Decision of the Complaints Committee 07264-18 A woman v The Sun
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that an article published in print and online by The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
2. The article reported that the complainant was on trial for “stalking” and “causing serious alarm or distress” to a man she had met on an online dating site. It reported that the court had heard that the complainant had undertaken a “campaign of abuse” against the man and his wife; it stated that the complainant “even accused him of rape, putting him through months of worry before the allegation was finally dropped earlier this year”. A photograph of the complainant, taken outside of court, accompanied the article.
3. The complainant said that she had been identified as a victim of sexual assault, in breach of Clause 11. She said that naming her, publishing her photograph and disclosing the area in which she lived had breached her privacy. The complainant said that the article had implied, inaccurately, that it was she who had dropped the allegation of rape. The complainant acknowledged that shortly before her trial, the police had informed her that they were not going to proceed against the man in relation to the rape allegation, but said that this was solely because there was no independent evidence available to prove or disprove the allegation. She said that at the time the article was published, she was engaged in a Victim’s Right to Review process and had therefore not withdrawn any part of her complaint.
4. The newspaper denied any breach of the Code. It said that the article was an accurate report of court proceedings which did not relate to an accused being tried for an offence of sexual assault. Given this, the newspaper said that it was legally free under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, to identify the complainant. The newspaper further said that the rape allegation had formed part of the prosecution’s case against the complainant, as heard in open court. The newspaper noted that the complainant had asked the judge to grant an order which would prevent the reporting of her name, but that the judge had declined to do so.
5. The newspaper said that the article had accurately reported the prosecution’s case. It said that the article had not specified who had “dropped” the rape allegation. It said that, in any event, the article had accurately reported what was heard in court. The newspaper provided the copy which had been filed by the agency:
The rape allegation was made to police on 21 February, the day after the harassment began, and in early April she said she wanted it dropped. But on the day she was charged with stalking she stated she wanted the investigation reopened and it was only in July this year police finally dropped the rape matter.
Relevant Code provisions
6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and- where appropriate- an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
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 victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that she was a victim of sexual assault and therefore should not have been identified in the article. Under Clause 11 of the Code, victims of sexual assault may only be identified by publications in circumstances where there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. In law, and under the Code, victims of sexual assault are granted anonymity in reports of criminal proceedings which are brought against a defendant for alleged sexual offences.
8. However, the law allows victims of sexual assault to be identified in legal proceedings in which a defendant is not being tried for an offence of sexual assault, but with which the victim is involved. The Committee was satisfied that on the facts of this case, the publication was, as is required under the terms of Clause 11, legally free to name the complainant. The Committee acknowledged the importance of the principle of open justice which ordinarily allows the press to identify the parties to legal proceedings, unless precluded by law. The article was a report of court proceedings in which the complainant was on trial charged with harassment; part of the prosecution’s case against her was the allegation of sexual assault which she had made against the man. There was a public interest in reporting what was heard in court in respect of the complainant’s trial in an open and transparent way. The Committee noted that no reporting restriction had been imposed which prevented the complainant being identified, despite the complainant’s request. In these particular circumstances, the publication was justified in naming the complainant in the article and including the information that she had made an allegation that she was the victim of sexual assault. There was no breach of Clause 11.
9. The published photograph disclosed only the complainant’s likeness, as she had appeared outside of court. No private information was revealed about the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 2.
10. The article had not specified who had “dropped” the allegation of rape in the months preceding the complainant’s trial. In any event, it was accepted that at the time the complainant’s trial had begun, the police had decided not to proceed against the man. In those circumstances, the article did not misrepresent the status of the allegation at the time of the complainant’s trial. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 08/11/2018
Date decision issued: 12/04/2019
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant 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.Back to ruling listing