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Camden New Journal - By DAN CARRIER
Published: 17 January 2008

Allan Chappelow
Murder trial evidence can be heard behind closed doors, judge decides

Opposing secret sessions, defendant’s QC highlights CNJ coverage of accusations

PART of the evidence in the trial of a man accused of murdering Hampstead recluse Allan Chappelow will be heard in secret, a judge ruled this week.
The reasons given were “national security or the protection of witnesses”.
The decision comes after an attempt by lawyers representing seven media organisations and a QC acting on behalf of the accused to overturn an unprecedented application by the Home Office to have part of the prosecution case heard behind closed doors.
In a move believed to be a first in legal history, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith requested that sections of the trial of defendant Wang Yam, from Denning Road, Hampstead, be heard in secret.
The Old Bailey heard from Geoffrey Robertson QC, acting for Mr Yam, that, because of extensive coverage in the Camden New Journal and the national press, he wanted all evidence to be heard in public to help clear the accused’s name.
During a two-day hearing, which ended on Tuesday, judge Mr Justice Ousley was asked to weigh up the prosecution’s claim that the case may be dropped if part of the trial could not be heard in private against the argument that, to ensure the trial was fair, all evidence should be heard in public.
Gavin Millar QC, representing six national newspapers and the BBC, said it was hard to outline a strong case against the restrictions without knowing exactly why they were being asked for by the prosecution. Instead, the lawyer argued that having no reporting restrictions was crucial to Mr Yam receiving a fair trial.
He added that a trial held partly in secret would jeopardise the common law principle of open justice and go against the concepts of press freedom enshrined in European law.
Mr Millar said: “The public and press are entitled to attend judicial proceedings and in criminal cases the evidence in court should be communicated publicly through fair and accurate court reporting. The strong presumption that the press, as watchdog of the public, may report everything that takes place in a criminal court can only be displaced by unusual or exceptional circumstances.”
Geoffrey Robertson QC, representing Mr Yam, outlined his case for all the trial to be heard in public. He said: “The defendant wants the case to be heard in public. The accusations against him have been published widely – there has been extensive and thorough coverage in the Camden New Journal of the death of Mr Chappelow and the subsequent arrest and charging of Mr Yam.”
Mr Robertson said: “The victim was a distinguished scholar living in a famous location. There has been a great deal in national papers, and especially the local press, regarding the death, the fact the victim’s body lay beneath proofs of his George Bernard Shaw biography for a month before discovery.
“He wants the public to hear his defence and have his name cleared. His defence – the defence the Crown wishes to suppress – will explain why he has fallen under suspicion.”
Mr Robertson said further publicity may bring forward new witnesses to help his case.
Mr Robertson told the court: “If it’s heard in secret, justice will not be done, nor be seen to be done.”
At the end of the hearing, Mr Justice Ousley ruled that sections of the trial could be heard behind closed doors. He added that, although there may be evidence not available to an open court, it would still be heard by the defendant, his lawyers and the jury.
He said: “The prosecution order for parts of the trial to be held in camera is stated for reasons of national security or the protection of witnesses.”
Mr Justice Ousley added that any speculation in newspapers as to why the prosecution’s evidence was so sensitive it had to be heard in secret would amount to a contempt of court.
The murder trial is due to start in two weeks, but Mr Robertson told the court he considered it “highly likely” he would appeal against the ruling on behalf of his client.
The jury is expected to be empanelled next week.

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