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Blanket ban a grave violation of Press freedom that gives killers anonymity we don't think is justified

By Martin Hill

Published 19/02/2016

The Belfast Telegraph is today banned from showing Christopher 'Joker' Doherty's face by a seven-year-old court order granted to four convicted killers.

Doherty, Thomas McCabe - who laughed after he battered a teenager to death, and Samuel 'Buck' Henry, jailed for killing his father-in-law, were granted a High Court injunction in 2009 preventing our sister newspaper Sunday Life from publishing their photographs.

The legal action followed an application by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to stop the newspaper printing unpixelated pictures of notorious sex killer Ken Callaghan, who raped and murdered a 22-year-old neighbour in east Belfast.

The paper had photographed him as he strolled through Belfast city centre while on day release from jail.

Doherty was sitting casually having a cup of coffee with Callaghan when journalists caught up with him.

Lawyers for Sunday Life argued in court that the paper wanted to show Callaghan's photograph as part of a campaign to alert people who may come into contact with him.

But Mr Justice Stephens, sitting in the Queen's Bench Division, ruled that publishing the unpixelated photographs of Callaghan would identify the killer's precise whereabouts. "The publication will increase the risk to the public by disrupting the first plaintiff (Callaghan's) home, employment and support networks," he added.

"Such disruption is recognised as factors increasing the risk of reoffending and, therefore, the risk of harm to the public."

The judge found that monitoring and supervision was being carried out by the Prison Service, the police and Probation Service.

"In effect, the defendant (the newspaper) is seeking to introduce its own Megan's Law, irrespective of whether it is in the public interest and without proper regard for the accuracy of what they have published," Mr Justice Stephens added.

Megan's Law is the informal name given to the US statute that requires law enforcement agencies to publish information about the movements of registered sex offenders.

The High Court also acceded to an application from the NIO to issue a ban on Independent News and Media - the publisher of the Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life - from printing a photograph of any serving prisoner who is attending, or has attended, its Prisoner Assessment Unit in Belfast without first giving 48 hours' notice of its intention.

The injunction further banned papers publishing details of the prisoners' home addresses, their parents' or siblings' addresses, their places of work and their travel arrangements.

The order in effect amounted to a blanket ban on any newspaper publishing any photograph of any prisoner who is at the assessment centre without the NIO's consent.

Seven years on, Christopher Doherty's face is still hidden behind that judicial gagging order.

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