Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Bellfield articles 'prejudicial'

Two papers face contempt of court action over coverage of Levi Bellfield's conviction for the murder of Milly Dowler
Two papers face contempt of court action over coverage of Levi Bellfield's conviction for the murder of Milly Dowler

Two national newspapers published "seriously prejudicial" articles after a killer's conviction for the abduction and murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the High Court has heard.

Stories in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror were part of an "avalanche" of adverse publicity which followed the guilty verdicts against Levi Bellfield - while jurors were still deliberating another charge against him, two judges in London were told.

Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Tugendhat heard at the start of contempt of court proceedings brought against the two papers by the Attorney General that, as a result of the "totality" of the publicity, the Old Bailey jury was discharged from returning a verdict on that count.

The charge alleged that the day before Bellfield snatched Milly from a street in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, in 2002, he attempted to abduct Rachel Cowles, then aged 11.

David Perry QC, for Attorney General Dominic Grieve, told the judges: "The court heard evidence both from Rachel Cowles and her mother, and the seriousness of the attempted kidnap allegedly committed against Miss Cowles, bearing in mind what happened to Milly Dowler the following day, does not need elaborating.

"However, as a result of the totality of the adverse publicity ... the jury were discharged from returning a verdict in relation to the allegation of attempted kidnap."

Opening the Attorney General's case against the Mail and the Mirror, Mr Perry said: "Each of these national newspapers published seriously prejudicial material after a jury had retired to consider its verdicts, but before the jury had concluded its deliberations, on a count of attempted kidnap in a high-profile criminal trial, namely the trial of Levi Bellfield."

Bellfield, who was previously convicted in 2008 of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy, was found guilty on June 23 last year of Milly's murder.

Mr Perry said that following the guilty verdicts in the Milly case there was "extensive media coverage" in print, television and online.

The Attorney General considered that the articles in the Mirror and the Mail were "given particular prominence" and "clearly and in themselves gave rise to a substantial risk that the course of justice would be seriously impeded". The newspapers are contesting the action and argue that their publications would not have created a substantial risk of serious prejudice.

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