Decision of the Complaints Committee 20437-17 Stephenson Wright v Rochdale Observer
Summary of the complaint
1. John Stephenson Wright complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Rochdale Observer breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Rapist to stay in jail longer for ‘wasting judge’s time” published on 24 June 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had unsuccessfully appealed against the sentence he had received in 2012 for a number of sexual offences against children. The first paragraph of the article stated that the complainant had raped an underage boy, who later became a police officer, and had abused two others. It stated that he had been jailed for 18 years in 2012 and went on to report that the complainant had been sentenced to a further 18 months in 2017 for the crimes he had committed against the individual who went on to become a police officer. The article reported that the complainant had been found guilty of three counts of rape, 21 counts of indecent assault, one count of indecency with a child and one count of perverting the course of justice in 2012. It also included statements from the man who was now a police officer, who had waived his right to anonymity.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate as his convictions for rape related to another individual. He said that in relation to the individual who had gone on to become a police officer, he had been found guilty of sexual abuse not rape.
4. The newspaper said that in 2012 the complainant had been convicted of three counts of rape of a child and a number of other offences for the sexual abuse of two children. In 2017 he had also been found guilty of sexual abuse against the individual named in the article, and in light of the seriousness of the complainant’s convictions, it did not believe that reporting he had been found guilty of raping this individual, when in fact he had sexually abused him and raped another, represented a significant inaccuracy. It said that a member of editorial staff had assumed that the individual who had waived his right to anonymity had been the individual who had been raped. Regardless, once it was made aware of the correct position, the newspaper offered to publish the following correction:
In a previous article headlined “Rapist to stay in jail longer for ‘wasting judge’s time” of 24th June 2017 , we reported that John Stephenson-Wright was sentenced to a further 18 months for crimes he committed against a boy who went on to become a police officer. We would like to make clear that this particular charge was not for rape but sexual abuse. Mr Stephenson Wright denied the offence but was found guilty after a trial at Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court.
Relevant Code provisions
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.
Findings of the Committee
6. The Committee acknowledged that due to the anonymity granted by law to individuals in such cases, the court proceedings would not have identified which convictions related to which individual. However, the newspaper had not taken any steps to verify which of the convictions related to the individual who had waived his right to anonymity and who had discussed the effect the abuse had on him. In circumstances where the newspaper was aware that there were a number of victims involved in the case, and that the complainant had been convicted of a range of sexual offences, presuming that he had been convicted for raping the victim who had waived his right to anonymity, without taking any steps to verify this, represented a failure to take care in breach of Clause 1(i).
7. The Committee
noted that the article had accurately reported the offences for which the
complainant had been convicted in 2012 and his subsequent convictions in 2017.
However, as this was a report of court proceedings, inaccurately reporting the
offence for which the complainant had been convicted in relation to the named
individual represented a significant inaccuracy, that required correction under
the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had promptly offered to publish a
correction, which identified the inaccuracy and made the correct position
clear. This was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii) and should now be
8. The complaint was upheld
Remedial Action Required
9. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
10. The Committee considered that the newspaper had promptly offered to publish a correction which addressed the significant inaccuracy and made the correct position clear. This should now be published.
Date complaint received: 19/10/2017
Date decision issued: 26/03/2018
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