British Media Hampered by Strict Contempt Law

By Roth, Edwin | Editor & Publisher, September 17, 1994 | Go to article overview

British Media Hampered by Strict Contempt Law


Roth, Edwin, Editor & Publisher


BECAUSE HIS PARENTS are the first known alleged serial murderers who police say committed the killings who police say committed the killings together as a married couple, 22-year-old Stephen West is making a lot of money from checkbook journalism.

He has already made at least $50,000 from news media representatives either for his stories about his parents' sex lives, or for not telling other news media -- and he will make himself a lot more.

The 52-year-old British builder Frederick West and his 40-year-old wife Rosemary are said to have together committed mass murders of young women, including their own 16-year-old daughter Heather, for many years.

The bodies of nine young women were found hidden in the Gloucester "House of Horror" where they lived together.

Both are charged jointly with these nine murders. Frederick West is also charged with murdering his first wife and their 8-year-old daughter, whose skeletons were dug up by the police in a field near where West had lived with them. A third female skeleton buried in that field could not be identified, but is, without doubt, the skeleton of the child's 22-year-old nanny, who disappeared.

Rosemary West is also charged with rape and sexual assaults on young girls.

News media representatives from all over the world came to Gloucester with big checks for anyone directly or indirectly involved with the West couple or their victims.

The police are angry because news media representatives with checkbooks had paid witnesses -- and cross-examined them -- before the police had interviewed them. Other fees were paid for photographing the police search from homes and gardens.

Special difficulties are caused for news media representatives by the very strict and uniquely British Sub Judice and "Contempt of Court" laws, which prevent all British news media from publishing anything about a pending court case which is not said during a public court session. The idea is to prevent the trail jurors from being influenced by anything they don't hear and see during the trial, which in this case cannot be before the winter.

But also the public sessions of the Gloucester magistrates' court, where the preliminary hearings are held, cannot be reported in Britain.

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