How we won fight to name cathedral fraudster
- Credit: Archant
Rene Mugenzi. Until Friday, printing those two words in this newspaper could have landed us in prison.
It has taken three months of back and forth between two courts to be able to tell you this: Rene Mugenzi stole £220,000 from St John the Baptist Cathedral while volunteering as its treasurer. On Friday he was jailed for 27 months at Norwich Crown Court.
Normally, reporting the facts of a court case is straightforward - but this time it was not.
His legal team fought for three months to prevent you knowing about the case.
Mugenzi first appeared at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on July 15 and admitted fraud at the cathedral.
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However, after he pleaded, his solicitor David Foulkes asked magistrates to ban the press publishing Mugenzi’s name.
He argued that his client’s life was under threat from the Rwandan Government, as he was an opposition activist.
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In 2011 Mugenzi had been given a “threat to life” notice by the Metropolitan Police, warning him about the Rwandan regime.
If his name and location was published this would lead to his life being endangered, his solicitor said.
Our court reporter responded by telling magistrates that he should be named, like every other adult defendant who appears before the courts.
However, the magistrates agreed to impose an order banning his name being published until his sentencing at Norwich Crown Court.
Printing his name was now contempt of court - an offence which can land you in prison.
But the problem with the order was that by banning publication of his name, we could not report anything about the case. If we did it would cast suspicion on anyone linked to the cathedral.
It was only the day after the hearing, when we researched Mugenzi, that we realised how bizarre the magistrates order was.
We found he had repeatedly appeared in the media, published photos of his location on social media, revealed his work addresses online and even stood to become an MP in 2015.
We wrote to magistrates asking them to overturn the order in light of this information.
The court refused and said as the case was going before Norwich Crown Court, it was for the judge there to deal with it.
The magistrates court also said that when Mugenzi was sentenced, the order banning his name being published would expire, meaning that his legal team would have to apply for a new order, which we could then argue against.
However, there was a problem with this. An error at the magistrates’ court meant the order banning him being named did not state that it would expire upon sentencing.
This meant that when we got to crown court, at the end of September, Judge Katharine Moore said she was unable to overturn the order as she had no power over the magistrates court.
Mugenzi’s sentencing was delayed until mid-October to clear the matter up.
In the meantime, his legal team sent their application to the court, arguing why Mugenzi should not be named.
The Crown Prosecution Service, which was bringing the case against Mugenzi, responded by siding with this newspaper, and arguing his name could be published.
In our response to the court, we argued that Mugenzi had repeatedly revealed his location.
We found posts on Twitter where he had even broadcast the train he was currently travelling on.
We found a photo he had published publicly on Facebook completing the Run Norwich race last year, with the word “Norwich” on his vest.
On the website LinkedIn, he had revealed his work locations since 2011, including the University of East Anglia.
None of this we argued, was the behaviour of someone who believed their life was under threat, or someone trying to keep their location secret.
When we returned to court, on October 16, Judge Moore heard both sides of the argument and rejected the defence’s application.
She said the principle of open justice should be upheld and said the fears about Mugenzi’s life being under threat were “not well founded” and had “no reliable support”.
She praised this newspaper for acting with “conspicuous care”.
It meant that on sentencing on Friday, we could finally tell you this story.