'Daily Star' is fined for naming rape case players

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When two Premiership footballers were questioned by police over a 17-year-old girl's allegations of "gang rape" at a top London hotel, the red-tops had a field day, devoting acres of newsprint to the scandal.

Yesterday, the Daily Star paid the price for its coverage of the case when it was fined £60,000 at the High Court for contempt of court after naming Titus Bramble and Carlton Cole as suspects in an investigation.

Mr Cole, who was on loan to Charlton from Chelsea at the time, and the Newcastle United and England defender Mr Bramble, who were among four men questioned by police, denied the allegations and were never charged. But when the article was published on 23 October last year, the police investigation into the rape claims was still under way.

Lord Justice Rose and Mr Justice Pitchman ruled that, by naming the men, the Daily Star had created a "real, substantial, more-than-remote risk" and that the course of justice would be "seriously impeded or prejudiced".

Lord Justice Rose said there was no evidence that the girl already knew who the men were at the time of the article. He dismissed as "mere speculation" the suggestion put forward by the Daily Star that she could have learned their identities from the publicist Max Clifford, who was hired by her family.

The 17-year-old alleged that she was raped and subjected to a number of serious sexual assaults at the Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane in London on 27 September 2003. But after police investigations, the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to bring any prosecutions.

Philip Havers QC, representing the Attorney General, told the court that the teenager's allegations of rape had sparked a "frenzied media interest". The Attorney General and the Metropolitan police issued repeated warnings to the media that they should not identify the men.

But the Daily Star went ahead and named the men in an article headlined "Bramble is bailed", accompanied by a pixellated picture of the footballer.

Although the teenager did not see the article, Mr Havers argued that there was a substantial risk that she would have read it and, as a result, looked for photographs of the men. The girl, who was very drunk at the time of the alleged rape, did not know any of the individuals involved, but said she knew one of the men was called "Karl or Carl, or Carlton".

She told police that she had agreed to consensual sexual intercourse with one of the men, but had been forced into "another act of intercourse" with a different man.

While Mr Bramble and Mr Cole admitted to having engaged in consensual sexual acts with the teenager, her evidence as to "who did what" was considered "highly significant".

Andrew Caldecott, of Express Newspapers apologised to the court for the "blunder", which he blamed on the warnings not to name the men "simply being overlooked" by the newspaper.

Mark Stephens, a media lawyer, said: "This is a shot across the bows to all of the newspapers, but particularly the tabloid market, that they need to be more fearful particularly where there is a celebrity involved, because they are as entitled to an assumption of innocence as anybody else."

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