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Judge slams Armagh man’s application for press ban over threat to self-harm if named

“The Press is the Fourth Estate and are essential to assuring the other three branches operate as they should”

Armagh Courthouse

A judge has thrown out a bid to ban publication of the identity of an Armagh man charged with attempted sexual communication with a child, and rounded on a defence lawyer for making the application on the basis of self-harm if publicly named.

Steven Edward Wells (60) of Drummore Road, is accused of committing the offence on dates between March 29 and May 6, during which he allegedly attempted to encourage a child to communicate sexually for his own gratification.

A police officer told Armagh Magistrates’ Court sitting in Newry the charge could be connected.

Seeking anonymity a defence barrister stated: “You can see the nature of the charge. I have been made aware of concerns around self-harm if identified.”

But in a scathing rebuke on such applications, Judge Kelly described press as “essential” and claims of self-harm by those accused of alleged sexual offending are aimed at exclusion of identities to protect their status within the community.

The defence suggested a psychiatric report would support his application, to which Judge Kelly replied, “You’ll need an awful lot more than that. I appreciate this is a balancing critique of rights but I always quote the tagline of the Washington Post – Democracy Dies in Darkness. Never truer words were spoken. There has to a light shone into the dark recesses, to ensure the public can have confidence and all of us are answerable. As far as I’m concerned the Press is the Fourth Estate and are essential to assuring the other three branches of our constitution do so in a fit and proper way.”

She told the defence, “Unless you can give me an actual reason – which so far I haven’t heard – I will not be making any orders banning publication of name or details. The bar is particularly high. I need evidence of fact and not possibility.”

In respect of the self-harm contention if named, Judge Kelly remarked, “People face these types of charges, then say ‘Oh this is terrible. I’m going to do X, Y and Z. Don’t report this as it will affect me and my standing in my community’. As a parent and grandparent I always like to know, not for any nefarious reason, but I can set parameters not to go up a lane, go into a house or take a lift and such like.”

Addressing the Press she said, “Publish as much information as you want, except anything which could in any way identify an alleged victim or injured party.”

Judge Kelly rejected “a moratorium on reporting” while awaiting medical evidence telling the defence, “I am not imposing any form of barring order.”

At the most recent sitting a medical report was submitted along with a challenge by Press who highlighted the growing number of such applications, the majority of which relate to alleged sexual offending.

While accepting Press representations were strong, the defence suggested another adjournment for more information, but Judge Kelly refused, stating: “You are managing to stop this being publicised by stringing the case out. I am concerned the dangling of a health condition is enough to prevent Press coverage. Everybody could do that. A medical could be produced for any member of the public. It could set a precedent for every single case of this type.”

Having ruled in favour of Press Judge Kelly remanded Wells on continuing bail to appear again later this month.

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