Newspapers 'defy law' in reports about boy suspect: Contempt charges sought after publication of name and photo

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The Independent Online
SOLICITORS acting for a teenager accused of murder have written to the Attorney General demanding that two newspapers who identified the boy be prosecuted for contempt of court.

Legal representatives said the case against their client, a 16-year-old boy who is on the run after escaping from a hostel in west London, had been 'seriously prejudiced' by reports in the Sun and the Evening Standard, jeopardising his chances of a fair trial.

Mike Snow, of Farrell, Matthews and Weir, the firm acting for the boy, has also asked police to prosecute. He said yesterday: 'The behaviour of these two papers has been deplorable. There is no excuse for it because it is in everyone's interest that my client receives a fair trial.'

Senior police are believed to have wanted to publicise the boy's name and picture to assist their search following his escape but were hampered by Section 49 of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act which dictates that people under 18 involved in criminal proceedings should remain anonymous.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is empowered to use his discretion to relax the rule, but only for the benefit of the young person. The public interest is not taken into account.

On Monday, the Evening Standard published an article drawing attention to the paper's inability to name the escaped youth and quoted Mr Howard as saying that he would be reviewing the law 'as a matter of urgency'. Yesterday morning, the Sun published the boy's name and photograph. It said it had decided to break the law because a senior police official had said he was 'very dangerous'.

The Standard then abandoned its previously circumspect approach and published a colour photograph of the boy, next to an interview with the aunt of a murder victim. It claimed in a leading article to be acting within the law.

Stewart Steven, editor of the Standard, said the paper had taken the advice of a QC that it could 'on balance' publish the name and stay within the law. Stuart Higgins, deputy editor of the Sun, said he believed his paper acted in the public interest.