Reporters barred from youth court as judge sets three-journalist limit

Two reporters were turned away from a youth court today after a judge limited the number of journalists allowed in so as not to “overwhelm” the teenage defendant.

Journalists were covering the case of a 16-year-old accused of attacking PC Dave Wardell and his police dog Finn in October last year.

The incident made national headlines after the government backed a petition signed by 127,000 people calling for tougher sentences for people who attack on-duty police dogs and horses.

Of the five reporters arriving to cover the start of the trial at Stevenage Magistrates’ Court today, only three were allowed to stay following a ruling from District Judge Joanna Matson.

Sam Meadows, chief reporter at the Hertfordshire Mercury, and a reporter from Press Association were denied entry to the court.

He told Press Gazette: “Just before the case was due to begin the District Judge called us in and told us she was only going to admit three members of the press.

“She said she was doing that to stop the defendant being overwhelmed and we asked what statute that was being done under but she didn’t tell us. It seemed like she was doing it under her own discretion.”

He said the group were given “two or three minutes” to decide between them who would stay. Journalists from South West News Service, The Comet and ITV remained in the court, with an agreement to share copy.

“I was quite annoyed about it,” said Meadows. “Obviously the press plays a really important role in the court system.

“Of course they need to take care when they are dealing with young people but given the massive public interest in this case, I don’t think barring members of the press can be justified at all.

“There were only five of us. Perhaps if 20 or 30 members of the press had turned up it would have been entirely justified. It wasn’t a matter of space.”

Meadows said that once he had returned to the newsroom he was told the judge had revoked the ruling barring his entry to the court.

But, he said:“It wasn’t very helpful for me because I was already back in the office.”

Picture: Hertfordshire Police