Judgement due on Monday in Ana Kriegel contempt case

Central Criminal Court

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Judgement due on Monday in Ana Kriegel contempt case

The late Anastasia (Ana) Kriegel

A judge will decide on Monday whether a newspaper editor is responsible for a front page story during the Ana Kriegel murder trial that led to his newspaper being barred from reporting the court proceedings.

Associated News (Ireland) Ltd, owners of the Daily Mail newspaper, accepted its responsibility and pleaded guilty to contempt of court.

The contempt issue arose following the publication of a headline on the front page of the Daily Mail on May 3, during the first week of the trial. The headline read: "CCTV shows Ana being led to her death," between quotation marks.

At the time the trial judge, Mr Justice Paul McDermott, said: “Such headlines are calculated to incite public outrage against the accused.”

He said such coverage was not appropriate in a criminal trial and instructed the DPP to inititiate contempt proceedings.

Brendan Grehan SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said today that the journalist who wrote the story, Helen Bruce, was "entirely blameless" and that she had shown "nothing but professionalism".

The issue arose, he said, because changes were made to the copy she had written and she was not consulted.

Mr Grehan said the headline and a sentence below it should not have been published. He said they were published "in error" and the company had set out how that happened in a lengthy affidavit to the court. He said the company is responsible as owners of the newspaper and as editor Sebastian Hamilton bears editorial responsibility.

Eoin McCullough SC, on behalf of Associated Newspapers said that the company pleads guilty and apologises. Taking the witness stand, the company's Chief Executive Officer Paul Henderson said he was aware of the importance of giving a fair and accurate account of what happens in court.

He added: "I'm sorry, we made a mistake."

Mr Henderson told Justice McDermott that "people make newspapers and people make mistakes". The company also offered to pay the DPP's costs in relation to the contempt proceedings. 

Mr McCullough suggested to Justice McDermott that he consider a nominal penalty for the contempt. He said mitigating factors include that the company pleaded guilty, promptly apologised, offered to pay the DPP's costs and there was no attempt to interfere with the administration of justice.

He said the headline was an error and there was no attempt to "embellish the evidence". He said it is important to consider that the trial was not aborted as a result of the headline and he pointed out that in 30 years of publishing, the newspaper had no previous conviction or complaint against it for contempt. 

He also said that a process whereby Ms Bruce should have been consulted before publication was put in place but was not followed. The judge's order preventing the Mail reporting on the trial had also been a "considerable detriment", counsel said.

In relation to Mr Hamilton, counsel said that the editor was present for a news meeting at 5.14 that evening but had gone home before Ms Bruce's copy was changed. He said that Mr Hamilton had put in place a system whereby if Ms Bruce's copy was to be rewritten she should be consulted before publication.

This was not followed, Mr McCullough said. He added: "An instruction is given which if followed would have avoided publication of this material."

In those circumstances, Mr McCullough said it would be unfair for his client to end up with a criminal conviction. He further told the court that Mr Hamilton is applying for citizenship and is concerned about how this could affect him.

Mr Grehan responded that "the buck must stop" with the editor. 

Justice McDermott said he will pass judgement on Monday.