Lawyers take brunt of court blame as editors let off hook

NEWSPAPER lawyers have been warned by the High Court that they, not editors, may have to bear the responsibility if they make a mistake which leads to their paper being taken to court.

Editor of The Sun Stuart Higgins was cleared by Family Division judge Mr Justice Thorpe of blame after a photograph of one of alleged serial killer Fred West's children attending West's funeral was published in breach of a court order.

Instead, the judge put the blame firmly on the shoulders of the unnamed lawyer who had failed to spot the problem.

While News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun, admitted contempt and was fined u1,000 Higgins was cleared by the judge. He apologised and admitted outside court afterwards what had happened was “a mistake”.

Higgins had faced committal moves by Gloucester County Council over the printing of the photograph. But the judge in a signpost ruling said: “It is absolutely plain that it would be quite inappropriate to fix any penalty in respect of the editor.

“He was entitled to and did rely on an experienced barrister whose responsibility it was to check the newspaper.

“If any individual bears responsibility for this unfortunate publication it should be the barrister who should have heard alarm bells ringing when he saw in relation to the photograph caption and the text that the individual was a minor.”

He said that in cases as notorious as that of West the newspaper's lawyers should have in mind the existence of orders designed to protect the family.