Stephen Lawrence’s father Neville critical of Spectator magazine charge over murder trial article

10:27 10 May 2012

The decision to prosecute The Spectator magazine for an article which put the Stephen Lawrence murder trial at risk of collapse has been criticised by the teenager’s father Neville for being too weak.

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced the magazine faces a charge of breaching a court order.

The Spectator said it would admit the offence and faces a fine of up to £5,000 by Westminster magistrates on June 7.

But Mr Lawrence has said this is just “a slap on the wrist” and claimed the case should have been dealt with under tougher 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.”

During the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris the Old Bailey judge warned jurors not to read an article by Rod Liddle.

He referred the article to the Attorney General for contempt.

In the article, Liddle said the judge Mr Justice Treacy had asked jurors to approach the case with a clean slate.

He said: “That is, not be inclined to prejudge the issue as a consequence of having been assured, repeatedly, for the last 12 years, by the entire press, that the men accused are disgusting racist bastards and definitely guilty.

“Judge Treacy might as well have told the jurors that they must approach the case ‘by eating 15 Jacobs cream crackers, without any water or other emolument, inside one minute’. The case is a charade, and a vindictive charade at that.”

Dobson and Norris were later convicted of murdering black teenager Stephen and jailed for life.

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.”

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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