GB News accused of prejudicing Colston Four trial

GB News was accused of prejudicing the trial of the Colston Four after it published opinion pieces criticising the defendants midway through court proceedings.

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Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

The rightwing news channel was summoned to Bristol crown court halfway through the trial in relation to an article and video monologue by the presenter Mercy Muroki titled “I’m in favour of white people calling out racism … but the Colston saga reeks of white guilt”.


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In the piece Muroki commented on the ongoing trial and suggested that Bristol council and local police officers might have colluded with a “bunch of anarchic protesters” to tear down the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston. She added: “I don’t need a bunch of white hippies crippled by white guilt to throw a largely irrelevant statue in a river to prove they’re not racist.”

Although journalists can report on most court proceedings, there are tough legal restrictions on what the media can publish before the end of a trial in case it prejudices the jury.

At a hearing on 23 December – which can only now be reported – Judge Peter Blair QC considered whether GB News’ decision to air the monologue constituted contempt of court. “The most pressing matter from my court’s perspective is to ensure that the safety of my trial process is maintained and that I don’t have the risk of jurors coming across this sort of material and the trial being prejudiced by them being influenced,” he said.

The judge read out GB News’ editorial guidelines in court and expressed dismay at Muroki’s opinion piece, saying: “I am struggling to see how, as in GB News’ charter, that this article is ‘respectful’ or ‘sets an example by treating others in a way that they would wish to be treated’.” However, the judge ultimately decided not to pursue a contempt of court charge.

The four defendants – Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33 – had argued GB News had created a substantial risk of serious prejudice by publishing the material.

Graham’s lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh argued the GB News monologue “pours scorn on the defendants and it pours scorn on my client in particular”. She said the decision to publish the article during an active trial was “not only contempt, it is entirely uninformed contempt based on fundamental ignorance of what has occurred in these proceedings”.

GB News’ representative, Claire Overman, told the court there had been a “breakdown in communication” at GB News on the day the article and video was published. She said the lawyer on duty at the channel only had a few minutes to look at it while also reviewing other on-air content.

“[The duty lawyer] accepts that by any view on his part he did not appreciate the concern arising from the contents in the time he had,” she said.

She added that GB News had put in place “immediate steps to ensure something like this does not happen again” and would send its staff on media law training to ensure they understand contempt of court law.

A local blog called Alternative Bristol was also separately summoned to court for a potential contempt of court during the trial. They were let off with a warning after apologetically telling the judge they were “more a group of activists than journalists” and in any case “the site only has about 150 hits a day”.

In a statement, Judge Blair said he had decided not refer GB News to the attorney general over the potential contempt of court: “The swift response of GB News in seeking to remedy the position when my concerns came to their attention, the promise of undertaking further focused training of journalists on matters of ‘contempt of court’ and their frank acknowledgment of their errors are, in my view, sufficient and proportionate steps to reflect their culpability on this occasion.”

All four defendants in the case were found not guilty of causing criminal damage by the jury on Wednesday afternoon.

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