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  1. Media Law
July 3, 2018

Attorney General issues warning to the press over Hillsborough trial coverage

By Sam Forsdick

The Attorney General has issued a warning to editors and publishers ahead of the trial of six people accused of offences linked with the Hillsborough disaster.

In his media advisory notice Jeremy Wright QC MP  (pictured) reminded editors to take note of the contempt of court act and not to publish information that could prejudice proceedings and jeopardise the defendants’ right to a fair trial.

The notice said: “The Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC MP wishes to draw attention to the requirement not to publish material, including online, which could create a substantial risk that the course of justice in these proceedings may be seriously impeded or prejudiced, thereby jeopardising the defendants’ right to a fair trial.

“In particular, the Attorney General draws attention to the requirement not to publish material that asserts or assumes, expressly or implicitly, the guilt of any of those who face trial, whether in relation to the events of the 15th of April 1989 or to subsequent events.

“That is an issue to be determined solely by the three juries on the evidence that they hear in court.”

The six defendants, announced by the Crown Prosecution Service last year, include former police chief constable, Norman Bettison, Sheffield Wednesday chief executive, Graham Mackrell who was in charge of safety for Hillsborough stadium, former South Yorkshire police solicitor Peter Metcalf, former chief superintendent Donald Denton and former detective chief inspector Alan Foster, both of South Yorkshire Police.

Also standing trial is David Duckenfield, match commander for South Yorkshire Police on the day of the disaster, who stands charged with 95 accounts of gross negligence and manslaughter.

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Duckenfield is unable to be charged with the manslaughter of the 96th casualty as Anthony Bland died almost four years after the Hillsborough disaster.

Wright added: “The risks may also arise by commentary which prejudges issues that witnesses may give evidence about or which asserts or assumes wrongdoing on the part of organisations by whom the defendants were employed.

“The Attorney General’s Office will be monitoring the coverage of these proceedings.”

Wright has encouraged members of the media to take legal advice to make sure that anything published complies with the Contempt of Court Act and added: “They are also reminded of the terms of the order made under section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.”

Section 4(2) of the act stipulates: “In any such proceedings the court may, where it appears to be necessary for avoiding a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those proceedings, or in any other proceedings pending or imminent, order that the publication of any report of the proceedings, or any part of the proceedings, be postponed for such period as the court thinks necessary for that purpose.”

Duckenfield and Mackrell were due to stand trial on 10 September at Preston Crown Court but the hearing has now been adjourned until 14 January.

They will now both be asked to enter a plea at a pre-trial hearing on 10 September.

Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

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