Decision of the Complaints Committee 08073-18 A woman v Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that an article published by the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The article reported on the complainant’s ongoing trial. It reported that she was charged with “two counts of stalking causing serious alarm or distress” and outlined the course of conduct which the complainant was alleged to have undertaken against a man she had met on an online dating site and his wife, which had led to these charges, which the complainant denied. It reported that the complainant had accused the man of rape “after he refused to leave his wife”. It went on to report that the complainant had “dropped her rape allegation… but the day after being charged with stalking she asked for the investigation to be re-opened.” The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant.
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 and identifying her relationship to the man, publishing her photograph and disclosing the area in which she lived had breached her privacy.
4. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that she had dropped her rape allegation. She said that the police had decided that there was not enough evidence to pursue the matter. She said that to the best of her recollection, she had not said in court that she had dropped the allegation.
5. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the article was an accurate report of court proceedings. It said that the article was reporting on the complainant’s trial for stalking, which did not relate to an accused being tried for a sexual offence. Therefore the newspaper said that it was legally free under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, to identify the complainant. Further, it said that it was justified in identifying the complainant in relation to the rape allegation, as the rape claim and the behaviour complained of by the man and his wife were closely linked and demonstrated the sort of behaviour they were allegedly subject to.
6. It provided the agency copy, on which the article was based.. This recorded that during the trial it was alleged that “The rape allegation was made to police on 21 February, the day after the harassment began, but in early April [the complainant] 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.” It said that the article had accurately reported what had been heard in court, which the complainant had not provided any evidence to dispute.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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
8. 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.
9. 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; it was reported that 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. 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.
10. The published photograph disclosed only the complainant’s likeness in relation to her alleged offences; it did not reveal any private information about the complainant. Further, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the general area in which she lived. Publishing the photograph and the area in which the complainant lived did not constitute a breach of Clause 2.
11. The agency copy recorded that, while the investigation of the rape allegation had finally been dropped by the police in July 2018, this was after the complainant had first dropped the allegation in February of the same year. While the complainant disputed that she had in fact dropped the allegation at any time, she had not been able to demonstrate that it had not been heard as part of proceedings that she had done so. In these circumstances, the Committee did not find that the newspaper’s report of what had been said in court was inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 27/12/2018
Date decision issued: 06/08/2019