Attorney-General v Express Newspapers

Reference: [2004] EWHC 2859 (Admin); [2005] EMLR 277

Court: Divisional Court

Judge: Rose LJ & Pitchford J

Date of judgment: 25 Nov 2004


Contempt - Substantial risk of prejudice - Evidence - Beyond all reasonable doubt - penalty


On 27 September 2003 a girl of 17 alleged that she had been raped by up to eight footballers at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. The suspects were arrested and s.2 Contempt of Court Act 1981 applied thereafter. There was surging media interest and speculation. Identification was an issue. The Attorney General and police implored the media not to name suspects or publish photographs or likenesses of them. On 23 October, The Daily Star named Titus Bramble and Carlton Cole, identified their clubs and included a partially pixelated photo of Bramble. No criminal charges were brought but the Attorney proscuted the newspaper for contempt.


If it could be established that the complainant had learned the identity of those charged from some other source before 23 October 2003 it became questionable whether The Daily Star‘s story gave rise to a real risk of prejudice. Identification, it was argued, was possible piecemeal from disclosures and speculation in the media and on the internet.


Finding the newspaper guilty of contempt of court and imposing a fine of £60,000:
(1) If the complainant had known the footballers’ identities from some other source, there would have been no contempt as the story would not have created the real risk of prejudice.
(2) There was no evidence from which it could be properly inferred that the complainant knew the names of the men charged and, accordingly, the story did create a real risk that the course of justice would be seriously impeded or prejudiced.
(3) At the very least, the article made the complainant highly vulnerable to cross-examination on the basis that her identification would be tainted.


The Defendant’s argument that the complainant must have known the names on the basis of what was out in the media and what her own publicist, Max Clifford, had said, was dismissed as ‘speculation’. The girl, the court pointed out, would have told the police had she learned the names of her alleged assailants.