Decision of the Complaints
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that an article published by the Daily Express in print and online 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 accused of stalking a man she had met on an online dating site after he had refused to leave his wife. It reported that the court had heard that when the man “ended the affair last year [the complainant] claimed he had raped her”. The print article reported that “it was only in July this year that the police finally dropped the rape allegation”. 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.
4. 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that at the time the article was published, she was engaged in a Victim’s Right to Review process and had therefore not withdrawn any part of her complaint.
5. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that she had made the allegation of rape after the affair had ended. She said that she disputed the prosecution’s version of events, namely that she had made the allegation of rape after the relationship had ended in March 2018.
6. The newspaper denied any breach of the Code. It said that it was entitled, under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, to report the fact that the complaint had made an allegation of rape, as the court proceedings did not relate to that alleged offence. The newspaper said that the complainant had been accused of two counts of stalking, which is behaviour that amounts to a course of conduct causing significant alarm and distress to the victim. It said that an example of the complainant’s conduct put to the jury was the allegation of rape which was made against the man four months before the investigation was dropped by the police. The newspaper noted that the complainant had asked the judge to ban the reporting of her name at the start of the trial, but the judge had declined to do so.
7. The newspaper said that the article had accurately reported the prosecution’s case: it was alleged that once the man had ended the affair, the complainant had started her campaign of abuse, which had included an allegation of rape.
Relevant Code provisions
8. 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 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
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. The article was a report of the prosecution’s case against the complainant. It was not disputed that the prosecution had alleged that the complainant had made the allegation of rape after the affair had ended. It was not inaccurate to report that the police had “dropped” the rape allegation; they had decided not to proceed against the man. The article did not claim that it was the complainant who had dropped the allegation. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. 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