An attempt to prosecute The Sun for allegedly breaching an order under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 failed after a mix-up over names.
A court issued summonses after the paper published a pixellated picture of a child involved in the case in which paedophile rapist Alan Webster, 40, was jailed for life with a minimum term of six years and his girlfriend, Tanya French, who was then 19, was jailed for five years.
It is understood that the child was covered by an anonymity order under section 39 – but it was alleged that despite the pixellation the child was recognisable.
The case ended after it emerged that the wrong company was being prosecuted – and by the time the error was realised, it was too late for police or the court to re-start the process.
The Sun is understood to have used a pixellated picture of the child early last year, in its coverage of the story after Webster and French were convicted and sentenced for a catalogue of sexual offences involving a baby.
Tom Crone, The Sun’s legal manager, said: “Had the case not been dismissed on the technicality, The Sun would have entered a not guilty plea on the basis that that the child was not recognisable from the pixellated picture.”
Webster was jailed for life in January 2006 after pleading guilty to rape, indecent assault, permitting indecent images to be taken of a child and making indecent images. He had also admitted a separate charge of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl.
French was jailed for five years and given an extended licence period of five years after admitting the same charges.
Webster’s minimum term of six years was increased to eight years by the Court of Appeal in June after an application by the Attorney General, but French’s was left as it was.
Hertfordshire Constabulary launched an investigation after it was alleged that the child could be identified despite the pixellation.
A spokeswoman for the force said: “We can confirm that Hertfordshire Constabulary led an investigation to establish if any offence had been committed by News International, The Sun newspaper and editor of The Sun newspaper in relation to the apparent publication of images of a child.
“Summonses were drawn in respect of alleged offences but following a legal technicality, they were withdrawn and no proceedings are to follow.”
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: “While preparing this case it came to our attention that the police had provided the wrong name to the court, causing it to issue an incorrect summons. Hence no prosecution was possible.”
It is understood that prosecutors obtained summonses against News International Newspapers Ltd, the firm which owns the presses on which The Sun is printed, rather than against News Group Newspapers Ltd, which actually publishes the newspaper.
By the time the error was realised, it was too late to re-start the process.
The case is the second time in less than two years that a mix-up over the name of The Sun’s publisher has led to a prosecution failing.
On June 1, 2005, magistrates at Huntingdon dismissed a case alleging that the newspaper had identified the victim of a sexual assault because the case was brought against News International – and there was no such company.