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Anonymity granted for child defendants in Angela Wrightson murder trial

R v F and D, Leeds Crown Court (7 April 2016)

Mr Justice Globe of Leeds Crown Court passed sentences on two girls, F and D, convicted of the murder of Angela Wrightson. In his decision, Justice Globe also had to consider whether to grant anonymity to F and D following an application by the media to lift reporting restrictions preventing identification of the girls.

Details
This is the second time the issue of anonymity had been considered in relation to this case. The first trial was held in July 2015. However, due to widespread commentary on the case on social media networks, Mr Justice Globe ordered that the trial be abandoned as the case could be prejudiced. This led to further reporting restrictions which remained in place until sentencing. The issue for the court to consider was whether or not the section 39 order1 should remain in place.

Mr Justice Globe considered the principles laid out in the following cases:
Winchester Crown Court ex.p.B [1999] 4 All ER 53
R(Y) v Aylebury Crown Court [2012] EWHC 1140
R v Cornick [2015] 1 Cr App R 483
In re Guardian News and Media Ltd and others [2010] UKSC 1

On 7th April 2016, in deciding whether or not anonymity should continue, Mr Justice Globe made the following observations:

  • The public interest argument is weakened as the full facts of this case have been able to be reported and a debate about the background to the crimes remains possible without knowing the precise identities of the defendants. [para 56]
  • Due to the nature of the offence in this case, the deterrent effect of naming the defendant is limited due to the rarity of such a crime being committed. [para 57]
  • The effect of lifting anonymity is likely to result in the identification of juvenile witnesses, the families of the defendants, their carers and their schools. [para 59]
  • ‘Article 2 is engaged, specifically in your case F and possibly in your case, too, D as well as what Mr Wise refers to as “the upper reaches” of your Article 8 rights.’ [para 62]
  • There is a ‘heightened real risk that identification followed by a press blitz will elevate the risk to your life to such an extent that I am satisfied that there is a real and immediate risk to your life were you to be identified’. [para 63]
  • Although more robust, there is no justification for naming D if F is not named. D is also vulnerable to outside pressures and naming in public is one such pressure. [para 64]

The judge therefore held that the section 39 anonymity order should remain in place.

Commentary
This case is significant because the court recognised that lifting anonymity would have an impact on the children’s welfare and that welfare is a relevant consideration when balancing the child’s interests (articles 2 and 8) against the public interest (article 11).

In this case Hartelpool Borough Council instructed their own counsel to represent the children’s interests. This must now be considered best practice for local authorities when the media is applying to lift reporting restrictions.

  1. Section 39 Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Practitioners should note for cases that commenced on or after 13 April 2015, section 45 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 governs reporting restrictions in the Crown Court  (back)