Ruling

02388-22 Williams v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02388-22 Williams v express.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Llinos Williams, acting on behalf of herself and her daughter Rebeca Williams, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Teaching assistant who had sex with boy and said 'age is just a number' walks free”, published on 29 March 2022.

2. The article, which appeared online only, reported that Rebeca Williams – 21 – admitted two offences of sexual activity with a boy of 15 and abusing a position of trust. It reported that the woman told the boy he was "fit" in “flirty messages”, with the court hearing that several of the texts between the pair “must have been exchanged on school grounds”. It also reported that “the court heard [the woman] picked up the youngster in her car before the pair had sex at her home”, with the woman asking to meet up again, “leading to a second encounter before she pushed the teenager to engage in a more intense relationship”. It then explained that the victim “blocked her on messaging apps” after rumours circulated at the school.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1, to report her daughter’s present age. She said that her daughter was younger when the offences were committed, although she accepted that her daughter was an adult. She also said the article was inaccurate to report that several texts between her daughter and the victim “must have been exchanged on school grounds”; no evidence had been presented during court proceedings to support this. She also denied that her daughter had “pushed the teenager to engage in a more intense relationship”.

4. The complainant also said that she and her daughter had received multiple unwanted approaches from journalists at their home, in breach of Clause 3. She said that two individuals had approached the family house on 29 March 2022, before she asked them to leave. She said that one of these individuals had claimed to be a courier delivering court documents and had presented her with a “calling card”. She said that she had shown this card to a police officer, who said that it was a journalist pretending to be a courier. She said that the other individual had parked nearby her home, taking photographs and had been “aggressive” when she requested that they leave. She also said that the police had completed “a trace” on the vehicle’s registration number and confirmed that this individual was a journalist.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said the article was an accurate and fair summary of court proceedings against the complainant’s daughter.  It said that the court heard the age her daughter was when she had committed the offences and provided a copy of the reporter’s contemporaneous notes to demonstrate this; this was a different age to that provided by the complainant. It also said that her specific age was insignificant: her daughter had legally been an adult when she committed the offences against the child. Further, it said that the year of the offences was omitted in order to minimise the risk of the victim being identified.

6. The publication also did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that several messages between the complainant’s daughter and the victim “must have been exchanged on school grounds”. The reporter’s notes showed that the prosecutor stated that “some messages must have been exchanged on school grounds”.

7. In addition, the publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that her daughter had “pushed the teenager to engage in a more intense relationship”. The reporter’s notes also showed that the prosecutor had told the court her daughter had “wanted more of a relationship”.

8. In relation to Clause 3, the publication did not accept that complainant’s allegations related to any of its journalists or individuals working on its behalf.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee first considered whether the article was inaccurate or misleading in reporting the complainant’s daughter’s current age, rather than her age when the offences were committed. Whilst there was a dispute between the parties as to the daughter’s age when she committed the offences, the Committee did not consider her exact age to be material – the nature of the complainant’s offences had been accurately reported, namely that she had been an adult who held a position of trust when the offences had been committed. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

10. The Committee then considered whether the article was inaccurate to report that the court heard that the complainant’s daughter had “pushed the teenager to engage in a more intense relationship”. In circumstances where the prosecutor had told the court that her daughter had “wanted more of a relationship” with the victim and that he had then “blocked” her daughter on messaging apps, the Committee did not consider that this statement represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, or a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

11. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that the article had reported that the court “heard several of the texts must have been exchanged on school grounds”. In circumstances where it was not in dispute that the prosecutor had made this particular statement during court proceedings and the publication had provided contemporaneous notes which demonstrated this, the Committee did consider that this statement represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, or a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

12. Finally, the Committee considered the concerns raised under Clause 3. The Committee’s task was to establish whether the newspaper under complaint had been responsible for the harassment, for example if the harassment had been carried out by a member of its staff or by an external contributor which it had engaged, such as an agency reporter or photographer. The Committee noted there was a dispute between the complainant and the publication as to the extent of contact between the parties over the relevant period. The complainant had not provided any information which suggested that the individuals who had spoken with her at her home on 29 March 2022 represented the publication or had identified themselves as representing the publication. The publication had denied that these individuals represented them. There were, therefore, no grounds to find that the individuals in question had represented the publication. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion(s)

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

14. N/A


Date complaint received: 01/04/22

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/12/22