Joanna Yeates Chris Jefferies
The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, is to launch a court action against the Daily Mirror and the Sun today over their coverage of the murder of landscape architect Joanna Yeates.

Contempt of court proceedings will begin this morning over the newspapers' reporting of the arrest of Yeates' landlord Chris Jefferies, who was later released without charge before the arrest of Vincent Tabak, who has admitted manslaughter in the case. The proceedings will begin with a permission hearing in the high court at 10.30am.

During heavy news coverage in the wake of the discovery of Yeates' body on Christmas Day, Grieve issued a warning to newspapers to be careful in their reporting to avoid prejudicing a potential trial.

He told Radio 4's World at One programme: "We need to avoid a situation where trials cannot take place or are prejudiced as a result of irrelevant or improper material being published, whether in print form or on the internet, in such a way that a trial becomes impossible.

"I don’t want to comment on the precise coverage, but I think it’s important to understand that the contempt of court rules are there to protect the rule of law and the fair trial process and they require newspapers, and indeed anyone who is covering material, to do that in a way that doesn’t prejudice the possibility of a fair trial taking place at a later date."

Speaking on Radio 4 again in March, Grieve called the coverage of suspects following arrest but prior to charge a "ritual of frenzied interest" and warned that the media could be banned from naming arrested suspects prior to them being charged, adding that he would "mull over" the decision.

The Attorney General's Office confirmed this morning that Grieve was to launch contempt of court proceedings at the high court this morning but refused to comment further before the end of the hearing.

If found guilty, the newspapers could face fines and even prison sentences for individual staff.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Jefferies have also launched libel and privacy proceedings against several newspapers over the coverage of his arrest, with the Sun, Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Star, Daily Express, Scotsman, and Daily Record all named as defendants.

A statement from Jefferies lawyers Simons, Muirhead and Burton said that he would be "seeking vindication of his reputation for the terrible treatment he received".

The Sun has already been found guilty of contempt of court this year after publishing a photograph online of a suspect in a murder trial carrying a handgun. The Daily Mail was also found guilty over its own publication of the image.

Grieve, who lead the case against the Sun and Daily Mail, urged the media at the time to remember the contempt of court act, warning: "I won't hesitate to prosecute".

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