Belfast Telegraph

Bid to identify Belfast baby murder accused fails

By Alan Erwin

A press challenge to the ban on revealing the identity of a woman charged with murdering her baby has failed.

Lawyers for the Belfast Telegraph's publishers attempted to have reporting restrictions lifted, claiming the public has a right to know full details in the case.

With a consultant psychiatrist warning that naming the accused would increase the risk of her committing suicide, a judge ruled that the anonymity order is reasonable and proportionate.

The 31-year-old woman was arrested by detectives investigating the infant's death in Belfast earlier this year. She was charged with murder and has been held at a psychiatric unit ever since. Temporary reporting restrictions were imposed to protect her anonymity based on her suicidal state.

The psychiatrist treating the accused said she is suffering from severe mental illness and at real and immediate risk of taking her own life.

Publishing the woman's name in the press would be the "tipping point" for her to attempt suicide, it was claimed.

Even though staff in the unit watch the defendant 24 hours a day, the doctor insisted opportunities could still arise.

Counsel for the newspaper argued that under her current regime the risk would not be increased through being named.

It was also contended that the whole point of reporting criminal cases was for the public to know who has been charged with the most heinous of offences.

Judge Fiona Bagnall said she was compelled to accept the medical opinion that publication of the defendant's name at this stage would materially increase the risk of suicide.

"I accept that there are no further steps which can be reasonably taken by the psychiatric unit if they are to continue to treat the defendant as opposed to simply incarcerating her, which is not their purpose."

Although the judge disagreed with defence contentions that prohibiting publication of the woman's identity was a "modest" step, she said the press can still report every stage of the court proceedings.

The reporting restrictions can also be reviewed at any stage if and when the defendant's mental state improves.

Confirming the anonymity order, Judge Bagnall said: "In the circumstances of this case I consider the restriction of publication of the defendant's identity to be a reasonable and proportionate measure at this time."

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