A chief crown prosecutor has been asked by a judge to decide whether the BBC should be prosecuted after it broadcast the names of two juveniles charged with murder during TV news bulletins.
The identity of two boys aged 15 and 17, both charged with murder, were aired on BBC South Today at 6.30pm and 10.30pm alongside their locations despite a ban protecting them, a court heard last week.
Judge Ian Pringle explained how he had received an apologetic letter from Richard Spalding, editor of BBC South Today, who was present in the courtroom.
He said: “Last week – on July 29 – two young men appeared in front of Oxford magistrates charged with an offence of murder. They were sent to the crown court and an order was made under Section 45 (to protect their anonymity).
“On July 31, those two young men appeared in front of me for a preliminary hearing. The prosecution indicated that there was an order preventing anything leading to the identification of these young men, aged 15 and 17 years and I simply said I would make a fresh order.
“However, on the BBC news bulletin at 6.30pm and 10.30pm the names of the two young men were given along with their ages and their whereabouts, which is a clear breach of that order.
“I should add I received a letter from the BBC South Today Editor Richard Spalding, it was a fullsome apology. It detailed steps taken to make sure this serious error is never repeated. I fully accept that apology.”
In the tense courtroom were also sat the defence barristers: Rhianna Fricker for the 15-year-old boy and Kuljeet Dobe for the 17-year-old. They sat alongside Spalding, BBC senior news editor Declan Wilson and BBC legal director Nick Wilcox.
Mitigating for the BBC, Ben Gallop said: “I would like to highlight the seriousness with which the BBC takes this matter. The BBC recognises the importance of reporting restriction orders as an essential tool in protecting the welfare of young defendants in court and promoting open justice.
“The BBC is proud of its rigorous standards and this matter is one of great regret. All BBC South Today journalists will be receiving refresher training for court reporting and they will review the training already undertaken and if anything else which could be done it will be done.
“The BBC sincerely apologises and offers the reassurance that it will not be repeated.”
The two teenage boys were charged with killing Robin Williamson after he was attacked with a weapon outside a row of shops on Wood Farm, Oxford, on 27 October 2019. The 43-year-old was rushed to the John Radcliffe hospital but died on 12 November from his injuries.
The relatives of the 15-year-old said outside court: “This is a complete and utter nightmare. He is only aged 15 years but people think he’s older. He’s been through so much, he’s been let down by everyone. There better be some justice.”
Despite the BBC naming the teenagers, Judge Pringle ruled that it was not a contempt of court issue but a breach of Section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
“At first I thought it was a clear contempt punishable with a fine of any amount. However with further research, it is a breach and I must not treat it as contempt of court but instead I must pass the matter to the chief crown prosecutor.
“Had I been treating it as a contempt of court, the contempt would be fully purged. I will pass on the letter but it is their decision whether to prosecute or not. The trial is not until next year, hopefully no damage has been done,” the judge added.
The trial of the two teenagers has been set for 18 January 2021.
Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall