'Sun' backs down over naming minister's son

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The Independent Online
Legal confusion over identifying the cabinet minister's son allegedly caught dealing in drugs intensified after an injunction banning publication of his name. As police reject claims of political pressure, Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, looks at the continuing row.

The Sun newspaper said yesterday that it would not appeal against an injunction won by the Attorney-General preventing it from naming the 17- year-old son of a cabinet minister accused of dealing in drugs.

But questions were raised about the "appearance" of double standards of seeking legal action when - albeit under a previous administration - such action had not been taken in previous cases.

When a 16-year-old roads protester known as "Animal" was arrested and charged with obstruction in January last year she was widely named in the media. No injunction was sought by law officers to prevent her being named, say critics. At the time, the Home Office was reported to be considering a change in the law, but no action was taken.

The White Paper on Youth Justice, published by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, last year, called for "more openness"in youth court proceedings. It stated: "Justice is best served in an open court where the criminal process can be scrutinised and the offender cannot hide behind a cloak of anonymity."

On Tuesday evening, Mr Justice Moses granted the Attorney-General, John Morris QC, an injunction banning the Sun from publishing the name of the minister's son. He ruled that while the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 protecting a juvenile's identity in court proceedings did not apply, under the law of contempt publication could prejudice a trial, add to the burden of any sentence and wrongly stop the trial judge banning publication of identity during the case.

Media lawyer Dan Te solicitors Lovell White Durrant, said the ruling "strained" the law of contempt as previously understood. Walter Greenwood, editor of Essential Law for Journalists, praised the integrity of the Attorney-General, but said the seeking of the injunction "gave the appearance of double standards".

The Sun said yesterday it had been considering whether to challenge the legal ban but had decided against it. Some observers saw the paper's failed attempt to publish the name as a ploy to draw attention from the rival Mirror, which ran the story before Christmas.

Paul Cavadino, principal officer of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, defended the injunction, adding: "It is important to remember that the anonymity rule exists to protect juvenile defendants, not to protect their parents from embarrassment."

Sources close to the minister say he would be willing to talk about the matter if he were not constrained by the law. He is bound by the injunction.

The Tory spokesman on home affairs, Sir Brian Mawhinney, said the case had become a "slow torture process" for the cabinet minister's family.

Meanwhile, Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Brian Hayes has rejected claims of political pressure over the case, including the arrest of Mirror reporter Dawn Alford who broke the story. Ms Alford's arrest was part of normal police practice and had not been ordered by the Crown Prosecution Service, although they had been consulted as is usual at "all stages of complex or high profile cases", he said. Sir Brian said police sent the case file to the CPS yesterday.