Sabine McNeill’s four-week-long trial, in which she was found guilty of four charges of stalking and six breaches of a restraining order, is all over bar the sentencing (set for 9 January 2019). In many ways it was quite an extraordinary event, and its ripple effects will be felt for a long time to come.
For now, we’d like to answer a few burning questions about the actual trial; tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at the first part of the sentencing process.
Reporting restrictions or reporting ban?
One of the least-understood aspects of the case, for some, continues to be the reporting restrictions which were placed on the case in December last year by HHJ Martin Beddoe.
Anybody who attended Sabine’s trial would have seen the prominently placed notice on the door to Court 11, which stated that the reporting restriction had been imposed for the protection of the various children whose stories were central to the case.
Section 46 allows courts to impose restrictions on reporting information leading to the identification of an adult witness involved in criminal proceedings, if the court considers that the measure is needed because the witness’s fear of, or distress at, giving evidence or co-operating with the party calling him is strongly linked to the likelihood of publicity. Neither “fear” nor “distress” is seen as covering a disinclination to give evidence on account of simple embarrassment.Youth justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999
Note that the above states that “adult witnesses” must not be identified in any way.
This is because Sabine McNeill published a list of parents and children who Ella Draper claimed were members of a sex abuse cult which practised baby sacrifice and cannibalism. Since the adults on the list were paired with their children, naming or providing information which would lead to identification of the adults would automatically enable identification of the children.
On 27 November, Paul Rogers (aka Eddie Isok) was arrested in court and charged with contempt of court for violating this restriction. The previous evening, he had published on YouTube a video he’d made outside Southwark Crown Court. In the video, he’d named a parent who was a witness in the proceedings. The following day Rogers was tried and convicted, and was sentenced to two months in prison, suspended for a year. He was also barred from further attending Sabine’s trial.
On 30 November, HHJ Sally Cahill QC delivered a stern and pointed lecture to those in the public gallery, reminding us of the reporting restriction. Nonetheless, on 10 December, another arrest took place in court. This time it was Belinda McKenzie who stood in the dock, accused of violating the same reporting restriction which Paul Rogers had violated a scant two weeks previously.
We understand that Belinda’s trial on this charge took place on 20 December, but we have not heard the result yet.
Since Rogers’ arrest, much has been made of the reporting restriction: people such as Angela Power-Disney and even Rogers himself have complained bitterly that the reporting restriction was the equivalent of a full publication ban. (This seems to imply that Rogers was unaware of what he was charged with, which strikes us as odd.)
Complaints were even sent to the court, stating that this blog’s coverage of the trial was “illegal”:
While the distinction between “reporting restriction” and “publication ban” seems pretty obvious to us, apparently others had trouble grasping it.
Just in case it’s not as obvious as we think it is:
- “Reporting restriction” means “you may not report certain elements of the trial”;
- “Publication ban” means “you may not report anything about the trial”.
In addition to hilariously addressing a judge as “Your Worship”, the bright spark who wrote the email above expressed the belief that the reason for the restriction was “that the trial must be conducted fairly and that justice be done”. Very noble, but utterly off-point.
Apparently the author also made a report to the police about our “illegal” reporting of the trial, which I am sure was received with all due seriousness and placed carefully in the circular file.
Another issue which has received a great deal of scrutiny was the fact that Judge Cahill ordered that anybody who wanted to attend the trial in the public gallery must provide proof of identification, including a picture and a valid address.
On the face of it, this was an extraordinary requirement. We were told by various people who worked at the court that they had never seen anything like it before, and the security staff seemed to have some trouble implementing it in a way which would protect the identities and addresses of those who wished to attend.
However, those who were present on 27 and 28 November would have realised why this seemingly draconian security measure was implemented.
Not only was Rogers arrested for contempt on the 27th, but that evening Andy Devine and John Paterson made a video in which they made open death threats to the judge as well as EC. Paterson stated that he would be in court on the 28th, and he was as good as his word.
Judge Cahill, who must have been aware of the
utter shit-show interesting goings-on at Sabine and Neelu’s 2016 trial at Blackfriars Crown Court, was not prepared to brook any such nonsense at this trial, and so ordered that anybody who wished to attend must be identified.
Once this measure was put in place, things did calm down considerably in the halls, and the trial was able to continue unimpeded (mostly) by shenanigans.
Recording devices in court?
During the trial we became aware that a second complaint had been made about EC’s coverage of events: somebody had attempted to report her for using a recording device in court.
Anyone who has attended a trial will be familiar with the prominently placed signs telling you that cameras and recording devices are strictly forbidden in the court precinct. If EC had been using a recording device, she’d have risked arrest, and at very least would have been shown the door for the duration of the trial.
Recording in court would have been a very, very silly thing to do.
However, no recording devices were involved in any part of our court coverage. Instead, EC used the old-fashioned method: taking detailed notes during the court sessions, and transcribing, editing, and publishing them in the evenings.
This would be a good time to thank the heroic Scarlet Scoop, who reviewed and copy-edited EC’s typo-laden posts, often late at night. Scarlet provided an invaluable second set of eyes, and the reports were vastly improved as a result.
In all, EC filled about 700 pages with rough notes, and went through three brand new pens. Had any officer of the court wished to inspect EC’s notes, they’d have been welcome to do so.
However, it never came to that, most likely because it was obvious to anybody who cared to look that EC spent all her time in court scribbling notes.
In our opinion, Judge Cahill did an excellent job of preventing the very serious business of Sabine’s trial from devolving into a circus.
Those who’ve complained that EC somehow got “preferential treatment” because she was never arrested and seemed to have no trouble publishing trial summaries each night might wish to consider one important thing: when you take the time to find out what the rules are, and then play by those rules, you’re far less likely to find yourself in hot water.
Try it sometime. It works.