Gun trial is a legal first

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Two national newspapers have each been fined £15,000 for contempt of court over internet photos showing a defendant in a Sheffield murder trial holding a pistol.

Publishers of the Daily Mail and The Sun became the first website owners in the country to be found guilty of contempt online in March, when they were found to have created a ‘substantial risk’ of prejudicing the trial of Ryan Ward.

Both accidentally published uncropped or insufficiently cropped photos during the September 2009 Sheffield Crown Court trial of Ward. He was convicted of murdering car mechanic Craig Wass by hitting him with a brick.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC took action on the basis the papers breached the strict liability rule of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act, which says publishing an article or picture which could prejudice a trial may be contempt, even though there is no ‘intent’ to interfere with justice.

Associated Newspapers and News Group Newspapers argued there was no strict liability breach and the risk of prejudice was insubstantial.

But Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Owen ruled there had been contempt and that, while no juror saw the offending image, the risk was created by an avoidable mistake.

They said that £15,000 would be an ‘appropriate penalty’ for each defendant. They should pay the Attorney General’s costs of £28,117.