Tabloids in court over trial prejudice

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The Attorney General was yesterday given the go-ahead to take legal action against five national newspapers over their pre-trial coverage of a case involving Geoffrey Knights, boyfriend of the actress Gillian Taylforth.

His trial on a charge of wounding with intent the EastEnders star's driver, Martin Davies, was halted last October by a judge who ruled that "unfair, outrageous and oppressive" publicity meant he would not be able to receive a fair hearing.

In what will be an important test of contempt law, the High Court gave Sir Nicholas Lyell the right to pursue five tabloids - the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, the Sun, the Daily Star and the now defunct Today.

Yesterday, Philip Havers QC, for the Attorney General, claimed in the High Court that the newspapers had pre-judged the case against Mr Knights "created a substantial risk" of prejudice.

He said that articles about the 41-year-old businessman and 39-year-old Miss Taylforth began to appear the day after Mr Knights was charged in April and covered issues which would have gone before a trial jury.

The newspapers were not represented at yesterday's brief hearing. When the case comes to court, Sir Nicholas will seek heavy fines.

The newspapers are all expected to contest the proceedings, arguing that the articles did not jeopardise a fair trial and relying on a previous court ruling on the resilience of juries.