court.

'Intense media interest'

Alison Saunders, the chief prosecutor for London at the Crown Prosecution Service, said that it had informed the publishers that they would be charged with breaching the reporting restrictions, under Section 83 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Image caption Article: Magazine apologised to trial judge

She said: "On 24 November 2011 the Attorney General referred an article published in The Spectator magazine to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration of whether a reporting restrictions Order in place at the time had been breached."

She said it was in relation to an article from 19 November 2011 during the trial.

"Due to the intense media interest in this case an Order under Section 82 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 prohibiting publication of certain assertions about the defendants was in place.

"This Order was imposed by the Court of Appeal on 18 May 2011 and was continued at the commencement of the trial on 14 November 2011.

"Having applied the full code test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors I have taken the decision that there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

"The Attorney General has determined that it is in the public interest to proceed and he has given his consent to this prosecution."

Under legislation, Mr Liddle is not liable for an alleged offence, but the proprietor, publisher or editor may be.

Ms Saunders said the CPS had obtained a summons from City of Westminster Magistrates Court and the first hearing would be on 7 June.

Following the announcement, Mr Nelson told the BBC that the magazine would not be contesting the prosecution.

He said that the magazine had taken legal advice before publication, but had apologised in court immediately after it went to print and regretted its publication.

The Spectator sent its deputy editor Mary Wakefield and a top lawyer to the trial to apologise to the judge after the article was referred to the attorney general.

Gavin Millar QC, for the magazine, told the judge that steps had been taken to remove the article from its website. The Spectator was well aware of why the judge had been concerned about the article, he said.