Media banned from naming mother who smothered child with pillow

Judge ruled it was appropriate to continue reporting restrictions

Under section 252 of the Children Act 2001 it is an offence to publish anything that could identify a child who is an alleged victim of an offence. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Under section 252 of the Children Act 2001 it is an offence to publish anything that could identify a child who is an alleged victim of an offence. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The media has been barred from naming a mother who smothered her three-year-old daughter with a pillow after a High Court judge ordered that the deceased child should not be identified.

As a consequence of the order the woman, who was today found not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering the toddler at her family home, cannot be named as to do so would identify the dead child.

Last Monday, Mr Justice Michael White agreed to make an order at the outset of the trial preventing publication of anything that might identify the deceased child following an application from prosecuting counsel Paul Murray SC. Mr Murray said that under section 252 of the Children Act 2001 it was an offence to publish anything that could identify a child who is an alleged victim of an offence.

The following day, a lawyer representing several media outlets – namely RTÉ, Independent News and Media, News Group Newspapers Ltd and The Irish Times – applied to the trial judge, Ms Justice Carmel Stewart, to set aside the order.

Tom Murphy BL said he objected to Mr Justice White’s order on the basis that section 252 was inappropriate to put before the court as it applied to the victim of the crime being still alive. “A reasonable reading of the provision is that it protects the anonymity of living children,” he submitted, adding that the order imposed by the court the previous day went far beyond what was required.

Constitutional rights

Mr Murphy said in balancing the various constitutional rights the court would have to see that the beneficiary of the order in these circumstances was not the child but the accused woman, and that such an order was unfairly prohibiting the media from its constitutional right to report.

In reply, Paul Murray SC said the Director of Public Prosecutions was opposing the application and a child was “any person under the age of 18 years”. Mr Murray submitted that if the legislators had meant for the provisions to only apply to a living child, they could have provided for this but there was no basis for implying from the legislation that the child must be alive.

In her ruling, Ms Justice Stewart said the wording of section 252 was clear and it was appropriate to continue reporting restrictions in terms of the anonymity of the child in the case.