Ruling

01073-17 Hyland v Belfast Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      20th July 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01073-17 Hyland v Belfast Telegraph

1. Aaron Hyland complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Rapist faces long jail term for vile attack”, published on 4 February 2017.

2. The article reported that the complainant had pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent. It said that he had “raped a woman in an attack so severe that he caused life-threatening injuries”; that the court had heard that the nature of the victim’s injuries meant that her chances of ever conceiving were “very low”; and that the complainant had been told by the judge that he should expect a “significant sentence”. It said that a barrister in court had said that the complainant and the victim had consumed diazepam and a large amount of alcohol when the assault took place.

3. The article was also published online.

4. The complainant said that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that he was a rapist. He had pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent; he had not pleaded guilty to rape. He considered that the newspaper had published this inaccuracy in order to deliberately cause him maximum distress and embarrassment. The complainant also said the newspaper had breached Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) by inaccurately reporting the offence and this had put the complainant’s life in danger, in breach of Clause 3 (Harassment).

5. The newspaper accepted that the complainant had pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent, as opposed to rape.  However, given the nature of the assault and the victim’s injuries, it did not consider that it was significantly misleading or inaccurate to describe the complainant as a “rapist”, or his actions as “rape”. 

6. The newspaper said that it had refrained from publishing the details of the assault on the grounds of decency, but noted that the full court report had included the judge’s graphic description of the assault and noted that when sentencing the complainant, the judge had described his actions as “akin to rape”.

7. The publication said that the High Court had rejected the complainant’s legal claim to prevent its sister publication, the Sunday Life, from referring to him as a rapist.

8. The complainant said that the judge’s comments that the assault had been “akin to rape” were irrelevant as he was not convicted of rape.

Relevant Code provisions

9. 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.

iii. A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv. The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 3 (Harassment)

i. Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii. They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii. Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)

i. Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii. Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Findings of the Committee

10. The complainant had been convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, not rape. However, the judge sentencing the complainant had said that this assault was “in some ways akin to rape” and noted that because of her condition, the victim had not been in a position to consent. Given the nature of the assault, and that the newspaper had accurately reported that the complainant had been convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent, it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading for it to have described him as a rapist or his actions as rape. The description had not given a significantly misleading impression of the gravity of the offence. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.

11. Clause 3 generally relates to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process. The publication of this article, which reported that the complainant had been convicted for causing grievous bodily harm with intent, did not represent harassment in breach of Clause 3.

12. The newspaper had not identified a friend or relative of a person convicted or accused of crime. There was no breach of Clause 9.

Conclusion

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

14. N/A

Date complaint received: 8 February 2017
Date complaint concluded: 30 June 2017