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Thread: Trial by media

  1. #1

    Default Trial by media

    I've noticed in the past few years that more and more crimes have been taken to trial with full media coverage. It seems that some crimes, more than others, get an unfair amount of coverage and the defendant, whether guilty or not, is tried by the mob, not the courts.

    As an example which infuriated me recently, the whole country was in uproar when Lewis Gill punched and killed Andrew Young. He was charged with manslaughter and received 4 years. The people of the UK however were outraged. They felt that this was not enough for him and mounted a huge campaign to have his sentence re-evaluated.

    Now, I don't want to discuss whether Lewis Gill is guilty or not, or whether he is actually a horrible person etc etc. I want to discuss why it is that the majority of people think it is OK for that man to be tried by the general public and not receive the exact same trial as anyone else accused of manslaughter. The media had already convicted him to "Destroyed life" before the original verdict was out, and the public reacted to match. Most papers decided to forgo Mr Gill's name and instead go with 'Thug'.

    Is it OK for us to forget the legal system that has grown over the centuries and resort to mob rule when it suits us? Is it OK that the editors of the red-tops (and others tbf) can convict a man before the jury?

    Please don't forget that the guilt/crime is not the issue here, it is the fact that the perp didn't get a fair trial because regardless of the outcome, the papers had labelled him thug and thus sentenced him to public derision and humiliation.

    This is NOT how we do things in the UK. INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY, even if it's actually really obvious. Also, the judge passes the sentence. That means that the case cannot be reported on until AFTER the sentencing and that sentencing is FINAL unless there is clear cause for an appeal, NOT BECAUSE SOME PEOPLE ARE MAD ABOUT IT.

    I am sick to death of all these people being totally apathetic towards politics, claiming not to be interested and not voting, only to get furious at every story they read. Not happy with it? VOTE for an MP you like and write to them with your concerns!

    It's very late so I don't think I articulated my point very well then so I'd be happy to clarify in the morning.

    Why should I?

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    London N16


    Not sure of your point — Gill pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He claimed he thought the victim was menacing him. Gill was sentenced. But it appears many people thought the sentence was too light. It takes just one person to complain to the Attorney General for the sentence to be reviewed.

    In another case — the murder of Joanna Yeates — some newspapers reported the arrest of her landlord and made negative comments about him. After her neighbour was arrested, tried and found guilty of her murder, the Sun and Mirror were found guilty of contempt of court.

    Nothing wrong with the news media covering criminal investigations or the subsequent trial — it's the public's right to know its police and judiciary are acting properly. The news media know what they're allowed to say about criminal cases, and what will happen if they break the law...

  3. #3


    I agree that there's nothing wrong with the media covering criminal investigations (if they stick to the law and don't jeopardise the investigation of course) but I don't believe it is right or fair that they should name defendants or even suspects and certainly shouldn't publish details about their life including photos etc.

    Your example from the Joanna Yeates case perfectly illustrates my point. I remember it well, I remember the comments passing around facebook and twitter and the likes about how horrible and evil Christopher Jefferies was, things like 'I knew it was him, he looks like a paedo' etc etc. A retraction in the paper and monetary damages can never make up for the damage Mr Jefferies' reputation suffered. There will be many people who didn't read the retractions and there'll even be some that have now made up their mind about him regardless. The damage has been done, first impressions really matter.

    Mr Jefferies was, as I've called it, tried by the media. He was never innocent until proven guilty, it was the exact opposite. His name should NEVER have appeared in the paper until AFTER a trial (which in this case it never even came to). I know that libel is a crime but even putting a name to a charge, proven or otherwise, is enough to ruin a reputation forever.

    Another example would be Dave Lee Travis. He was cleared of all charges but his reputation is forever tarnished. Thousands, maybe even millions, of people will now associate him with sexual harassment. I know there's the hope that by publicising cases like that more victims would come forward and that is important, but there are other ways to help victims than naming suspects.

    The sad fact of the matter is that although many, perhaps most people appreciate a 'suspect' does not equal 'guilty' and understand certain papers are sensationalised, there are still a huge amount of people that don't understand that. People that read "John Smith suspected of double rape" as "John Smith is a rapist" and read "John Smith Cleared of charges" as "John Smith probably rapist but not these rapes".

    It is the right of those "suspects" to be innocent until proven guilty, and that means their names and identities MUST remain hidden until they are proven GUILTY. If the verdict is not guilty then their names never need appear.

    As for Lewis Gill, I specifically said ignore the actual outcome of the trial. I am aware of his confession, I wasn't claiming he was innocent. However, BEFORE the verdict many papers had already labelled him 'thug' and people had made up their minds. The coverage didn't start after the trial was over. What if it had turned out Gill had severe mental health problems, what if his mum had been raped by someone who looked exactly like Mr Young. It doesn't matter how absurd my examples, the point is the media literally cannot know all the facts to report them and even if they did we all know they would only print the ones that fit a picture they wanted painted. Gill is guilty, sure, but people had decided that long before the jury had with almost none of the facts.
    Why should I?


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