The Guardian’s readers’ editor has questioned the paper’s decision to lead an application to the court to be able to name 16-year-old teacher killer Will Cornick.
Cornick admitted to killing his teacher, Ann Maguire, on 4 November and Mr Justice Coulson at Leeds Crown Court lifted an order banning his identification.
However, the judge did condemn press behaviour outside the court, telling how some journalists and photographers were seen "jumping onto the car bringing the Maguire family to court".
The application to name Cornick was led by The Guardian, with seven other news organisations involved.
In late April, The Sun was the only major media organisation to name Cornick, then 15, arguing he could be named because proceedings had not started.
That has not gone down well among some observers, according to readers’ editor Chris Elliott. And Elliott himself has called on The Guardian next time to “take a longer, harder look at the options”.
In his blog, Elliott highlights a comment from one reader who said they were “horrified to read today the self-satisfied tone in which the Guardian claimed credit for leading media calls for the killer of Ann Maguire to be publicly named”.
They asked: “Whose interest can it possibly serve that Cornick’s family will now be vilified? Is this what passes for crusading Guardian journalism nowadays?”
Elliott said it was not important that the newspaper “led” the legal challenge. He added: “However, what does matter is why the Guardian decided the application was the right thing to do, an issue that has also caused a debate within the Guardian. I have contacted the editors and reporter involved, and looked at the legal submission to the court. It is important to note that the Guardian is committed to open justice and regularly challenges reporting restrictions. Other killers who are children have been named in the past following their appearance in an adult court.”
He quotes an editor as saying: “We argue for open justice in a whole range of cases and at times ask for support from other media organisations. In this case the Guardian was one of seven. Open justice means that uncomfortable truths, such as the facts of a murder, enter the public domain, but the principle needs to be defended. It is important as we debate this issue that we also consider whether Cornick’s sentence at 20 years is appropriate, and whether in the light of cuts he will receive appropriate custodial care, ie rehabilitation.”
Elliott said: “Whatever the legal arguments, the Guardian has to be sure that its decision to go to court to have the boy named is consistent with the values it espouses and for which it is often criticised, not least when it puts its faith in the capacity for rehabilitation. The next time we are faced with a choice, I hope we take a longer, harder look at the options.”
In a footnote to his judgment on whether Cornick should be allowed to be named, Mr Justice Coulson described the “conduct of the press outside Leeds Crown Court prior to the hearing” as “shameful”.
He added: “This included a number of journalists and photographers jumping onto the car bringing the Maguire family to court. Experienced court staff were deeply shocked at this treatment of the victim's family. I made plain that I expected to be kept informed if there were any similar scenes involving the Cornick family, either outside court or later, and I said that I would regard any such behaviour as a contempt of court.”