The Times has made a powerful point about the media's ability to report terrorism cases by blanking out key details in its report of a trial held in partial secrecy.
The paper's crime editor, Sean O'Neill, was reporting from the trial of a law student who was jailed for possessing a bomb-making manual.
Erol Incedal, 27, a Turkish-born student from south London, was given a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence at the Old Bailey yesterday.
A jury last week failed to reach a verdict on a second and more serious charge of plotting terrorist attacks in the UK, The Times reported.
But despite being able to report these details, journalists were banned from revealing key facts from the case because parts of the trial were held in secret – in contravention of the UK's ancient principle of open justice.
Much of Incedal's defence was heard in secret, while during one section of the trial only a handful of accredited journalists were allowed to attend, the paper said.
As a result, the main allegation against Incedal was not reported.
Why was some of the trial held in secret?
Home secretary Theresa May signed an order, known as a "ministerial certificate", telling judges to keep certain details of the case secret in the public interest, according to a judgment last year.
Originally, the entire trial was going to be held in camera, or in secret, with Incedal referred to only as AB – but a legal challenge from major newspaper groups and broadcasters in the Court of Appeal partially overturned this, resulting in an uneasy compromise.
O'Neill told BuzzFeed News:
"We have written some articles and leaders about the trial before but, in the end, I thought the most effective way to get the message across that fair and accurate reporting of a trial was banned was to make it visual.
"Our page 5 report today ridicules the secrecy and makes the point that press freedom is really under threat in the UK at the moment. Go down the Old Bailey these days and you'll see journalists gagged in some courts and in the dock on trumped up charges in others."
When sentencing Incedal, Mr Justice Nicol said that while the defendant possessed a document containing bomb-making instructions, this did not make him a terrorist.
Incedal travelled to the Syria-Turkish border in 2012–13, the court heard, and met extremist fighters. A memory card found by police after his arrest in October 2013 held a document containing basic bomb-making instructions. He was arrested after police fitted his car with a listening device.
Incedal has already served 17 months of a 42-month term and is expected to be released in four months' time. Another man, Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, 27, pleaded guilty to possession of the same bomb-making file and was given a three-year sentence, of which he has served 17 months.
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Smith at email@example.com.
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