00474-21 A woman v lep.co.uk

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00474-21 A woman v lep.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that lep.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 7 (Children in sex cases), Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in January 2021.

2. This decision is written in general terms, to avoid the inclusion of information which could identify a victim of sexual assault.

3. The article reported on a court case in which the defendant pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child. It gave the age range of the child at the time of the abuse, and an indication as to when the abuse stopped. It contained information from the Victim Personal Statement of the child, and described the circumstances in which the assaults had taken place. The defendant was named in the article.

4. The complainant said the article contained details which implied the relationship between the victim and the defendant in breach of Clause 7. She said that the information in the article was private, and that its publication was upsetting and an intrusion into the child’s privacy and grief and shock in breach of Clause 2 and Clause 4, respectively. The complainant also said that she was not aware that a Victim Personal Statement would be read in court, or that this could be published, which she also considered a breach of Clause 2. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 6 as, whilst she was not in school at the time of publication due to lockdown restrictions, the child was very anxious about returning due to a fear of gossip and having been identified as the victim by the article.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It noted that the article did not name the victim, nor give the victim’s age, address, school, or describe the victim’s appearance or any distinguishing features. It said that the article did not give the location or timing of when the crimes took place, and said that it could have happened at any point during the defendant’s life or in a variety of circumstances. It said the article neither stated, nor alluded to, a relationship between the defendant and the victim. It noted that other information was read out in court and that it deliberately chose not to include this in the article in order not to identify the victim, or the victim’s relationship to the defendant.

6. With regards to the complaint concerning privacy, the publication said that the Victim Personal Statement was read out in open court. The publication said such statements are an important part of the proceedings and can have a direct impact on the sentence imposed by the court. It noted that guidance makes clear that such statements may be reported in the media, and that the judge referred directly to the statement when sentencing the defendant. The publication also noted that there was further information from the proceedings that it did not include in the article, but that the information it did choose to include was relevant in order to paint a picture of the defendant. The publication said that, therefore there was not a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information under complaint, and that it was in the public interest to publish it.

7. The publication said it was important to understand the nature of the offences for which the defendant was convicted as the charges which the defendant faced covered a range of potential criminality. It said that therefore it was imperative to explain the evidence presented to the court in order to present a fair and accurate account of the proceedings as required by law, and that doing so did not intrude into the complainant’s grief and shock in breach of Clause 4.

8. The publication recognised that both the impact of the offences and court proceedings would have been extremely traumatic for the victim, but as it did not accept that either the victim or the victim’s school were identified; it said Clause 6 was not engaged.

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Clause 7 (Children in sex cases)*

The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.

In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child -

i) The child must not be identified.

ii) The adult may be identified. 

iii) The word "incest" must not be used where a child victim might be identified.

iv) Care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.

Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)

The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.

*The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

9. It is a fundamental principle of open justice that court proceedings may be reported by the media in an open and transparent way. Nonetheless, the terms of Clause 7 impose strict constraints on court reporting of cases involving child victims of sexual offences in recognition of their exceptionally vulnerable position.

10. The Committee recognised that the publication had taken steps to reduce the likelihood that the child would be identified as the victim of the assaults for which the defendant had been convicted.  However, Clause 7 (iv) imposes an obligation on a newspaper to take care that nothing in the report of proceedings implies the relationship between the defendant and the victim. The article had reported information heard in court regarding the circumstances in which the offences had taken place which the Committee considered was sufficient to imply the relationship between the defendant and the victim in breach of Clause 7.

11. The Committee acknowledged that the publication of details taken from the Victim Personal Statement had caused the complainant and the child distress and expressed its sympathy. The statement had been read in open court during the course of the proceedings and, as a result, had been placed into the public domain. In circumstances where the child had not been identified in the article, publication of this information did not represent a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4 of the Code, separate to the issues already addressed under Clause 7.

12. The complaint under Clause 6 (Children) related to concerns that the child’s time at school might be affected in the future by the publication of the article.  Given that the child had not been identified in the article, publication did not amount to an unnecessary intrusion into the child’s time at school. There was no breach of Clause 6.

Conclusion

13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 7.

Remedial Action Required

14. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 7, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an adjudication.

15. The Committee considered the placement of its adjudication. In exercising its powers to determine the nature, extent and placement of a remedy to a breach of the Code that it has established, the Committee will have regard to a number of factors including the seriousness of the breach, its placement within the article, and its prominence. The Committee is also obliged to act proportionately.

16. The adjudication should be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing in the top 50% of stories on the publication’s website for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

17. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that lep.co.uk breached Clause 7 (Children in sex cases) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in 2021. Clause 7 of the Code requires that care must be taken that nothing in the report of legal proceedings implies the relationship between the accused and the child. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required lep.co.uk to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported on a court case in which the defendant pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child. It contained information which described the circumstances in which the assaults had taken place, were reported and the impacts of the prosecution on the child. The defendant was named in the article.

The complainant said that the article had contained details which had identified the relationship between the child and the defendant.

The newspaper said that the details reported in the article were necessary in order to enable the public to understand the facts of the offence. It provided explanations as to why it did not believe that the details in the article were likely to contribute to the identification of the victim, and said it had deliberately left out information which may have led to the identification of the victim, or their relationship with the defendant.

The Committee recognised that the publication had taken steps to reduce the likelihood of the victim’s identification, but the article had reported information heard in court regarding the circumstances in which the offences had taken place which the Committee considered was sufficient to imply a relationship between the defendant and the victim.  The complaint was upheld as a breach of Clause 7.

 

Date complaint received: 15/05/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/05/2021

 

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The publication complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.

 

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