May 27, 2008
Magazine in trouble over payment offer
PCC reprimands Full House for offering a fee for an interview to trial witness
Weekly magazine Full House has been found in breach of the press regulator’s Code of Practice after a journalist offered money to a witness in a criminal trial in an attempt to secure an interview.
The incident happened during the trial of Kate Knight, who was subsequently jailed for 30 years for poisoning her husband with anti-freeze, and came to light when the witness brought the letter making the offer to the court’s attention.
The PCC Code prohibits offers of payment to witnesses in criminal trials whilst the proceedings are pending a final verdict. The magazine accepted that the letter had been sent prematurely and has since changed its working practices.
In its adjudication, the PCC welcomed the fact that the editor of the magazine had immediately accepted that it should not have approached the witness as it had but it remained a “serious matter” and concluded:
“The terms of [the Code] are absolutely clear: there should be no offer of payment to a witness while proceedings are active. This is to prevent payments having any real or perceived influence on the administration of justice. On this occasion, there was fortunately no evidence that the trial had been affected by the offer. But it is never acceptable for witnesses to be approached with offers of payment while they are giving evidence, and the journalist’s actions could have had extremely serious consequences.”
Full House is published by Colchester-based Hubert Burda Media UK and enjoys a circulation of over 150,000 copies each week.