The press should take more care not to prejudice trials

Friday 29 July 2011 by John Hyde

If you were searching for a flat in Bristol and found out the landlord was Christopher Jefferies, would you still sign the contract?

If you were walking your kids to school and he was approaching, would you cross the road to avoid him?

I can’t begin to imagine what life is like for the man whose character was ripped to shreds by tabloid newspapers after he was arrested for the murder of Bristol woman Jo Yeates.

Yet I imagine it’s a mixture of sympathetic nods and suspicious glances - the knowledge that he’s an innocent man but a lingering impression that he is peculiar and somehow frightening.

Let’s make this absolutely clear: Christopher Jefferies is an entirely innocent man.

At worst the retired teacher has an eccentric haircut, doesn’t look good in photographs and has the extreme misfortune to live close to a murder victim.

He deserves every penny of the reported six-figure sum agreed today with eight separate newspapers, after what his solicitor described as a ‘witch-hunt conducted by the worst elements of the British tabloid media’ – and after recent events, that’s a bold claim.

Needless to say, if you happened to check for an apology – or even a mention of the settlement – on the front pages of websites of the Sun, Daily Mirror and Mail at midday, you will have wasted your time, although you will have seen pictures of a Hollyoaks actress eating (yes, that really is the entire story) and Imogen Thomas being attacked with a water bomb.

As well as the defamation cases, the Sun and Daily Mirror were found to have broken contempt of court laws by the High Court. The judges warned that any potential defence witnesses would have been so convinced of his guilt by the reports that they may not have come forward.

The families of murder victims will never get the justice they deserve if defendant lawyers can prove a jury has been prejudiced.

Yet some tabloid newspapers seem to treat contempt of court like it’s a relic of the 16th century, one that you’ll find in history books but of no importance in the modern world.

The public and politicians are in no mood for leniency towards the media, and cases like the unfortunate Jefferies will only offer more ammunition for the argument to limit press freedom.

Comments

I am in strong agreement of

I am in strong agreement of this article.i also believe that the print and electronics media have a huge impact these days on the trials made.they should understand their responsibility that sometime their preconceived notion about a person can harm a lot but i also agree that in some case this was media who helped in getting justice

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