Newspapers warned over Thai story: Editors could breach code by paying for pardoned Britons' accounts of events

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The Independent Online
LORD McGREGOR, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, warned newspapers yesterday that to buy stories from either of the two women freed this week from a Thai prison would be a breach of the industry's code of practice, because they were still criminals.

He spoke out after Karyn Smith, 22, and Patricia Cahill, 20, arrived back in Britain. Miss Smith's family has retained the International Management Group, which represents top tennis and snooker players, to take bids for her story, but last night as her news value fell, she said she was not ready to talk.

Miss Cahill was driven away from Heathrow by men in suits, and neither she nor her parents were talking to the media. A news agency in Birmingham was believed to be considering bids for her story.

Instead of bidding, several daily newspapers condemned the women, and some spent yesterday preparing negative stories about them. Bridget Rowe - editor of the People, which had been involved in talks with the Cahill family - said last night that they had decided not to run Patricia's story.

On the flight home the women sipped champagne and gave several brief interviews to journalists on board, but avoided contentious areas, such as their feelings about each other, the identity of the Birmingham man who allegedly duped them into smuggling, or their deprivations in jail.

Miss Smith gave her first exclusive interview to the Birmingham Evening Mail, which had twice paid to fly her parents to Thailand, and established a close relationship with them.

Ian Dowell, the editor, who has had calls from angry readers this week, emphasised that he had not paid money for any stories, as he had explained in a front-page editorial on Tuesday. He said he could understand that the Smith family might want to sell its story to recoup the thousands of pounds spent on other visits to their daughter.

Miss Smith, who had pleaded guilty to smuggling heroin, had been sentenced to 25 years in jail, and Miss Cahill, who had denied the same charges, to 18 years. Both were pardoned after serving only three years, following John Major's personal intervention.

A condition of the Royal pardon was that both women formally accepted they had been guilty. West Midlands drug squad officers questioned them briefly at Heathrow, and said they would talk to them again when the women felt ready.

Yesterday, Lord McGregor issued a statement saying: 'The Prime Minister . . . rested his appeal to the King of Thailand solely on humanitarian grounds. Article 9 of the code of practice will therefore apply.'

The code states: 'Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information should not be made directly or through agents to witnesses or potential witnesses in current or criminal proceedings or to people engaged in crime or to their associates - which includes family, friends, neighbours and colleagues - except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and the payment is necessary for this to be done.'

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