A judge removed two journalists from the press bench at the trial where a teenager was later found guilty of stabbing a police dog and his handler. The judge was concerned that a full press bench might overwhelm the defendant.
The judge gave the journalists a few minutes to seek legal advice before the court began proceeding against the 16-year-old. Hertfordshire Mercury chief reporter Sam Meadows and a Press Association journalist agreed to leave the court after agreeing with colleagues from other titles to share copy.
Meadows told journalists: “Courts understandably need to be cautious when dealing with young people, but the role of the press in the court system is vital.
“Judges and magistrates should be able to quote a valid law when making these decisions, and not overreach their powers. They need to recognise that for justice to be done, it needs to be seen to be done.
Meadows continued: “Given the massive public interest in the case of Police Dog Finn, barring members of the press cannot be justified.”
A judiciary spokesman told journalists: “District Judge Matson was concerned this morning in Stevenage Youth Court about the impact the number of press in court might have on a 16-year-old defendant.
“She decided to limit the number of reporters in court for this reason, and asked reporters to agree among themselves as to which three should sit in court.
“She also asked that those who did come into court share their notes with those outside. Later, the judge allowed all reporters to come into court and made provision for those who had missed part of the proceedings to be given notes of what had been said.”
The request by Judge Matson to remove journalists comes at a time where a growing number of legal professionals are concerned by the lack of journalist fill press benches at local courts.
PD Finn and his handler PC Wardell have both made a full recovery. PD Finn has since been retired from service.