Sun fined £3,000 for Oldham gas explosion reporting breach

 

A national newspaper has been fined more than £3,000 for breaching reporting restrictions when it published a story about a man accused of causing a huge explosion which killed a two-year-old boy.

A district judge questioned whether the maximum fine available to him was high enough after The Sun admitted breaching restrictions following Andrew Partington's appearance at Oldham Magistrates' Court last year accused of manslaughter and other offences.

Partington, 28, was later jailed for 10 years for causing the explosion in Oldham in June last year which obliterated his house and neighbouring properties and killed toddler Jamie Heaton.

Today, Manchester Magistrates' Court heard that the newspaper published a report of Partington's first appearance before magistrates which included many details of the evidence against him.

The court heard that these included the content of text messages Partington sent which "formed the crux of the prosecution case".

These details had been outlined in court as the defendant applied to be released on bail but strict reporting restrictions prevent all but basic details of cases being published at this stage of a prosecution in order to stop potential jurors becoming prejudiced.

District Judge Jonathan Taaffe said The Sun's report on September 11 last year "clearly went beyond what was permitted".

He told the court: "I recognise that the press provide and perform a valuable function in our society.

"The facts surrounding the explosion in Oldham were both newsworthy and subject of intense public interest."

But he added: "It's in circumstances such as these that it's absolutely necessary for the press to behave responsibility and comply with the law."

The district judge said a failure to do this could result in guilty people walking free or "the innocent having their reputations trashed".

Turning to the report in The Sun, he said: "This was at best shoddy journalism and at worst it's an example of sensational reporting in a bid to generate short-term headlines and, no doubt, financial gain."

Mr Taaffe imposed a fine of £3,350 and ordered the paper to pay costs of £500 and a victim surcharge of £120.

He said the maximum fine was £5,000 - usually for a defendant who was found guilty after a trial.

He said: "Many will feel this (the potential maximum fine) doesn't reflect the serious nature of the behaviour of The Sun."

Earlier, Jonathan Caplan QC, defending News Group Newspapers, said the newspaper fully admitted its error and had apologised to the court at the time through the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

He said an online version was withdrawn when the CPS pointed out the error.

The barrister also pointed out that Partington had indicated at the magistrates' court that he was going to plead guilty to the offences and had made a number of admissions to the police.

But Mr Caplan accepted that this was no guarantee there would not be a trial before a jury and was "not in any way a justification".

The company pleaded guilty to one count of "reporting matters in contravention of a reporting restriction" contrary to Section 52A of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

It had been charged with two counts - one in relation to the newspaper and another in relation to its website - but the one relating to online publication was withdrawn today.

The court heard that The Sun has never breached this Act before, nor is there any record of it breaching the more commonly prosecuted Magistrates' Court Act 1980.

Mr Caplan said training had been arranged for in-house lawyers in the wake of the mistake.

"I repeat the apology," he said.

"My client takes this seriously. It was an error and they have pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity."

He added: "This article should not have been published."

Mr Caplan asked for 28 days to pay the fine but Mr Taaffe ordered it to be paid within a week.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive - West London - £35,000

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A luxury fashion retailer based in W...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable