Spectator magazine charged over Stephen Lawrence article | News

Spectator magazine is to be prosecuted for breaching court restrictions over an article written by journalist Rod Liddle during the trial of Stephen Lawrence’s killers that claimed the two defendants would not get a fair trial. Under section 83 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the author of an article written is not liable for an offence, rather the newspaper/periodical, the proprietor, editor or publisher.

Prior to the trial commencing due to the intense media interest in the Stephen Lawrence case, judges banned the media from reporting material that could influence the jury to view defendants Gary Dobson and David Norris as violent or racist. The pair was subsequently convicted of Stephen’s murder in January of this year, after a trial that focused around DNA evidence. In November the magazine apologised in court for the article, admitting it contained facts of a prejudicial nature. Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, said: “The judge accepted our apology and we will not be contesting the CPS’s decision.”

The BBC reports Liddle wrote in the article that Dobson and Norris had been presented as violent racists already and said that any judge who decided to take action against him for saying so was “singularly perverse.”

London’s CPS chief prosecutor Alison Saunders said the charge would be brought “under section 83 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, in relation to an article by Rod Liddle about the recent Stephen Lawrence trial.”

She commented: “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.

“The article in question was dated 19 November 2011 and came during the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris who were accused, and subsequently convicted, of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The judge, Mr. Justice Treacy, referred the article to the attorney general for consideration under his contempt powers.”

Saunders continued: “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.”

Stephen Lawrence’s father Neville Lawrence expressed his disappointment at the £5,000 maximum fine, calling it “little more than a slap on the wrist for a magazine like the Spectator.”

“I am very disappointed by this outcome and think the charge should have been for a more serious offence,” the elder Lawrence said. “The article was published at a critical time at the start of the case when it was clear that any press comments could cause the trial to collapse.”

Liddle came under fire earlier in the year for an article in the Sun newspaper where he was accused of attacking disabled people, reportedly calling fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) “one of those newly invented illnesses which make you a bit peaky for decades.”
[Source: Telegraph/BBC/Guardian]