Paper accused over trial report

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A judge has reported the Daily Mail to the Attorney General for possible contempt of court after a trial had to be aborted as the jury was due to retire to consider a verdict.

The newspaper had published a report on the morning of the fourth day of the Old Bailey trial of Stephen King, who was accused of recklessly starting a fire on the property of his ex-girlfriend's family. The report included details which the jury had not been told and which, both prosecution and defence counsel agreed, could have prejudiced its verdict.

The paper apologised to the judge, Recorder James Chadwin, for the error. But the judge decided yesterday to refer the matter to the Attorney General. "There has been here, it is conceded, a degree of negligence - possibly characterised as incompetence - but certainly falling below the reporting standards that those who sit in this court have come to accept from the press," he said. The consequences were "enormous and disastrous".

King had admitted setting fire to furniture near his ex-girlfriend Gemma Jones's home in Kingswood, Surrey, but had denied the more serious charge that he started the fire while being reckless to whether life would be endangered.

He was formally found not guilty of that charge after the jury was discharged yesterday. The prosecution had considered asking for a re-trial but decided against it because Miss Jones and her father felt unable to go through with another trial.

King, 25, a DJ from Sutton, Surrey, has also admitted damaging property and displaying a pornographic picture of Miss Jones in public. He is due to be sentenced at the end of this month and faces a jail term.