Mail blames court blunders for name ban on sex offender

The Oxford Mail has won a two-month fight to name an offender who tried to have sex with a 12-year-old girl.

In what it describes as a battle over "the legal principle against court staff blunders", the paper pointed out that the powers did not exist for the court’s attempt to impose a Section 39 order, banning the identification of 23-year-old Christian Gaisford.

The order was, according to the Mail, handed to its reporter on a "scrap of paper".

The daily paper then challenged a Section 11 order, imposed under the Contempt of Court Act, on the grounds the defendant was "a vulnerable man who could be bullied in prison and/or might kill himself".

The newspaper faced more problems because the recorder had not specified which power he had used and there was no copy of the order.

Group news editor Jason Collie said: "It seemed like we were fighting on shifting sands of any old power thrown in to cover all bases."

The Mail argued that fears for the safety of the defendant were not exceptional as he had been detained at a normal prison for 15 months and named in open court and on the court list.

Newsquest’s head of legal affairs, Simon Westrop, represented the paper at the main hearing and put forward to the judge that common law powers covered how a court conducted its own hearings and were not binding on a third party, for example the media.

Gaisford’s barrister argued common law could be used and that Gaisford had been influenced by his girlfriend.

He added that the use of Section 11 was vindicated by the fact that if the defendant killed himself before his sentence ended, then the administration of justice would be frustrated.

In a reserved decision, Judge McIntyre agreed with the Mail that only statutory powers could be used against the press and that neither Sections 4(2) nor 11 were applicable.

Collie said: "It became bigger than simply naming Gaisford — it was a matter of principle. If we had left it in the ‘too hard’ basket then at Oxford Crown Court we would have had similar claims of risk to defendants used against us.

"Now we have the legal battle out of the way, we’ll sit down with the court hierarchy to go over this scrap of paper we were handed, the lack of any paper trail on the original order and the fact they managed to break their own order, while it was in force, twice by publishing his name on their The newspaper labelled the judge’s decision "disgraceful" internet lists."

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