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Judge apologises to Herald journalist, but refuses to revoke press gagging order

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD sent a barrister to Swansea Crown Court today (Friday, May 21) to make an application that a press gagging order made last month during the James Oulton trial be now lifted.

WHY DID THE HERALD GO TO COURT?

This newspaper argues that the judge was wrong in law to make the order, as it represented an “excessive interference with the principle of open justice, and an unwarranted restriction on the newspaper’s right to free expression.”

Editor Tom Sinclair said: “We feel that it is important that all high-profile court cases are covered by the press, and that this reporting should be fair and impartial.

“This means that the newspaper wanted to report on both the prosecution and defence evidence at the James Oulton trial – but we were unable to do so as a press restriction was made halfway through the trial. This meant we could only present the prosecution evidence to our readers.”

“I believe that the order made by the Swansea Crown Court was wrong, and the court could have secured the participation of defence witnesses without a press gagging order.”

“Despite the request for the press restriction coming from Mr Oulton’s own counsel, we feel that this meant that in the eyes of the public the reporting of the case was unfair to him.”

“Although the case is over, with Mr Oulton being acquitted of all charges, it is important that courts and judges know the right way forward for future trials. There are 77 Crown Courts in England and Wales where trials of this type will crop up in the future – because of this we are asking the Royal Court of Appeal in London to decide the matter.”

WHAT HAPPENED IN COURT TODAY?

Former Haverfordwest primary school teacher James Oulton was cleared of 31 charges of sexual touching of pupils, in a case he described as ‘a witch-hunt’, on May 4.

It was not expected that the trial judge would rescind or amend her own press gagging order today, but the hearing at 10am this morning was seen by the newspaper as a steppingstone, its editor said. The matter is now expected to be heard at the Court of Appeal in London very soon.

The press restriction which The Herald is fighting had been requested by James Oulton’s legal team halfway through the trial because he felt that his defence witnesses would feel “uncomfortable” giving evidence if there was publicity about their attendance in court.

There had already been a hearing earlier in the trial by the defence barrister Christopher Clee QC to have the indictment stayed (Case thrown out for abuse of process) over an issue with witnesses, for reasons unrelated to court reporting.

James Oulton was worried that his witnesses would be reluctant to turn up and give evidence of “a good quality” if everything were being reported openly.

A statement was presented to the court with the names of eight defence witnesses – each one giving reasons why they did not want to be named in the press.

The court also had concerns about public comments on Facebook about the trial, some of which had appeared on the Pembrokeshire Herald’s page. The newspaper swiftly acted during the trial to ban public comments on news stories about the case, after being approached by the CPS.

The trial judge said that the social media posts had not impacted the jury as they were mainly from the Swansea area, whilst the newspaper’s readership was in Pembrokeshire.

HERALD ARGUES FOR PRESS FREEDOM

Barrister Matthew Paul, counsel for The Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper, said in court that “it should not be underestimated the difficult position the newspaper was put in by not being able to report on the defence part of the proceedings.”

Herald Barrister: Matthew Graham Paul (Pic: File)

He said: “The newspaper, which wanted to report on the whole case, took considerable flak over what has been seen as one-sided reporting.

“The 17,000 readers of The Pembrokeshire Herald would be wondering about the mystifying void in place of the reporting of the second part of the trial.”, he added.

The trial judge, Her Honour Judge Catherine Richards, presiding over the application to rescind or amend her own order, said she knew that “emotions had been running high in Pembrokeshire” – and even mentioned in court that the police had held a Gold Command meeting to discuss possible public disorder as the trial was taking place.

APOLOGY BY JUDGE TO HERALD JOURNALIST

Referring to an incident during the trial when a journalist had to be removed from the public gallery over concerns for her safety, Her Honour Richards said: “I am deeply concerned to hear what happened to the Herald’s reporter Ms Carli Newell.

“If I were aware of it, I would have taken steps to ensure that it would have been dealt with immediately.

“The public gallery, although a separate room [connected by video link], is part of the court room for the purposes of the trial and this was clearly unacceptable.”

“I would like to extend an apology to the reporter, and I will ensure that this never happens again.”

Documents submitted to the court explained that some of those in the public gallery had threatened the journalist with violence, been generally obstructive. It was also in evidence that the newspaper had received threatening phone calls and messages warning the newspaper not to report on the trial.

Herald court reporter Carli Newell said she was threatened with violence in Swansea Crown Court for covering the case (Pic: Herald)

In relation to the application to lift the gagging order made last month, Matthew Paul, for The Herald, questioned whether such a reporting restriction was necessary. He highlighted that press gagging orders should not be imposed “unless there is an overriding need, and no other solutions than making an order, to ensure open justice in a democratic society.”

He said: “The order was imposed for the comfort of the witnesses rather than because that there was evidence of a physical threat to them.

“Witnesses could have been put at ease, for example, by the use of screens in the court room, or by having discussions with the police about how to handle any potential abuse”.

Her Honour Judge Catherine Richards asked Mr Paul if he understood the difference between a prosecution witnesses and a defence witness and securing their attendance at court – to which Mr Paul replied he did. Mr Paul went on to explain that the court had a “battery of weapons to use against a witness who refused to attend.”

Citing case law, he then explained that the higher courts had always sided with the principle of reporting court cases openly, even when there had been difficulties these had been “got around”, he explained.

He told Swansea Crown Court: “The basis on which the order was made was incomplete and did not balance the rights of open justice, and ensuring witnesses attended court without getting hassle.  

“And it IS their comfort we are talking about – there is no threat to their lives or property – we must side with open justice.”

Mr Paul said that in making the press restriction during the trial itself, the court had effectively “promised” the witnesses that their names would be kept out of the press and that they had “attended the court on that promise.”

He therefore suggested to Her Honour Judge Catherine Richards that she may consider the second part of his application. Rather than completely rescinding the press restriction, Her Honour could make an Excepting Direction (an amendment to the original order), as a “reasonable compromise” which would keep the “witnesses names and photographs” out of the paper, he suggested, but would allow for “reporting of the rest of the defence case.”

APPLICATION REFUSED BY JUDGE

Mr Paul’s application was, after all, for “revocation of reporting restrictions OR an excepting direction pursuant to section 46 (10) and (11) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999”.

At the end of the hearing Her Honour Judge Catherine Richards said: “I do not revoke the order – it was, on the evidence necessary. On the second part of the application, I do not think that an Excepting Direction would be in the public interest, and therefore the application is refused.

Judge Richards said: when making the original order: “The Herald initially reported proceedings with a link to its Facebook page. Some of the comments added were of concern to the defence.

“Those comments required no formal action, but I am satisfied that the witnesses have expressed concern.

“One has been disciplined due to her support of the defendant. I am satisfied that the quality of their evidence is likely to be diminished, and that a restriction is necessary.”

At a previous hearing Judge Richards, who has been a Crown Court Judge since being appointed by The Queen on 27 April 2020, had said that The Pembrokeshire Herald had “rightly and properly” reported on the case.

STATEMENT FROM EDITOR

Speaking after the hearing, Herald editor Tom Sinclair said: “There are many good reasons why some evidence and some details of some cases are subject to reporting restrictions. The law makes those circumstances clear.

“We do not, however, believe that the evidence given in this case met the criteria for such a sweeping restriction.

“That is why we are taking this matter to the Court of Appeal for a definitive ruling on the issues raised by the Judge’s order.

“Court reporting fulfils a vital function. Justice must be seen to be done and reporting what happens in court makes sure it’s seen by as many people as possible.

“Being able to report only one half of proceedings, the unintended effect of HHJ Richards’ ruling, meant we could not do our job of giving our readers the whole story of a difficult and emotionally charged case.
The timing of the Defence’s application meant we had already reported the Prosecution case but were stopped from doing the same for all the evidence given on Mr Oulton’s behalf.

“It’s one thing to ignore an important case, in fact that’s very easy. That’s cowardice. It raises important questions about what else those who fail to report controversy are keeping from the public because they’re afraid to report the whole story.

“When justice takes place behind closed doors, or if it is not reported by the press, it is never seen to be done.

“And that can never be right.”

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Port boss: Pembroke Dock development full permission an ‘important step’

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THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the Port of Milford Haven has welcomed a decision of “non-intervention” by the Welsh Government over plans to re-vamp Pembroke Dock’s historic port facilities.

The redevelopment scheme, approved by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Planning Committee in May, will see some areas such as a dock covered with sand and “infilled”.

Plans also include the demolishing of some buildings, erection of buildings and ancillary works.
Despite planning being granted at council level, full authorisation to go ahead with the development was not to be issued until the Welsh Government made its decision regards the matter.

More about the planning application can be read here: https://www.herald.wales/west-wales/pembrokeshire/major-marine-project-causes-concern-about-visual-impact-and-heritage-loss/

Now that the Welsh Government has decided not to interfere with Pembrokeshire County Council’s grant of planning permission, the Port’s boss, Andy Jones, expressed his delight, saying: “This marks an important step forward in the development of Wales’ clean energy centre at Pembroke Dock.

“It will provide sustainable opportunities for the many people who rely on the activity along the Milford Haven Waterway for employment.

CEO: Port Authority’s Andy Jones (Pic MHPA)

“Pembroke Dock Marine will unlock new opportunities for young people to enter the maritime, renewable and engineering sectors, build resilience within Pembrokeshire’s business community, and make a positive contribution to our natural environment as we transition to a low carbon energy generation.”

Tim James, head of commercial and energy at the Port of Milford Haven called the project a “once in a generation opportunity to improve Pembrokeshire’s economy for years to come”.

Objectors had complained that the plans were too large and would damage the historic dockyard, as well as having a visual impact on the dock.

The was opposition from local heritage campaigners, with complaints over the size of two huge proposed hangars which the project’s critics said would impact adversely the landscape.

The economic benefits of the £60 million marine energy “far outweigh” any impact on the historic environment, a report earlier this year to council planners said.

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Medical evacuation from LPG tanker off St Ann’s Head

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ANGLE Lifeboat was launched on service at 12:59pm on Thursday afternoon (Jun 10) to assist in a medical evacuation from a LPG tanker 13 miles SSW off St Ann’s Head.

The coastguard helicopter from Newquay in Cornwall was also on route. With the poor visibility due to fog, Angle all-weather lifeboat was to stand by the vessel to provide an alternative route for evacuation if needed.

After a choppy route in the poor visibility the RNLI volunteers arrived on scene at 2:07pm.

At the time of their arrival, the paramedic from the coastguard helicopter was aboard the vessel preparing the casualty to be winched to the helicopter.

In less than ten minutes the casualty was winched up to the helicopter and flown to hospital, at which point the lifeboat and crews were stood down and headed back to the station.

After rehousing shortly after 3:30pm the lifeboat was washed fuelled and made ready for service shortly after.

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Milford Haven child sex offender Colin Sharpe jailed for 10 years

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A MILFORD HAVEN child abuser sat crying in court as details of his four-year long abuse of a schoolgirl were read out.

Colin Sharpe’s teenage victim says she is now “plagued by nightmares” that he will return and abuse her again, Swansea Crown Court heard.

Sharpe, 40, of Howarth Close was told by Judge Paul Thomas QC at Swansea Crown Court that “Your only concern was your own selfish sexual pleasure.”

The court heard that after the matter was reported to police and officers began a search for tSharpe. He was found in his vehicle in a car park at St Ann’s Head.

The court was told that police used their car to block Sharpe’s exist from the car park but he “sped off” across the grass towards the cliff edge before crashing into a fence.

The defendant abandoned his vehicle and made off on foot to the clifftop. A standoff then developed during which police brought in a specialist negotiator to talk him down.

After a lengthy negotiation Sharpe was arrested.

Passing sentence, the judge told Sharpe: “You had no concern for the psychological damage you did.”

He added: “But it is to your credit that you immediately admitted what you had done; this had saved his victim the further ordeal of giving evidence in a trial.

Judge Paul Thomas jailed Sharpe for 10 years and imposed an indefinite order requiring him to sign the sexual offences register on release.

Sharpe will now be subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order and an indefinite restraining order when he is released.

As The Herald previously reported, Sharpe, who has been on remand since March, admitted one charge of sexual assault and five of sexual activity with a child, all between July 2017 and March 2021.

Police were informed about the sexual abuse by a third party, who discovered what he had done, and he was arrested and questioned early last year.

Earlier, Ian Wright, counsel for the CPS said that Sharpe used “emotional blackmail to frighten the girl into staying silent”.

He added “Matters seem to have come to a head on March 12 this year after Sharpe had once again sexually abused his victim.”

Dean Pulling, defending, said that when the police interviewed Sharpe he gave ‘guilty pleas and admissions’ at the earliest opportunity.

Excerpts from a personal victim statement highlighting the ongoing ordeal of Sharpe’s teenage victim were also read out in court.

“I am having nightmares,” the statement reads.

“I have nightmares of him coming back from prison and starting to do worse. My life has been greatly affected.”

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