UK newspapers face libel, privacy action over murder coverage

Friday, April 22, 2011

Six UK newspapers are facing actions claiming libel and breach of privacy from Chris Jeffries, a man who attracted intense media coverage when arrested in December for the murder of Joanna Yeates. Jeffries was subsequently released and a different man has been charged instead.

Lawyer Louis Charalambous says Jeffries "seek[s] vindication of his reputation for the terrible treatment he received" from six newspapers – The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Star, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, and The Daily Record. The papers all covered the man's arrest following the discovery of a body near the Clifton area of Bristol, England, on Christmas Day; Yeates had been missing from her flat since December 17. Jeffries was the flat's landlord.

Another man who shared the Clifton address – Vincent Tabak – was later arrested when police eliminated Jeffries from any involvement with the murder. Tabak's next court appearance is set for May 4 and the trial is scheduled to take place in October.

Media coverage of Jeffries attracted criticism at the time; Roy Greenslade wrote for The Guardian that the suspect was facing "a character assassination" and Attorney General Dominic Grieve warned papers they may be in breach of contempt of court legislation. Although no prosecutions have been launched to date, Grieve recently succeeded in an action claiming contempt of court by two of the papers targeted by Jeffries – The Sun and The Daily Mail – over their coverage of a different murder.

In addition to the six national papers that have received writs, action is anticipated against several local papers. "Mr Jefferies will not be making any statement about these claims until their conclusion, which he hopes will be in the very near future," according to his legal team at solicitors Simons Muirhead and Burton.

Charalambous has previously sued all the papers except The Daily Record - alongside The Sunday Express, The London Evening Standard, Metro, The Sunday Mirror, The News of the World and The Scotsman - while representing Robert Murat, over in excess of 100 "seriously defamatory" articles linking him to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. In 2008 Murat received £600,000 and an apology, as well as a separate undisclosed amount from broadcaster BSkyB.