Calls for ban on newspaper payments to witnesses strengthened

Click to follow
The Independent Online

She has admitted inappropriate behaviour and her teaching career is in ruins, but Amy Gehring is free to cash in on her notoriety.

There is nothing in law or the newspaper industry's code of conduct to stop Ms Gehring benefiting from an offer from a newspaper to sell her story. Andrew Thompson, her barrister, said she had received offers but had not made a decision. "I think she needs a little time. Clearly she is very relieved."

However, one tabloid journalist said yesterday: "We wouldn't touch her with a barge-pole." A source at the Daily Mail, a newspaper named in court as having approached the schoolboys, said it was not proposing any payments to Ms Gehring.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is to investigate offers of up to £10,000 each to the schoolboy witnesses to tell their stories. The boys said they had not been contacted before they gave evidence and that their evidence had not been influenced by the possibility of offers.

The PCC said it had received one complaint about the offers to the boys, which was not from any of the parties involved. It said the investigation was "a matter of significant public interest". The PCC will examine whether the offers broke its code of conduct, which prohibits payment or offers of payment to witnesses in criminal proceedings, "except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and there is an overriding need to make or promise to make a payment for this to be done". Concern over financial inducements to witnesses and potential witnesses has arisen several times in recent years. After they became an issue in the trial of the mass murderer Rosemary West, the PCC required any offer to be disclosed to the prosecution and defence.

However, pressure has been growing to ban such payments. Last year, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, pledged to tackle the issue when legislative time permitted. The results of a review of the part of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act relating to offers of money to witnesses are due this spring and may herald tighter rules. A ban on payments is one option.