'Outrageous' press coverage halts trial Papers face inquiry after trial collapses

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

The trial of Geoffrey Knights, lover of EastEnders actress Gillian Taylforth, was halted yesterday because of what the judge called "unfair, outrageous and oppressive" reporting.

A police investigation into claims of "improper collusion" between journalists and witnesses in the trial was then ordered by the Solicitor General Sir Derek Spencer.

Judge Roger Sanders, stopped the proceedings against Mr Knights because "unlawful, misleading, scandalous and malicious" pre-trial reporting meant he would not get a fair hearing.

Judge Sanders told Harrow Crown Court that a "grave abuse of process" by the media had forced him to "stay" Mr Knights' forthcoming trial on wounding and assault charges. This is believed to be the first time "adverse publicity" has been successfully cited as the sole reason for ordering criminal proceedings to be "stayed", a legal term meaning the case will never be heard.

Sir Derek also directed that the case papers be sent to the Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, so he could then consider contempt of court proceedings against the editors of the Sun, Today, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, the People, Daily Express and Daily Star.

Mr Knights, who has had a stormy on-off relationship with Ms Taylforth, was charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Martin Davies, the actress's driver, on Easter Sunday this year outside the couple's home in Whetstone, north London. He also faced an alternative charge of unlawful wounding, but had denied both counts at an earlier hearing.

Following Mr Knight's arrest and police charges, the tabloid press ran a series of reports carrying accounts of the alleged attack on Mr Davies and of alleged previous violent behaviour towards Ms Taylforth.

"From then on what one would have expected to be treated as sub judice became an opportunity for certain newspaper editors to take it upon themselves to try Mr Knights in their columns without giving him a hearing," the judge said.

After hearing pre-trial submissions from both sets of counsel last Friday, Judge Sanders told the court in a highly critical, eight-page judgment yesterday: "I have absolutely no doubt that the mass of media publicity in this case was unfair, outrageous and oppressive.

"I also believe that there are grounds for instituting proceedings against the editors concerned and there is an urgent need to investigate the possibility that certain journalists have colluded with and suborned prosecution witnesses."

A Mirror Group spokesman denied any of its titles had published stories with a substantial risk of seriously prejudicing the case. Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, said the newspaper took the Contempt of Court Act very seriously and would be mounting a "vigorous defence".