Bruce Peters (right) said the Daily Mail story could have hurt the chances of his client, Phillip Pama (left). (AAP: Dave Hunt)
A lawyer has criticised the Daily Mail for a “cut-and-paste article” that disrupted a Queensland trial because the story contained information the jury had not heard.
- Jury sent out of court after judge becomes aware of Daily Mail article
- Article contained details not mentioned before the jury
- Judge and lawyers agreed to keep mishap from the jury, who alter found accused not guilty
Phillip Pama’s manslaughter trial, which resulted in a not guilty verdict, was widely covered by Queensland journalists who were in the courtroom.
On Monday it was also covered by the Sydney-based Daily Mail, who sourced wire copy, took slabs of an ABC article and inserted background information that was not put before the jury.
With the trial completed, it can now be revealed that the Daily Mail story caused proceedings to be halted on Tuesday, with the jury sent from the courtroom as lawyers and Justice John Byrne deliberated how to resolve the issue.
The Daily Mail story broke a golden rule of court reporting during a trial — to only publish material that has been presented before the jury.
The rule is in place to prevent jurors being influenced by information the court does not want considered when the jury determines a person’s guilt.
The Daily Mail article contained three paragraphs that referenced material from 2015, including a statement from the deceased’s friend that was critical of Mr Pama.
It also included a purported quote from Mr Pama’s lawyer Bruce Peters — a quote Mr Peters described as “totally inaccurate” and prejudicial towards his client.
“It was something I never said and I know that for a fact,” Mr Peters said.
“A juror who was in this trial could have read that article and formed his own opinion without us knowing about it.”
The Daily Mail article from February 6 included quotes from the deceased’s friend that were critical of the accused.
Mr Peters said the Daily Mail’s story was “irresponsible” and described it as a “cut-and-paste article”.
“The [reporter] was not even in court and yet he’s writing about the court case. As any court reporter worth their salt would know you don’t do that,” he said.
In Victoria this year, online publication Yahoo7 and producer Krystal Johnson were found guilty of contempt of court over a similar incident.
Johnson’s article, which included quotes from a murder victim’s Facebook page, caused a murder trial to be aborted.
The Herald Sun claimed Johnson, who wrote her story from Sydney, had “ripped off” its court reporter’s story and inserted the prejudicial details.
Judge says Daily Mail article ‘unfortunate’
However in Mr Pama’s trial, Justice Byrne chose not to abort the trial and lawyers agreed to keep the Daily Mail mishap from the jury.
Justice Byrne described the report as “unfortunate”, but said mentioning it to the jury “may do more harm than good”.
“Years ago my attention was drawn to an article. A psychologist conducted an experiment. Those who participated in an experiment were told not to think of a blue horse … guess how many did?” he said.
He was supported by Mr Pama’s barrister Julie Sharp.
“I’m concerned about bringing it to the jurors’ attention,” she said.
Ms Sharp said while jurors were told not to conduct independent research, it was “unrealistic” to expect that all of them did not check news reports.
The Daily Mail has been contacted for comment.