A local Labour politician fined £100 by magistrates after admitting being drunk in a supermarket while in charge of her two-year-old daughter has lost a High Court anonymity fight.
Tess Gandy, 35, who was a Labour district councillor in Lowestoft, Suffolk, wanted an order which would have prevented the little girl – and her – being identified in media reports about the case.
But two senior judges have ruled against Gandy, who had previously been cautioned for a similar offence, after local newspapers the Eastern Daily Press and the Lowestoft Journal argued that principles of freedom of speech and open justice should prevail.
Judges said the public had an “undeniable” interest in learning how Gandy, who has now resigned from Waveney District Council, had behaved and of details given to magistrates in Lowestoft at a hearing in May 2012.
They described Gandy’s arguments that the little girl might suffer “distress” if the case was fully reported as “highly speculative” and “doubtful”.
“The Eastern Daily Press and the Lowestoft Journal seem to me to have a powerful case indeed,” said Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, who analysed legal argument with Lord Justice Pitchford, at a High Court hearing in London.
“The criminal conviction itself, although it attracted a relatively low penalty, was far from trivial. To be drunk in public in charge of a small child of two and a half years of age raises very considerable concerns regarding the general welfare of the child, especially when a caution had been administered not long before for the same offence.
“The caution administered in private, and the real risk of public exposure on re-offending, had plainly failed to deter (Gandy) and this strongly suggested that there might be more serious underlying problems.
“Moreover, (Gandy) was an elected councillor, and her conduct in public had twice fallen well below the standard that could reasonably be expected of an elected official by her constituents and by the public generally, who had an undeniable legitimate interest in learning, through media publication, of how (she) had behaved.”
A lawyer had asked magistrates to take into account Gandy’s “mental health problems and alcohol dependence” in mitigation.
Nigel Pickover, editor-in-chief of the Eastern Daily Press, said: “At a time when some politicians are trying to bring in controls on Britain’s press by statute, it is gratifying to see (the High Court) protect our right to report a court case which contains important information in the public interest.”
A Labour Party spokesman said: “We accepted Tess Gandy’s formal offer to resign as a Waveney District councillor as soon as she made it.”