A senior judge has issued a warning to police, press and politicians as one-eyed alleged killer Dale Cregan appeared for the first time at Crown Court.
Cregan, 29, appeared by videolink at Manchester Crown Court, just a mile from the city’s Strangeways jail where he is being held accused of the murders of Pcs Fiona Bone, 32, and Nicola Hughes, 23, in Hattersley, Greater Manchester, on Tuesday.
He spoke only twice to reply “Yeah” when asked if he was Dale Cregan and if he could hear proceedings.
For most of the hearing, Cregan leaned forward with his elbows on the table in front of him and his head resting in his hands, listening to proceedings.
Today was largely an administrative hearing and as Cregan was not appearing in person, security was scaled down considerably from his first appearance at the city magistrates’ court on Friday.
But the Honorary Recorder of Manchester, Judge Andrew Gilbart QC, began proceedings by emphasising the need to ensure Cregan gets a fair trial over the four murders and four attempted murders he is accused of.
Judge Gilbart said: “They include cases involving the tragic deaths of two young police officers and the deaths of two other men and they have attracted widespread publicity and discussion in the media about which this court has some considerable concern.
“There has also been some comment from politicians, including those of the greatest seniority.
“Deciding what happened in these current cases, and the determination of whether or not this or these defendants or any other defendant is or are guilty of this or any other crime, is a matter for a jury to consider and not for the press, broadcasting media, internet sites, police or politicians.”
Judge Gilbart said Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy had spoken “frankly and movingly” about the loss of two of his officers and it was only right that senior politicians through the media comment on such “terrible events”, “provided that they do so within the usual proper bounds”.
The law prohibits the media from publishing any details about a defendant or alleged offences that could interfere with the administration of justice and a fair trial.
But senior police and politicians felt compelled to comment on the case, such was the nationwide shock.
But Judge Gilbart said it is the court’s job to ensure comment and “background” material about the case does not prejudice a fair trial.
“Whether or not it has stayed within the relevant bounds up to now will be for others to determine and I express no view.
“But I must emphasise in the strongest terms that, now that he has been charged, the time has come for that flow of material and comment to cease.”
The judge emphasised that there were several other defendants in the case who also had the right to a fair trial and reminded the Press that they may face prosecution for contempt of court if they are found to be breaking the law and there may be “consequences for those who have not exercised restraint”.
Judge Gilbart also stressed that the rules also apply to websites, including material on the website of Greater Manchester Police, which contain material published in the aftermath of the Pcs’ deaths that is still available online.
As well as being accused of the two officers’ murders, Cregan is also charged with the murders of David Short, 46, and his son, Mark, 23, who were killed in May and August this year.
Anthony Wilkinson, 33, and Jermaine Ward, 24, have been charged with murder and attempted murder in relation to David Short’s death and are next due at Manchester Crown Court on November 9.
Damian Gorman, 37, Luke Livesey, 27, Ryan Hadfield, 28, and Matthew James, 33, have all been charged with the murder of Mark Short and will appear at the same court on November 2.
Cregan was remanded in custody to appear by video-link at Liverpool Crown Court on November 5.