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July 18, 2012 12:16 pm
The Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror have been found guilty of contempt of court over articles published after a murderer’s conviction for the killing of teenager Milly Dowler.
The High Court ruled on Wednesday in favour of the attorney-general who accused the newspapers of publishing “seriously prejudicial” articles.
The prosecution claimed the stories in the British papers were part of an “avalanche” of adverse publicity after Levi Bellfield was found guilty, but while a jury was still considering another charge against him – for attempting to abduct another girl, Rachel Cowles.
The jury had to be discharged as a result of the “totality” of the coverage.
The Daily Mail, owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust, and Trinity Mirror’s Daily Mirror argued the stories would not have created a substantial risk of serious prejudice.
Dominic Grieve, attorney-general, said the case showed why the media must comply with the Contempt of Court Act.
“It is unfortunate that the deluge of media coverage following the Milly Dowler verdict, not only by these papers but also other media outlets, led to the judge discharging the jury before they had completed their deliberations on a charge of attempted kidnap, ultimately depriving Rachel Cowles of a verdict in her case,” he said after the decision.
The court will now consider what penalties the newspapers should face.
Mr Bellfield was previously convicted in 2008 of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. He was convicted of Milly Dowler’s murder in June last year.
Accusations that another newspaper, the News of the World, hacked Milly Dowler’s voicemail are at the centre of a phone-hacking scandal which has rocked the British press and led to an inquiry into press ethics, overseen by Lord Justice Leveson. Police have told the Leveson inquiry there was no evidence that News of the World journalists had deleted the voicemails.
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