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Lawrence charge 'a slap on wrist'

Neville Lawrence has criticised a decision to prosecute a magazine for jeopardising his son's murder trial as "a slap on the wrist".

The Spectator, which printed an article containing prejudicial facts, said it would admit the offence and faces a fine of up to £5,000 by Westminster magistrates on June 7.

But Mr Lawrence said it should have been dealt with under contempt of court legislation, which could have seen the publisher jailed or face an unlimited fine.

Mr Lawrence said: "I am very disappointed by this outcome and think the charge should have been for a more serious offence. The article was published at a critical time at the start of the case when it was clear that any press comments could cause the trial to collapse.

"I understand that the maximum fine is £5,000, which is little more than a slap on the wrist for a magazine like The Spectator."

The Old Bailey judge in the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris, accused of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence, warned jurors not to read an article by Rod Liddle. He referred the article to the Attorney General for contempt and the two men were later convicted and jailed for life.

The Crown Prosecution Service announced that it had decided to charge The Spectator for breaching a court order under Section 83 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, said: "We apologised in court for this article in November, and accept that it transgressed the reporting restrictions then in place. The judge accepted our apology and we will not be contesting the CPS's decision."

Jocelyn Cockburn, acting for Mr Lawrence, said: "It was open to the Attorney General to go for a more serious contempt of court charge. His decision not to refer this charge to the CPS was based on his judgment that the course of justice was not seriously impeded or prejudiced by the article."

A spokesman for the Attorney General's office said: "The Attorney did consider the article in terms of the strict liability rule under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, but concluded that the matter was best dealt with in relation to the order under section 82, given the particular reporting."

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