Decision of the Complaints Committee 04119-19 A woman v Lancashire Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Lancashire Telegraph breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in 2019.
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 that an individual had received a custodial sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against three children who, at the time of the offences, were all “under the age of 16.” The article reported that the offences had taken place twenty years ago, in a named town, and specified the time period over which the offences took place, by reference to years. The article also reported the defendant’s former address, by reference to the name of the street.
4. Under a separate sub-headline, the article continued by reporting quotes from a statement read out by one of the victims during the court proceedings, which detailed the impact which the offences had made on her both professionally and personally, including the impact on her mental health.
5. The complainant said that by including certain details from the court hearings, particularly the details from her victim impact statement which concerned the impact the offences had made on her career, the publication had failed to protect her identity as a victim of sexual assault. The complainant said that, in fact, she had been identified as the victim in the case by members of her small local community who she said had put the details contained in the article together, and had worked out who she was. The complainant also said that the disclosure of this information was deeply upsetting and an unjustified intrusion into her privacy, in breach of Clause 2.
6. The publication expressed regret that the complainant had been upset by the coverage, but said that in accordance with the principle of open justice, it was entitled to report on cases such as the case subject to the article under complaint. The publication provided explanations as to why it did not believe that the specific pieces of information identified by the complainant were likely to lead to the identification of the victim. It said that the quotes from the complainant’s victim impact statement were published in good faith in order to highlight the impact of the offending.
Relevant Code provisions
7. Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Committee offered its condolences to the complainant for the distressing circumstances which brought about this complaint.
9. The Code offers specific protection to victims of sexual assault, and recognises their legal right to anonymity. It also seeks to balance these protections against the important role that the press play in ensuring that court cases are reported on in an open and transparent way. The Committee acknowledged that identifying the defendant in a case may lead to speculation from members of the public on the identity of their victims, particularly within small communities. However, identifying the defendant in such cases is fundamental to the principle of open justice. The Committee is required to make an objective assessment as to whether the details reported are likely to lead to identification of a complainant as the victim in the case.
10. The article had disclosed information heard during the court proceedings regarding the circumstances of the offences, including references to the town in which the offences had occurred and the period of time over which they took place. These details, made in general terms, explained to readers the facts of the case and care had been taken by the publication not to disclose further details regarding the victims, such as their precise age or their association with the accused, nor did the article report the specific location in which the offences had taken place. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern at the publication of quotes from her victim impact statement. However it considered that the details contained in the article, including the details contained within her statement, could apply to a relatively broad class of individuals, and so it was reasonable to find that reporting these details was not likely to lead to her identification as a victim of sexual assault. The complaint under Clause 11 was not upheld.
11. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s distress at the publication of certain details in the articles such as the inclusion of the accused’s partial address. However these details had been heard in open court, and enabled the public to understand the facts, and impact, of the offences. In relation to the accused’s address, the Committee noted that publishing this information helps distinguish a person from others with the same name. In accordance with the fundamental principle of open justice, the publication of this information did not represent a breach of Clause 2.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 10/05/2019
Date decision issued: 20/09/2019