08 June 2012

The Spectator

The Spectator
The Spectator magazine has been fined £3,000 after it published a column by Rod Liddle that was deemed prejudicial to the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris. The magazine was also ordered to pay £2,000 in compensation to the family of Stephen Lawrence.

The article, published on 19th November last year, claimed that Dobson and Norris would not receive a fair trial. (The two defendants were accused, and subsequently convicted, of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.) At the trial, the judge ordered the jury not to read The Spectator, and referred the magazine to the attorney general.

Liddle's article began: "I wonder what would happen if I wrote an article for this magazine saying that Gary Dobson and David Norris had nothing to do with the stabbing to death of the black youngster Stephen Lawrence 18 years ago? And that they are entirely innocent? The two are in court at this moment charged with the murder of Lawrence, and therefore I would be in contempt of court".

Five men, including Dobson and Norris, were arrested on suspicion of murdering Lawrence, though the charges were later dropped. Famously, the Daily Mail named the five men and labelled them "MURDERERS" in a banner headline on 14th February 1997: "The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us". (None of the men sued.)

In Flat Earth News, Nick Davies subsequently claimed that the Mail's coverage was based on a personal connection: "the dead boy's father, Neville Lawrence... had done some plastering" for the newspaper's editor, Paul Dacre. The Mail's decision to identify the suspects echoed that of the ITV programme Who Bombed Birmingham? (28th March 1990), which argued that the 'Birmingham six' were innocent and named the real bombers.