High-profile murder trials, let alone lesser offences, do not receive proper coverage any more – and that is a threat to justice.
It is 25 years since the remains of the victims of Fred and Rose West were first discovered at their Gloucester home, at the time every national newspaper covered the case daily for its seven weeks duration,. That level of coverage of such a major trial would be unthinkable today.
The situation is worst for local and regional papers. A day in any magistrates court is as illuminating on the state of the nation in terms of homelessness, mental health, immigration, drug-taking, alcohol abuse, race, domestic violence and poverty as any lengthy thinktank report.
Once reports from these court were an essential ingredient of every local paper. No more. Last month it emerged that, since 2010, half of the magistrates courts in England and Wales – 162 of the 323 – have been closed, making reporting less likely and justice more remote
The West case taught us much about the kind of place that Britain had become: a land where young women could disappear without trace and where a married couple with many children could get away with murder because no one would believe that they might be responsible for such horrendous events
At the Old Bailey in the last few of months of last year there were six simultaneous murder trials under way, all interesting and revealing in their different ways, all concerned with fatal stabbings, and the press benches were empty most days.
There is no shortage of commentators writing about crime and the causes of crime, but such space would often be better served by an accurate report on how such offences happen in the first place and how they are investigated, prosecuted, defended, judged and punished.
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