Addresses withheld because court 'isn't sure they're right'

Burton Mail chief reporter David Powles has blasted Nottingham Crown Court for refusing to issue the addresses of convicted criminals.

It follows a case that almost led to him libelling an innocent woman while trying to discover the address of a convicted criminal.

A freelance for the Mail was in court to witness the conviction of a Mrs Smith for actual bodily harm — but the court said it would only give the names of towns and cities rather than full addresses because it could "not guarantee they were right".

Anxious to get the address right, Powles tracked down two Burton women with the defendant's name on the electoral register. He contacted one of them, along with her neighbours, to explain that he was trying to eliminate her from his enquiries.

He said: "I was keen not to give up, though, for two reasons. One, the public has a right to know where this woman, who was convicted of ABH, lives — and two, all sorts of identification issues could occur if we put ‘Mrs Smith, of Burton'."

Powles did eliminate the woman, but she later rang him complaining that her neighbour had understood that it was she who was the criminal.

He said: "All this could have been avoided if the court and the CPS adhered to their basic duty of informing the public where criminals are from.

"Why should someone who is convicted of a crime deserve not to have their address published?"

Nottingham Evening Post editor Graham Glen (pictured) said his "patience was running out" with the court and that the paper's lawyers have been involved in trying to reverse the court's decision.

The executive director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, said administration problems in the court should not affect the proper reporting of proceedings.

He added: "It's a vital principle of our system that justice must be seen to be done and that justice must be open."

A Nottingham Crown Court spokesman said the matter was being looked into.

What the law says

There is no statutory provision that a defendant's address be read out in open court, but should a bone fide journalist request the information, a court should normally oblige.

There are certain considerations that should be satisfied before doing so, such as whether there are any reporting restrictions.

McNae's Essential Law for Journalists refers to a case in 2000 when Judge David Clarke rejected an order banning publication of the addresses of three defendents charged with child abuse on the grounds they would be at risk of attack.

McNae's states: "Judge Clarke said he was not able to find any special factors justifying an exemption to the normal rule… He said: ‘It is important to remember that if a name is published without an address, a reader might be misled in the belief that another person with the same name is involved rather than the true defendant.

This is a real danger, particularly where the defendents bear common names such as my own.'"

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