'Absolutely Delighted': Media coverage of the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe and the impact on the Contempt of Court ACT 1981

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Abstract

Reporting on crime and the courts are among the classic functions of journalism. In the UK, journalists and others must abide by the Contempt of Court Act 1981, the main piece of primary legislation aimed at ensuring coverage of legal matters is fair to the participants. The restrictions are generally tighter in practice than in jurisdictions such as the US, where the media has a much freer hand to engage in pre-trial reporting. This paper argues that media coverage of the arrest of the so-called ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, in 1981 while Parliament was considering the question of contempt, has made the UK regime tougher than it might otherwise have been. Excessive reporting was influenced by an unusually celebratory police news conference. This news coverage coloured the contemporary debate around contempt, and any opportunity for a more relaxed approach to contempt in the UK's jurisdictions was lost.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalMedia History
Early online date1 Mar 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2023

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