Press condemned over Nickell arrest coverage

THE ATTORNEY General, Sir Nicholas Lyell, is being asked to initiate contempt of court proceedings against a number of newspapers over their coverage of the arrest of a man in connection with the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common.

A 26-year-old photography student from Liverpool was released by detectives in south London last night after being formally eliminated from the inquiry. He was immediately rearrested by Merseyside Police investigating a rape committed in Liverpool in August 1991, and was expected to be charged last night.

Robert Broudie, the man's solicitor, described the publicity surrounding the first arrest, on Sunday, as disgraceful and prejudicial. 'I am definitely writing to the Attorney General and will ask him to investigate possible breaches of the Contempt of Court Act,' he said.

Detectives from London, Merseyside CID and Merseyside Number One Regional Crime Squad held a joint surveillance operation in the Sefton Park area of Liverpool over last weekend before arresting the student on Sunday.

A statement issued by Merseyside Police after the arrest gave the suspect's age, stated that he was a photography student who was originally from London, that he lived in a flat with his girlfriend and her two children, and named the road in which he lived.

He and his parents, who live near Wimbledon Common, were subsequently named by a number of newspapers, and photographs of the man's girlfriend and at least one of her children were published.

The Contempt of Court Act prohibits publication of material if it is likely to create a substantial risk of serious prejudice or impediment to proceedings where those proceedings are active. The Act says proceedings are active when a person is arrested.

'There is something seriously wrong with police procedures when so much information, including an address, is released about a man who is simply being questioned,' Mr Broudie said. 'The subsequent media coverage was absolutely disgraceful.'

Insp Ray Simpson, of Merseyside Police, said it was normal to give out some background details of a suspect but he emphasised that the man's name was never released.