Sisters pledge to take Press battle to Lords

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The Independent Online
Michelle and Lisa Taylor yesterday failed to have contempt of court proceedings brought against several national newspapers for prejudicial and sensationalised reporting of their murder trial three years ago.

The sisters, who had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal last year, were seeking judicial review of a decision by the Solicitor General that contempt proceedings against the Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and Daily Express were "not appropriate".

But two High Court judges ruled that the Solicitor General's action, taken on behalf of the Government's chief law officer the Attorney General, was not open to legal challenge. Lord Justice Stuart Smith said that even if they had had jurisdiction to intervene they would not have done so as the decision not to prosecute was neither "irrational nor unlawful". Mr Justice Butterfield added that he agreed, even though offending newspapers had "crossed the acceptable limits ".

The sisters, from Forest Hill in south London, were convicted in July 1992, of the murder of Alison Shaughnessy, wife of Michelle's former lover. However, the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions in June last year after finding material irregularities at the trial and that prejudicial press publicity made the verdicts "safe and unsatisfactory". Papers were sent to the Attorney General to consider whether contempt proceedings should be brought. Although the 1981 Contempt of Court Act makes it an offence for the media to report anything that carries a "substantial risk of prejudice", the Solicitor General chose not to act. Last December, the sisters were granted leave to seek judicial review of that decision.

During the two-day hearing last week, Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing the sisters, said that a signal had to be sent out to prevent newspapers from embarking "on the downward path" of the OJ Simpson trial.

The sisters were particularly aggrieved at an article in the Sun which carried the headline "Cheat's Kiss", in which a still from a wedding video showed Michelle kissing the murdered woman's husband.

The video showed it be a quick peck, but the papers froze it at the moment of contact to make it seem like a lingering kiss.

Mark Stephens, the Taylors' solicitor, said the case remained one of great constitutional importance which would be pursued to the House of Lords. He added: "There were known difficulties we were going to face here with an Attorney General who from the dim distant past has remained unaccountable for his actions if he gets the law wrong or is procedurally unfair."

The sisters said they felt "quite chuffed" with the ruling. Lisa Taylor said: "Although we may not have won today, we've made it known that the press can't get away with it."

Clive Soley, a Labour MP and campaigner on press issues, said: "The press must cover trials impartially. That doesn't mean newspapers can so distort their coverage that innocent people end up in jail."

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