A woman who ambushed a journalist outside court to try and stop her reporting her latest crime has been jailed for three years.
Tegan Philips “exploded” and mugged freelance court reporter Wendy Barlow after seeing her taking notes during her case at Burnley Magistrates’ Court on 10 September last year.
The 21-year-old “stalked” Barlow to a nearby car park and then burst out of some bushes in front of her vehicle, shouting: “Have you been writing about me?”
Philips (pictured) repeatedly demanded Barlow wind down the window and hand over her notebook, then pulled open the door when she refused.
Barlow, 60, ignored further demands for her notepad and was then dragged out of her car and pulled to the ground by Philips as she tried to wrestle her ignition key from her hand, a court was told.
Preston Crown Court heard how the assault only ended when a solicitor heard the victim shouting for help and Philips let Barlow go as he went over. Philip then stole Barlow’s iPad from her car and walked off with it.
The court was told Barlow suffered soreness to her right side and was too afraid to go to work after the ordeal.
The victim told the court that she had been particularly vulnerable at the time of the attack as she had been recovering physically and emotionally after being diagnosed with early stage breast cancer the previous year.
Barlow had surgery for the third time just three months before the attack.
Philips, a “persistent offender” with a record mainly for criminal damage and fighting with police officers, had appeared before justices on the day of the assault for head-butting two house windows.
The court was told the defendant has an emotionally unstable personality disorder and was detained under the Mental Health Act after the offence.
She did not tell the police what she did with the iPad and it was never recovered. Barlow suspects the defendant, who was caught on CCTV with what appeared to be an iPad in her hand, threw it into the nearby canal.
Francis McEntee, prosecuting, said Philips had sought Barlow out after she left the court, asking security staff: “Where has that woman gone?”.
He said: “Ms Barlow had thought she might be seriously hurt.”
Barlow, who has covered the courts for national and local newspapers and websites for more than 30 years, read out her victim statement to the court herself at the sentencing hearing on 23 October.
The journalist, who started her career at the Rossendale Free Press in East Lancashire and qualified in 1983, described how she had gone through a “catalogue of traumatic events” before the offence and could have done without the stress and upset of yet another.
She told how she was in shock, distressed and shaking after the assault, she was tearful for much of the rest of the day and found it impossible to sleep because of flashbacks.
Barlow said: “In the days after the attack, I was very nervous going about my daily business. I was scared and worried about going to work in Burnley, as Philips was not on any bail conditions after her arrest. Indeed, such was my concern I did not go to work for two weeks.”
But she added: “…I have known and had to face head-on some really tough challenges in my life in recent times, they haven’t broken me and neither will Tegan Philips.”
Barlow told the hearing: “This case, of course, is not just about me. The hearing and sentence passed today will be watched with interest by my colleagues. This offence was a direct attack on the right of journalists to carry out our jobs, by a defendant intent on trying to prevent the lawful reporting of her case.
“Reporters have long been allowed to cover criminal courts, whether defendants like it or not and they cannot dictate to us what we do. It is our job to inform the public and it is vital that our freedom to carry out our jobs is not interfered with.
“Nobody has the right to use violence and intimidation to try and silence us, whatever their views on what we do, and we are entitled, like everybody else, to be protected by the law as we go about our lawful duties.”
Lucy Wright, defending Philips, told the court Philips had a “tendency to act impulsively,” and described the offence as “awful”. She said: “It was a behavioural explosion, triggered by the fear there would be information about her in the press. She accepts she was entirely wrong.”
Philips, from Lime Street, Clitheroe, pleaded guilty to robbery at an earlier hearing. She had previously been before the courts seven times, convicted of 14 offences.
Sentencing Philips, Recorder Nick Clarke, QC, told her: “You had seen Wendy Barlow making notes, as she was entitled to, and you did not wish her to publicise any further [details about your] involvement in crime. You intentionally stalked her to her car, determined to try to stop her.”
He told Philips her history of violent and aggressive outbursts aggravated the case. “Open justice requires reporting and the court must protect those who carry out this important role,” he said.
“It would be inappropriate to do anything other than impose an immediate custodial sentence.”
After the hearing, Barlow, from Greater Manchester, said: “I take no pleasure in seeing a troubled young woman locked up.
“However, in imposing the three-year sentence today, the judge has sent out the message that violence against journalists reporting on the work of the criminal justice system – and therefore carrying out a key role in open justice – will not be tolerated.”
She added: “I have been subjected to a lot of verbal abuse and a few threats over the years, but nothing remotely like this has ever happened before…
“I do believe Philips is genuinely sorry. She pleaded guilty and turned up to face the music and that helps me to move on.”