Magistrates made an order giving lifelong anonymity to a teenage alleged murder victim, lifting it only after media organisations protested.
The order was made yesterday at South Cheshire Magistrates’ Court, in Crewe, when 18-year-old Matthew Mason appeared charged with murdering Alex Rodda (pictured).
The 15-year-old’s body was found outside in Ashley Mill Lane, in the village of Ashley, shortly before 8am on Friday.
Prosecutor Debbie Byrne asked the court to make the order to give Rodda anonymity.
She told the magistrates: “The court will be aware the victim is aged 15 and in any case involving a young person under the age of 18 procedurally it’s proper that I make an application under section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 for a press restriction dealing with the matter of the identity of the young man.
“I am aware and the police are aware that his name is already in the public domain but the court are asked to consider a reporting restriction at this stage in the case as it makes its way to the Crown.”
On Saturday – the day after Rodda’s body was found – his family issued a photograph of him, and a tribute, through Cheshire Police.
The image was widely used with reports about the case in regional and national newspapers, on TV, and appeared on the internet over the weekend and on the morning of the hearing.
PA reporter Eleanor Barlow, speaking on behalf of the journalists covering the hearing, said the court had no power to make the order Byrne sought because Rodda was dead.
She also drew the court’s attention to the guidance Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts, published by the Judicial College, which said that before making such an order the court had to be satisfied that the welfare of the child outweighed the strong public interest in open justice – which could not be the case if the teenager had died.
His identity had been widely reported over the weekend, she added, meaning that imposing a reporting restriction now would be pointless.
The magistrates retired for about ten minutes to consider the issue, then returned, with chairman of the David Griffith saying: “We heard what the press here had to say in this case. We believe there is more than one victim in this case.
“The family are also victims and we are protecting them by making this order and their welfare, as much as possible.
“The judge can agree with us on Wednesday or not.”
PA Media legal editor Mike Dodd immediately contacted the court by phone and email, pointing out to officials that the order was invalid as Rodda was dead.
In addition, while Byrne apparently sought an order under s45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, the court actually issued an order under s45A, which allows a court to give lifelong anonymity to a juvenile appearing before it.
The order handed out by the court named Rodda as the person who was being anonymised and added that it was in effect for his lifetime.
But shortly before lunchtime Andrew Pickering, Acting Deputy Justices Clerk for Cheshire, who is based in Warrington, alerted journalists to the fact that the magistrates had reconsidered and withdrawn the order.
Asked by Dodd for an explanation of what had happened, he responded in an email: “I’m obviously unaware of what was discussed/provided to the court by the press in court, but having provided the court with additional information about reporting restrictions and case law on the issue, the magistrates reconsidered the matter and accepted the original decision was wrong.
“Can I apologise on behalf of HMCTS and the court for any delay that this has meant from a press perspective in reporting the court proceedings today.
“The information provided to court staff will be circulated around the Cheshire area to hopefully ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson said: “An application was made for a reporting restriction in this case, which we now accept was done in error.”
PA Media Lawyer commented: “This was an order which should never have been made, and which the prosecutor should never have sought.”
CPS guidance for prosecutors, entitled Reporting Restrictions – Children and Young People as Victims, Witnesses and Defendants, states: “A Section 45 order cannot be made in relation to children who are deceased. This is because for an individual to be concerned in proceedings they must be alive.”
In addition, Rodda had already been widely identified in news reports, with his photograph widely used.
The chairman of the bench also appeared to be using the order in an attempt to protect the teenager’s family, which was a misuse of the legislation.
Mason, of Ash Lane, Ollerton, near Knutsford, will appear tomorrow at Chester Crown Court. He is also charged with possession of a bladed article in a public place.
Picture: Cheshire Constabulary/PA Wire